The first book on virginity loss that I want to talk about is How To Lose Your Virginity (…and how not to) by Shawn Wickens.
Shawn describes his book as: “shocking, humorous, dangerous, sweet, & scandalous stories of the first time taken from 1,000 face-to-face interviews.” Shawn presents pretty much exactly what he promises. I’m not sure he’s included all 1,000 of his interviews, but there are many stories included in the 234 pages.
Shawn goes on to describe his book as “a snapshot or overview of the people I randomly spoke with during my travels” and this too is a highly accurate statement. Shawn does not analyze or present any analysis or discussion of the stories in his book.
And regardless of our conversation last week about what does or should constitute first-time-sex, most of the stories I read in Shawn’s book were about first time vaginal/penile penetration. More specifically, there is little background given to most of these stories – many of them read more like a down-and-dirty list of the important players, the … event … and then maybe a few lines of follow-up. Many of the stories are less than a page long.
To be honest, I felt a little bit overwhelmed. I rarely review a book unless I’ve read the entire thing, but I am making an exception in this case because the teacher in me is drawn to this one. But if I wait until I am able to read it all, Shawn will give up all hope on me.
This is not, I believe, a book to handed to young people struggling with decisions about their sexuality. I suspect that Shawn will be disappointed by my recommendation on this, but nevertheless it stands. The book is too brutal, too honest, but above all simply too much, for most young people who are in the midst of sexual awakening to have it, uncut, uncensored, and above all, undiscussed.
But as a teacher, I am delighted that such a book has fallen into my hands. There are often young people who are in the process of thinking about sexuality, other people’s sexuality, and how it all relates back to them. Reading carefully chosen, real stories can be helpful to these young people in their process. Regardless of the word we choose to describe it, first time intercourse is a big deal. It’s a big decision, with potentially big repercussions. So I am glad to have an extensive book of stories to carefully pick and choose from to share and discuss with my students. I think they will appreciate it too.
But what does this all have to do with, as the two Pauls have put it in the comments section of last week’s post, the politics of the other-V-word (you know, not vagina, but virgin)? The title of the book (How To Lose Your Virginity (…and how not to)) is notable in its use of the V-word. But there is a social utility to this word – whether we like it or not, whether it is useful or problematic in its application to a wide variety of sexual orientations and genders, and whether it continues a paternalistic, patriarchal perspective, most people have a generally agreed-upon definition of what it means. It is this utility, of course, which is why it continues to be in use. The title of the book would lose much of its impact if it were re-named How To Have Penile-Vaginal Intercourse For The First Time (…and how not to).
So I understand where Shawn was coming from when he titled his book as he did. And I am moved to wonder, tonight, whether there is a way to re-claim this problematic word in some positive way rather than to ignore the important lexical space that it occupies.
(Incidentally, if you are looking for Shawn’s book, you can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Lose-Your-Virginity-0/dp/1439269998)
Thanks bringing my book into the conversation.
When interviewing people I was often asked what I meant by loss of virginity story, which I always left open to their own interpretation. Save for homosexual sex and a woman’s cringe-worthy account of her younger self’s visit to a gynecologist – they were all vaginal/penile penetration stories.
I think that narrow definition of virginity is in some part a result of society’s fascination with sex but at the same time it’s taboo or something to be whispered about. In high school everyone’s thinking about it, but the conversation in sex ed may be muted or rushed – at least it was in my day.
If it’s a source of frustration or confusion the act is turned into a goal, a milestone, a “got to get THIS done” situation instead of what it and all of life is which is an ongoing journey.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “If you’re not ready to talk about sex, you’re not ready to do it.” People should talk about it, and hopefully this book furthers the discussion.
Thanks for the review, Karen. It looks like a book worth reading. At least for adults.
I agree with Shawn that the high school conversation about sex can be pretty absurd at times — kind of like seeing sex distorted through a fun house mirror, if I recall. Then you have folks like Karen come along, trying to straighten things out and portray sex and sexuality honestly — and pastors, pundits, parents and others freak out! What a country!
The more I think about the politics of virginity, the more put off I become, Karen.
Whichever way you turn, it cannot be denied that women are traditionally treated like property and access to, and control of, their wombs is the goal. Naturally, virginity becomes unusually valued in that world. Absurdly valued.
By the way, I cannot think of another area, besides sex, in which we routinely value inexperience over expertise. Can you?
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