By Shannon Clarke
Feature image via: shirt-fight.com
Grey’s Anatomy has never shied away from sexuality. Its characters, male and female, have no problem talking about sex or having it (all over the hospital). The series opened with Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) waking up from a one-night stand only to find out the man at the bar was actually her new, dreamy, neurosurgeon boss. With their various sexual encounters contributing to most of the major plot twists, I only assumed newcomer April Kepner (Sarah Drew) would, before long, have her own devastating night of passion or surprising tryst.
Turns out April may be Grey’s only virgin character.
The episode, aptly titled “Superfreak”, became all about her sexual inexperience. After a patient tells the residents that she is waiting until her wedding night, a discussion ensues about their first times: at 15, at 16, at 19; with a TA, with the school nurse. The camera turns to April, visibly uncomfortable, who gives a quick and unconvincing response about a wonderful moment on the beach. If the audience hasn’t figured it out, it’s Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) who shouts “Ha! You’re a virgin!”
Disbelief is followed by ridicule and then Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) instructs Alex to “deflower her”. From then on, April is no longer just April: former Mercy Wester, shooting survivor, peppy underdog. She’s also The Virgin.
It was only 63 years ago when Ozzie and Harriet sharing a bed on television was a scandal. Women like the other female characters of Grey’s would have been considered ‘loose’. Then feminism and the sexual revolution gave women a voice to talk about sex openly and honestly, to have it when they want it without being ‘ruined’ or scorned.
Now the tide has changed and the scandal is not the ‘loose woman’ among us, it’s the virgin. As Carson Brown puts it in her 2000 article in for Bitch Magazine, “The New Sexual Deviant: Mapping Virgin Territory”, at 19 she was “too old to be both a virgin and cool”. Brown examines the stigma of the virgin: chaste, timid, prudish, naïve, traditional, fragile. The girls having sex: those are the rebels. Carson challenges readers to define themselves as neither, rather, as individuals.
But ten years since “The New Sexual Deviant” first appeared in Bitch, and four years since it was reprinted in the ten-year anniversary anthology Bitchfest, the virgin is still a target of derision and, after a certain point, pity.
The ‘Virgin’ and the ‘Whore’
If we are to defend our right to have sex with whomever, wherever, whenever we want and without fear of labels should the same not extend to virgins? If I want to wait for the right guy and the right moment why should I be considered frigid or idealistic? Because I’ve never had sex, should my opinions and views on sex and sexuality be discredited?
The binary of the virgin and the whore persists. There are the DTF girls and the girls you marry (to use Jersey Shore vernacular). The girls who can’t get anyone to take it and the ones who can’t give it away fast enough. It seems you can be either a prude or a sexually promiscuous and since neither term appeals to me, where is the in-between?
Where to draw the line
Terms like “squeaky clean” are becoming condescending. If young girls are seeing virgin characters on television being ridiculed for their lack of sexual experience at a certain age are we not doing the same damage we were 50 years ago, when girls with sexual experience were considered immoral and pitiful because they’d never be married?
And since men are never ridiculed for having too much experience (Mark Sloane on Grey’s for example is considered a legend) the male-virgin stigma attacks ideals of masculinity and, by proxy, femininity.
Your sexual past shouldn’t be policed, defined or validated by anyone but you. Whether you’re having it or not, want to or not, waiting or truly don’t care at all the old adage remains: your body, your business.