As part of the press junket for the upcoming Summer Olympics, U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones has been making the interview rounds, discussing her hopes for success in competition, but there’s another topic she’s been discussing a lot of late: her virginity. Jones is 29-years-old, and forgoing sex until marriage. Of course this is admirable, since she’s doing it in part because of her religious convictions. She also pointed to her unmarried parents’ break-up as a contributing factor in her decision.
But in mentioning her very personal choice to the press, Jones has also opened herself to public scrutiny. In a recent The Jane Dough article, writer Laura Donovan took issue with Jones’ comment that abstinence has been the hardest thing she’s done in her life. Donovan asserts:
Griping that it’s so unbelievably difficult to hold off on sex takes away from the message she seems to be trying to send, which is that it is perfectly fine to wait until marriage to have intercourse. Quarterback Tim Tebow has before but never gone on and on about what a struggle it has been to maintain the stigmatized title. He’s five years younger than Jones, who says being a virgin loses its cuteness factor after a person hits 24, so maybe he’ll begin whining soon as well, but complaints from either person won’t inspire others to stay chaste until their wedding night.
Setting aside the judgmental language of “whining” and judging,” Donovan is also being a bit presumptuous here. She assumes Jones is primarily discussing her abstinence in order to compel others to make the same choice. Based on the tenor of the comments she’s made about it so far, she isn’t exactly trying to be the national face of a 2012 True Love Waits campaign (… yet). Her decision seems nuanced and personal — and the latter is what’s most important.
Virginity is a deeply personal choice; everyone’s reasons for preserving it are motivated by different factors. And having to discuss it with the press for cutesy human interest spin or as a detail that distinguishes the virgin from other celebrities can be an odd and alienating thing. The media always treats virginity and celibacy as freakish decisions, made only by religious zealots and the deeply naive. It’s something they seize on at every (increasingly rare) opportunity, making the virgin the butt of headline puns and jokes. Paparazzi scrutinize every celebrity virgin’s relationships and dog them with inquiries about their virginal status (see: Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson). If they don’t continue abstaining, it’s treated as a very public moral failure. If they do and then marry, they cease to be interesting public figures.
It’s a strange and highly problematic phenomenon.
Given the way virginity is manipulated, celebs would do well not to discuss it at all. Why would we need to know whether or not the 29-year-old athlete is sexually active? Is the public’s interest in her intrinsically tied to her sex life? It shouldn’t be. She isn’t an actress or singer who, whether right or wrong, would be expected by the public to trade in sexual identity. And even if she were a singer or actress, couldn’t it be in her best interest to demure about her sex life, publicity-wise? It would lend an air of mystery and intensify speculation. Unless celebrity virgins hope to convert or convince young (or old) fans, their decision doesn’t need to be open to public scrutiny (or ridicule).
Do other virgins need celebrity examples? Does expressing how “difficult” virginity is compromise an abstinence message? Should celebrity virgins feel obligated to tell the public about it, even as it becomes the only–or primary–thing they’re known for?