This month, two movies about teen virginity will hit the theaters. One follows someone who wants to lose it, another follows someone ridiculed for losing it. Guess which one is about a girl?
First sexual experiences are big deal, in life and in film, but for the female population it's shrouded in shame. The new movie Easy A, out September 17, is no exception. The comedy, packaged as a retelling of The Scarlett Letter, tracks the rise and fall of Olive, a virginal teen caught in a lie about giving it up. When her best gay friend asks her to fake their lovemaking to save him from being out-ed, she finds herself with a reputation for being promiscuous. It tears friendships apart, tarnishes her image, and makes her a lot of money. All and all, losing your virginity looks a lot like prostitution if you're a female character in a movie. And prostitution is sad.
Unless you're a guy virgin. Then it's just the inspiration for your buddy adventure.
In The Virginity Hit, another movie, out today, four guys hit up porn stars, female pals and the internet to get their best boy's key gripped for the first time. For them, sex isn't as "easy" as it is for Olive, but it's far more fun. Instead of tearing them apart, the quest for a one-night-stand bonds the foursome, and the wish fulfillment is hardly a reputation spoiler. On the contrary, it makes their best friend cool. And that's all anyone wants for their best bud, right?
Both films involve favors for friends. But unlike Olive's which entails faking the act, The Virginity Hit's characters are out to help their friend get the real thing. (Male readers: are guys really this invested in their friends' sex lives and does nobody get annoyed by the micro-managing?) Point is sex is fun for guys and horrifying for girls. So horrifying, that a movie has to revolve around her not doing it in order to make her more relatable.
Compared side by side, the messages are clear: girls fake sex, guys don't. For girls it's a business venture, for guys it's an adventure. For girls it destroys their identity, for guys it creates a stronger sense of self.
But the biggest on-screen dichotomy is the simplest: Losing virginity tears female relationships apart, while it brings male friends closer together. To put it in teenager terms: What the f is up with that?
For girls it all started with Where the Boys Are, a 1960 beach movie that begins with a group of college girl friends on a fun-filled vacation, and ends with one of them getting raped. The fun fearless female freedom turns into a frightening cautionary tale, leaving the viewer guilt-ridden for enjoying the film's first 70 minutes. They seemed like great friends having fun, but they weren't really looking out for each other and look what happened, the film suggests. It also suggests the word "slut!" under its breath.
In the '80s came Little Darlings, starring Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal as two rival campers who compete for cash in a race to lose it. True to form, money and a realization about the complications of sex play a part. But the main function of the virginity contest is to tear the two rivals and their bunk-mates apart.
Another comedy of that era, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, stops being so funny when its main character loses her virginity and shortly thereafter gets pregnant. The implication is that her promiscuous friend, the one who ushered her into sexuality, is to blame. The worst part is that the character's two sex scenes are painfully uncomfortable to watch. She indeed did it, but it wasn't even good.
Pit that against another beloved '80s movie, Porky's, the screwball comedy that turns the act of acquiring sex into a caper and the ultimate boy-bonding experience. In the end, the nerdy virgins are tighter than ever, and the goal of getting laid is reached without disappointment.
From American Pie to Risky Business, when boys have sex on screen it's mind-blowing. It's also always at the end of the movie. It's the resolution, the victory. For girls the virginity loss happens in the early stages of the film. In Fast Times, and even the fake sex in Easy A, losing it is where all the problems start. Not where they end.
In fact, the end, usually sews up the mess the girl created by having sex in the first place. In Fast Times there's a re-virginization of the main character, as she embarks on a sex-free romance with a nerd. Other girl virginity films end with a similar regression, and a return to a parent's embrace. In Mermaids, Winona Ryder loses it, then almost loses her little sister, and returns to the warm embrace of her mother, Cher. Shudder. Hey, it's better than sex.
So what's it feel like for boy virgins in movies? The best trip of your life. Watch the last scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin for proof. It doesn't matter if you did it with a prostitute, your girlfriend's mother or your arch-enemy, sex is always amazing. And it's not just good for the virgin, it's good for his best friends. In buddy movies, sex is communal. All for one and one for all. It's the kind of thing that can be enjoyed vicariously, between really good friends.
For female characters, it's usually the end of their friendships with other women. They don't need each other anymore, or they've grown apart or they've gone plum loco after doing it (Splendor in the Grass, anyone?). The first sexual experience usually reduces female characters to a puddle of child-like vulnerability.
That's because when girls lose it in movies, they're usually traumatized. The act is depicted in unromantic lighting, while pained faces withstand the full heft of a man's body. It hurts, and the moment is one of regret. Most often, even in comedies, the end result is pregnancy, rape, death, loony-toons bonkers madness, and always….public ridicule. Meanwhile, guys are patting each other on the back after a coming-of-age night none of them will forget.
So despite the virginity genre being one, it's really split in two. The boy's virginity movie, which is funny, warm-hearted and pleasure-driven. And the girl's virginity movie, which is riddled with life lessons and cautionary tales.
The only exception is the movie The Last American Virgin. Technically it's a guy's virgin movie, with the cautionary ending of a girl's virgin movie. Only the message is a little different. The 1983 flick starts off with male three friends all hoping to lose it before high school ends. By the film's conclusion, two of the three are successful. The third, the main character, loses the girl of his dreams, all his money, but not his virginity. The last scene sees him driving away crying. If this were a movie about a girl with the same outcome, she'd be crying over the sex she had, not the sex she didn't have. It's promiscuity that ostracizes women and leaves them after a spring break vacation with their best girlfriends destitute in a hospital mumbling about broken dreams. But for guys, the moral of the story is just the opposite: virgins end up alone. Get laid, bra.
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