Talking with Three Virgins

Turns out they're pretty cool.

23 January 2012, 12:00am

In the last few years in North American culture, abstinence-only education in the US has proved unsuccessful, yet federally funded "Purity Balls" – where daughters pledge virginity to their fathers until marriage in a public ceremony – are strong and alive (and weird). Just look at TLC's The Virgin Diaries, which highlights, among others, three famous virgins named Lisa, Danielle and Tamara, whose specific brand of purity is everywhere: Dr. DrewThe Ellen Degeneres Show, Telegraph UK and CBC

Doesn't the idea of "combating a sex-obsessed culture with purity" just validate the idea of a woman's moral compass being her vagina? Staying pure, virginity by choice... it's fine by me. What I do have a problem with is where the notion of "purity" leaves the others. The sluts. People like me. If it is morally right to wait to experiment with sex until you are married to a man, then that must make those of us who don't wait morally wrong. Where is the middle ground? Beyond this, why is a woman's morality always intertwined with her sexuality? 

I was raging with questions. I've read Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession With Virginity Is Hurting Young Women (now a documentary) like a bible-manifesto combo. I've angrily gawked over documentaries of Purity Balls and abstinence-only educators (like that psycho Pam Stenzel). I have a degree in gender studies, too. These virgins were pulling me in. I had to talk to them, get them to hear my side, the smarter side of the whole purity debate.

I decided to go and talk to Lisa, Danielle and Tamara. I emailed them explaining that I was a feminist writer and even though I didn't agree with their choices, I respected their right to have them. Surprisingly, they invited me over for a chat and a photo shoot. They even let us dress them up in Laura Ashley-style country-girl garb.

VICE: How was it being filmed for The Virgin Diaries?
Danielle: By the end of the second day of filming we were baring things that no one close to us has ever heard before in front of this middle-aged sound guy. They asked us everything, but we really liked the crew. 

Lisa: You just never know, right? But after we saw it, we were happy. They could have taken our stories and trashed them. They could have made us into awkward, weird virgins who are socially inept, which is just not true. 

Tamara: And we had no preview. We watched it for the first time with the rest of North America. 

Danielle: The show turned out to be really light. They didn't even put any of the soul-baring stuff we talked about. But the topic itself of virginity has become the real issue.

It has. That's why I am here. So, why stay pure?
Lisa: It became a choice later on in life. It was the moral standard I was raised with in my Christian home, but there is a point when you have to make the choice on your own. It doesn't necessarily have to do with religion or what God says. It was an easy choice for me, that I would save my [virginity] as a gift for one person and not something to be spread around. One thing we say all the time is that this is our story. This is not how everybody should live their life, but if you want to that's great! And I will lend a hand. Other than that, it's my choice.

Danielle: Remember those commercials from the 80s where they would be like, "Just Say No To Drugs" and it would be like your brain as a fried egg?

I feel like they must have had those for sex too. And I never thought it was a big deal growing up. Then it became a big deal for me when I got into intimate relationships. It is from a root of faith that I want to live a life that pleases God, and honour him because it gives me joy. 

It makes you happy.
But I also believe that He does not ask me to do things that do not have a purpose. "Just Say No" didn't have a purpose, but when I was in an intimate relationship I felt like it was so hard to say "no" to sex. Then I realised that the reason was for me to maintain a connection with someone and have trust before I lent my heart to them because it would hurt so much to not be with them forever.

So, it's fear?
OK, no... it's like, we don't go and eat McDonald's every day because we don't want to get coronary artery disease, but I don't have a fear of coronary artery disease. 

Tamara: My story is different. I grew up in a Catholic home but for many years fell out of my faith. I was going through a very hard time. I have had sex before. For me, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have gotten to know myself over the last four years. I was having sex and looking to men to validate me. It's not just a physical act. There is so much more to sex. I've come to a place in my life where I believe in true love. Even if I'm single for the next five years, I'm not going to settle. I value sex and it's a great gift. How can a relationship be truly successful if one person doesn't respect or honour themselves?

When you put so much emphasis on that first-time "moment", it becomes greater than it should be. I don't really remember the first time I had sex because it was not that important, but I do remember the illogical hype that surrounded it. What was important to me was figuring out blow jobs with my first boyfriend, sex positions, being comfortable naked, working out all those awkward kinks. Figuring out my pleasure, you know? 
I feel like the next time I have sex it will be as though I have never had it before. I know how stupid and crazy that sounds, but the idea is that you build a friendship, foundation with someone and you love them mentally, physically and spiritually, you can do it. It's the whole idea of creating love and exploring together.

Lisa: It's not just about that first act, it's about a lifetime with that person under the umbrella of security and trust so you can let yourself go. 

What do you guys consider "sex" or losing your virginity? Vaginal penetration? Oral sex? What about gay or lesbian sex?
Danielle: I guess virginity in the rawest form is vaginal penetration, but purity covers over a larger area. 

