Inexperience now a trend

Mad Men's adult virgin Michael Ginsberg.

Mad Men's adult virgin Michael Ginsberg.

Imagine my embarrassment: here I was thinking bloodthirsty historical drama was the current television rage, when it turns out it's actually "virginity". At least, that's the latest Hollywood trend report from noted bastions of excellence Fox News.

In a rundown of this apparently burgeoning trend, Hollie McKay reckons that "When it comes to the small screen, the flavour of the month is – virginity! Who's a virgin, why they're a virgin, when they intend to no longer be a virgin – you name it."

Lest we be left to take her word for it, McKay lists the evidence: Jon Snow's Game of Thrones developments North of the Wall and south of his jocks, Mad Men's Michael Ginsberg and his "never had sex – not even once" confession, New Girl's "Virgins" flashback episode, and the upcoming streaming (ahem) show Losing Your Virginity with John Stamos, in which the sometime Beach Boy will reminisce with various celebrity guests about their own maidenhead moments.

That's all well and good, and perhaps there is a trend at play here, but McKay's take on it misses the mark. Regarding the trend's potential background, McKay quotes educational leadership expert Dr Janet Rose Wojtalik: "Possibly our state of affairs, which includes an overabundance of themes of submissiveness, promiscuity and misplaced values, has created an insecurity in our society," she said. "When this happens we begin to feel out of control. These themes are a way for us to regain power, or at least a feeling of power."


Well, Dr Wojtalik, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: when it comes to film and TV, sex sells, and its lack is just another way to investigate a character's personal narrative.

See, nobody is here to accuse Hollywood (and its television relatives) of being original. As this list of "copycat films" (never forget the great Armageddon versus Deep Impact battle of 1998) should demonstrate, there's nothing Hollywood likes more than mining the collective unconscious and filling the multiplexes with eerily similar movies.

So, in that sense, critic Dan Hetching is more or less on the money when he notes that Hollywood likes to employ a "revolving door" of sex-related themes: "First it was prostitutes, then MILFs, now it's back to virgins."

But what's different about this current run of televisual deflowerings is that they mostly step outside the tired traditional model of on-screen virginity. That is, the "most precious gift" (thanks, Mr Abbott) treatment for female virgins, who lack even basic agency (not to mention the inevitable gruesome end for any horror movie female who dares to slip between the covers), and for their male equivalents, the "hilarious" race to the finish line (American Pie, Losin' It) and crushing horror of virginity (The 40 Year Old Virgin) for their male equivalents.

In Game of Thrones – putting aside my doubts about a virgin knowing that much about pleasing a woman – Jon Snow's deflowering at the hands of Ygritte offered a fresh spin on what's usually depicted as a frantic rush to become sexually experienced. Snow, who took a vow of celibacy upon joining the Night Watch, showed reticence about losing his virginity due his celebacy vows, and presumably, his growing feelings for Ygritte.

Similarly, Ginsberg's Mad Men confession about his virginity was rather poignant as it was spewed forth on a first date – not exactly winning dinner conversation.

And since Stamos' show will, presumably, feature a broad range of ages and genders, no doubt – even if it's played for uneasy laughs – it will also provide a more nuanced picture of virginity and its loss than that which we see on the big and small screens.

McKay could also have looked at the ways in which Hollywood is dismantling the tropes as far as female sexuality and virginity is concerned. The upcoming film The To Do List features Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Clark, a virgin who goes about notching up sexual experiences so as not to enter college behind the eight-ball. It's a far cry from the usual sheet-clutching wincing and mumbled dialogue about whether "it" will hurt. Brandy is proactive and has sexual agency, something mainstream "losing it" narratives usually only offers to boys.

In other words, it's another suspect thesis from our friends at Fox – but why look deeply at a cinematic or televisual trend when you can give it the shock treatment?