I could probably blog for a year on all the issues brought up in this interview with 19-year-old London art school student Clayton Pettet, who’s selling tickets to a performance piece in which he will lose his virginity on stage, but I’ve narrowed it down to one tonight: the tension between the private and the public when it comes to virginity, sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and just about all things related.
The public/private juxtaposition exists more often than we might first think. One of the most common arguments I hear for fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation is that who someone sleeps with is nobody’s business. But, as someone brought up in a recent diversity training I attended, when a married, heterosexual man tells people at work that he and his wife are trying to have a baby, he’s also saying, “My wife and I are having sex nightly, daily, hourly on the weekends, as much as we can,” because that’s how you make babies, and everyone is supposed to cheer the happy couple on. Access to safe and legal abortions is considered a privacy issue; the decision to have an abortion or not should be made and kept between a woman and her doctor. But the morality of abortion is an argument so public we decide elections based on it.
And even without Pettet’s art, virginity would still be public. As Pettet and How to Lose Your Virginity filmmaker Therese Shechter pointed out in the interview, “virgin” is a category used to assign value to people all over the world. Because of that value, we tell people whether or not we’re virgins, and we are either proud of our virginity or we tell the New York Times we’re distressed about being a virgin past a certain age. We talk to our friends about it. We brag about virginity—or openly display our commitment to Christianity and encourage celibacy in others as we humbly testify about the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from temptation—via purity rings that we wear everywhere.
In other words, we try to make a personal decision about an act normally done in private, and a status of which there’s no medical definition or outward evidence, as obvious as our ethnicity, gender, height, or other categories people use to assign value to us. And I think we’ve already established that considering someone superior or inferior based on those things is a bad idea.
This post was originally published Nov. 13, 2013.