Tamara: "Vaginal penetration" from a nurse's mouth.

Lisa: Everybody has a boundary of how far they will go. It should be discussed between the couple. When you are in love, sex is the natural thing to do but you have to know that it's a slippery slope... you know, the other things. 

Danielle: No lying horizontally together. [Laughs] The bathing suit zone! It's a no-zone. Are you wearing a one-piece or a bikini? You can decide. 

Lisa: She's kidding.

Danielle: Do not tickle my ears. Seriously. And, I think I said this on Dateline or something, but I totally expect to have an orgasm on my wedding night.

Do you expect your future husbands to be pure too?
Lisa: No, they don't have to be virgins, but their journey will have a story too, just like us. We all have nicknames for our dream guys.

What are they?
Danielle: Mine is "the Viking". I'm sick of all these men who act like babies. So the Viking in my mind is a strong man who knows what he likes and doesn't need my coaxing along.

Tamara: Mine is "the Borealis Forest Beach Mountain Man". He loves adventure, nature and exploring with passion. 

Lisa: These girls nicknamed mine "the Rock Star" [laughs]. Someone who doesn't necessarily play music but has that rock star confidence.

I know plenty of musicians who think they are "rock stars"… maybe not so manly. What do you think about the way that a woman's morality is so deeply intertwined with her sexuality in pop culture and religion?
Danielle: It goes to the heart of the issue, which is personal values. 

I have a problem with the idea that, to some people, a woman's greatest value is based in her ability to say "no" to sex just because it is what she should do. It's an "ethic of passivity".
I think [waiting] adds something to my life. 

Lisa: It's not just sex, it's the process of getting to sex. 

How do you deal with sexual tension?
Danielle: Not with a massage train, that's for sure. 

Yeah, I saw that on the TLC show. What was with that?
It was so awkward! They made us do it. I had just worked such a long shift at the hospital, falling asleep in the back of this weird massage train. Anyways, back to your question. Tamara, do you miss sex?

Tamara: It would be the oddest thing, but I don't. I think it's because I look forward to what it can be with someone who I actually want to spend my life with. Not going to lie, sex is amazing, but I've only experienced it on some level. 

Lisa: And it's not like our whole life is our virginity, but it does help having friends around that understand what you are going through on those days when it's like, "OK, where is he? This has to happen now." They say a woman's sexual peak hits in her 30s... I am thirty! This isn't fun anymore! We want to have sex! Soon would be great! 

Don't you ever just want to say "screw it"?
Sometimes I'm like, "Where is the nearest guy? Let's just do this." It's natural. I know that and agree with it, but its an investment. I'm investing something into my future and my marriage. 

Don't you ever feel like your depriving yourself? You have this big goal of the right person for the right future, but what if that just doesn't exist?
Tamara: Truth is, we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Not all of us die when we are 80 years old on a death bed surrounded by friends. But I don't wake up every day thinking, "I'm 29 and I'm not having good sex right now." I have a lot of other joys in my life. I have an abundant life. 

Danielle: Practically speaking, there are days when you feel more physical than others. It helps to be able to talk it out together. 

Tamara: We have a fire station a block away from here. It's hard. [Laughs]

Danielle: We had a dating competition once. 

Tamara: It was kind of lame-o. 

Danielle: We did online dating and stuff. 

Lisa: They made us do blind dates on the show.

It's hard enough to date without the tag of "virginity" hanging over your head. 
Lisa: My mom was telling me about "the Lost Generation of Women". There is this whole generation of men our age who are waiting longer to get married, but when they are ready to settle they want to date girls in their mid-20's. So, there is this giant pocket of women who are our age who are completely lost and can't find men.

Those studies are bullshit. They try to scare women into getting married and keeping traditional roles. It's gender conformity. Anyone can collect data to prove their hypothesis for a theory like that. Where do you guys stand on masturbation?
Danielle: Everyone wants to know that! I think masturbation isn't talked about enough, but for me, it doesn't give life or add to the person who is doing it.

Lisa: We're going to start talking about it more on our blog

What do you think about the way that virgins are portrayed in the media? It's almost always a woman who is white. It's never a woman of colour or a woman who is disabled. What does that say about purity and who can really be "pure"?
Danielle: I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that white North American women have the most power to make choices. There is such a big social stigma against men not having sex because masculinity gives life and is so based on sexuality. 

Tamara: That's mainstream society and it's unfortunate. 

Do you have a problem with it? 
Lisa: Well, Tim Tebow is the only virgin in the NFL. We've found a lot more men who are virgins who will be writing on our blog. Some are just reclaiming their virtue. It's becoming more popular, but yes, you are right. We are trying to fight the stereotype. You are not socially inept if you are a virgin. 


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