Natalie Dylan has decided to auction her virginity to pay for grad school. "I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems, but it will create some financial stability," the 22-year-old Sacramento State graduate said. "I'm ready for the controversy... I'm ready to do this."
I fully support her right to pay for her education in any way she sees fit. I do believe that some women actively choose prostitution because it is the best option for them, and that it is something that they enjoy doing.
My problems with this story are two fold. On one hand, the idea that virginity is something special, that can be offered as a prize is problematic to women. The cult of virginity helps reinforce the Madonna/Whore complex. Women who are deemed sluts are unfairly targeted by society, and in in some circumstances it can lead to death. In a world where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers, auctioning it off only maintains the idea that virginity is something that elevates a woman.
The cult of virginity is something that is specific to women. It exists to control womens sexuality. Men are not encouraged to remain chaste, in fact their male status is heightened by their ability to have sex with various partners. Men are socialized to consume, and women are socialized to submit.
Virginity became prized with the advent of private ownership. As men began to leave an inheritance, requiring virginity and the chastity of women was the only way to ensure the paternity of their offspring. In this we can see the biological imperative to reproduce taking precedence over the so-called male need for sex. Of course men did allow themselves an out. By actively supporting prostitution they can participate in "meaningless" sex, and then return home to a proper domesticated wife. Each woman plays a key role in maintaining patriarchy by serving male needs. Although each woman is significant to a mans life, their value is based solely on their vaginas, and the pleasure or status that it provides.
My second issue with this auction is class related. Dylan is selling her virginity to pay for grad school. While it is certainly her choice to do with her body as she sees fit, I doubt that she would make this choice were it not for financial difficulties. This calls into question how active her decision is, because it is a choice made by constrained circumstances.
Poverty is a feminized phenomenon and in difficult economic times it is women and children that suffer the most. Whether or not economists will admit it, the US is in a recession, if not a depression, and therefore those already living on the margins of society will have even greater difficulties achieving subsistence. There is already a spike in women selling their eggs, and now we can add virginity auctioning to the latest specifically female attempt to manage economic disparity. As the economy continues to worsen, I suspect we will see more and more cases like this.
While I fully respect Dylan's choice, I must wonder how many women will be forced to make similar decisions because of the sudden poverty that they find themselves in? There is a difference between choosing prostitution because you need the money, versus wanting the money. The terrible part about this is that no one will rail against a government that refuses to provide education, which is a human right. Dylan will be slut shamed, and left with a spoiled identity. If you have any doubt about the slut shaming, just read the commentary posted on the first link that I provided. Good luck to you Natalie, but I certainly hope that some significant changes occur, so that women will no longer have to make the "choice" that you did.