extra virgin: perpetuating the virginity myth through one-off sex work
It seems that this sort of thing happens once every few years and, lo and behold, here we are again. A 27-year old medical student from the United States has decided to auction off her virginity. The woman, known as Elizabeth Raine (her true identity is being concealed, excepting to that of the highest bidder) is offering a ’12 hour date…atop the auction block.’
An entire website has been established dedicated solely to seeking out the highest bidder for Raine’s viriginity, introducing herself, her ‘logic’ behind the auctioning off of her virginity and a gallery of images of herself, though with her face obscured by a large banner of her name.
On her website, Raine describes herself as ‘a sensually stunning, highly educated, and charismatic American woman’, and also includes a physical profile of herself, as matched by the photos in the gallery. These appear to represent a slim blonde lady as per her physical description.
As strange as these circumstances may already seem, there are numerous other dubious elements at play here.
The photos in the gallery, for example, look as though they have been retouched, photoshopped and airbrushed to perfection, to the standards of your average beauty magazine, which calls into question whether or not this is, in fact, Raine herself, or another model who has either been used with or without permission. It’s horrible to talk about the notion of false advertising when what is being advertised isn’t a product, but rather a human being; however, something about the photographs just doesn’t quite seem right.
Adding to the dubious nature of this scheme is the language used on the website. The descriptions, the details and the overall feel of what Raine is saying (or being told to say) seems extremely scripted, even clichéd.
There is also the fact that the auction begins on April 1.
‘We didn’t even think about April Fools’ as it is not something big here in Australia,’ Raine’s apparently Australian-based publicist Siobhanne Sweeney stated to The Huffington Post.
Oh yes, there’s also the matter of the publicist. Raine writes on her blog (entitled Musings of a Virgin Whore) ‘my lovely agent owns a very successful and respected business in Sydney, Australia.’
Indeed, Sweeney is so successful that the Internet appears to have never heard of her, except in relation to Raine herself. She has no online presence as a publicist, which seems extremely odd. We could, of course, assume that the identity of the publicist has been concealed along with the identity of Raine herself – yet you’d think that, despite the obvious ethical dilemmas at play here, the publicity would be beneficial to the furthering of a publicist’s career?
Colour me (extremely) dubious.
The question that is the most obvious to ask of Raine, is simple: Why?
Well, according to her blog, she ‘loves lists’, and she rattled off one of her beloved lists in order to justify her actions: ‘the money…the scandal…the eroticism’. However, if you’re thinking ‘gosh, that sounds like prostitution’, well, you’d be wrong. Despite the fact that she seems thrilled to be making the transition ‘from virgin to literal whore’, she positions herself above sex workers by insisting that she will only lose her virginity for ‘exorbitant’ sums of money – so she’s not only apparently ‘clever, attractive and sensual’, but she’s also classist, greedy and whorephobic. Because what she’s doing isn’t prostitution or sex work, this isn’t a career, but a single choice based on the thrill of the adventure, rather than on earning a living or choosing a career path.
This story continues to show that, despite years of progress, society still has an obsession with virginity. The more and more stories such as these crop up, and the more and more attention they are given, the more that this obsession is reinforced. Rather than asking Raine, I’d rather ask the question of those proliferating this obsession: Why?
In her book about virginity in America, The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti writes, ‘What’s the difference between venerating women for being fuckable and putting them on a purity pedestal? In both cases, women’s worth is contingent upon their ability to please men and to shape their sexual identities around what men want.’
In addition to money, scandal and eroticism, Raine also writes that a primary motivation behind the stunt is to grapple with her misgivings surrounding feminism:
‘I almost certainly do not wear a feminist badge (I prefer short dresses, or scrubs). Rather, I have decided feminism is relevant here because some feminists have decided that my virginity is relevant to them…But I have decided I will not be discarding my feminist label, and I will not be calling off this auction. I am not so easily controlled.’