The way we talk about virginity needs to change

kara hartley
The way we talk about virginity needs to change image

Reality TV isn’t something I particularly enjoy. The odd cooking show, sure, but overall I find the shows are superficial, contrived and just, well, boring. Yet my attention’s been caught recently by the online chatter about the current season of Married at First Sight (MAFS).

One contestant in particular who caught my attention was Matthew the virgin. Let’s be clear. MAFS – promoted as a family show in a family time slot – is an experiment, packaged in reality, for the sake of ratings, money and fame. Each couple, and each contestant/participant has a “hook” or trait, something to intrigue or appeal to (or appal) the viewer. Matthew’s hook is that he’s a 29-year-old bloke who’s still a virgin.

The mark of a fully developed man

The way he’s portrayed early on in the show, as he prepares to “marry”, is as someone who’s vulnerable, shy and almost childlike. Ultimately Matthew’s hook is that he’s missing the so-called normal adult experience of sex – as if by missing out he’s not a fully developed adult man.

"Last night I lost my virginity and it was a beautiful moment. I think it was worth the 29-year wait," Matthew said, after his honeymoon. 

Losing his virginity, in the minds of the viewer and other participants, was the hallmark of whether his relationship with his “wife” is on track. The Bible says the place for sex is within a marriage, between a man and a woman. This is best for us, and anything else is sin. The Bible is also clear that for those who don’t marry, the chaste single life is the appropriate way for them to live (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 7).

There is no sense in any of this – not even a hint – that the unmarried, chaste person is any less in their humanity than the married person. They are no less an adult. They are not naïve, inexperienced, or unable to have a full and contented life.

Yet in the world according to MAFS, it seems you’re defined as a complete person by whether or not you’ve had sex.

Let’s not deny the double standard going on here. This isn’t just about what it means to be human, but what it means to be a man! Real men are supposed to have sex. I can’t imagine the producers reversing the situation and making the woman the virgin. After all, a woman mustn’t (rightly) ever be forced to give up her virginity and yet it seems it’s okay for a man to be forced (the pressure from contestants and audience alike makes it feel like this) into giving up his virginity.

Although even going on the show Matthew must have realised this was the expectation. Matthew and his “wife” Lauren have made the decision to leave the show, and each other, and the focus has shifted to the behaviour of other contestants cheating on their partners. Perhaps that time-worn ratings drawcard was more successful than the virgin storyline?

Overall, the emphasis on virginity – and the obsession with this couple – shows yet again the gulf between God’s purposes for sex and marriage and what we see being played out in society. God’s gift of sex, given for our good and for the good of one another, should not be what defines us. In reality, it’s not the 29-year-old virgin who needs to grow up but the rest of us.

Kara Hartley is Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry and normally watches Masterchef.