Male purity touches a nerve
Tim Tebow had no sooner set a sneakered toe in New York than the media reported that Virgin Atlantic Airways would give the Jets’ backup quarterback a free ride from the Big Apple to London for as long as he keeps his V-Card intact.
And by V-Card, they weren’t referring to Valentine’s Day.
Tebow’s much-vaunted virginity has been public knowledge since he was asked about it during his University of Florida days. But there’s no doubt that his arrival on a larger stage has put the devout Christian’s chastity in a bizarre limelight.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski of the archrival New England Patriots has said he would do Tebow “just to take his virginity” – although given that this was a response to a vulgar parlor game and that Gronk seems to be a few floors short of an observation deck, it’s hard to take such a wholesome proposal seriously. Speaking of crass, cheaters’ website Ashley Madison is offering $1 million to any woman who can prove Tebow is not a virgin.
Even other virgins are getting into the act. Olympic hurdler, and self-proclaimed virgin, Lolo Jones has made her romantic interest in the Teebster clear, prompting some of the Jets to chant “Lolo, Lolo” in the locker room or try to pair up the two, while comedian Louis C.K. suggests they make a sex tape.
Clearly, male virginity touches a nerve in a way that female virginity doesn’t.
An unmarried woman
It’s no surprise. In ancient times and in many non-Western cultures today, female virginity has been prized, even required, in large part because you could not always correctly answer the question, “Who’s your daddy?” But you always knew who your mama was. So it was essential that mama was pure before marriage and faithful after it.
Even in the age of DNA testing, men still have not lost the atavistic fear of supposedly insatiable female sexuality and thus, the desire to control it. And so we’ve had a parade of ancient virgin goddesses like Athena, Artemis and Hestia, who gave way to the Virgin Mary and a host of female saints like Catherine of Alexandria and Maria Goretti, who gave up their lives rather than their integrity and who in turn yielded to the quivering ingénues and spinsters of ’50s dramas and modern-day romances, waiting to have their symbolic chastity belts unlocked by the misunderstood bad boys they would tame in return. What are “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” with their plucky virginal heroines and their damaged James Deans and brutal Brandos, but variations on this theme? Although writers may not know their Greek mythology as well as they think they do. In all those tales celebrating the “virgin” goddesses, the word “parthenos” simply means “an unmarried woman.”
Today, women still cannot do too much loosening of their chaste treasures, to borrow from the Bard, lest the Rush Limbaughs start hurling the s-word at them. No such strictures apply to men. Given their anatomy and status since prehistoric times, they’re expected to be out there on the hunt. Unless a man has made a religious commitment – as is the case with Tebow and the Rev. Chad David (see related story) – virginity doesn’t apply and indeed might call his masculinity into question. Perhaps that’s why artists and writers have struggled for centuries to depict a Jesus – the central figure in Western culture – who is both virile and chaste (a combo that has made Tebow catnip to so many women).
Waiting on love
Apart from traditional interpretations of Jesus – and certain allegorical ones, like The Unicorn Tapestries at The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval branch in northern Manhattan – there are few works celebrating male virginity. One that does is the Arthurian legend of Sir Galahad. Conceived out of wedlock through subterfuge by Elaine of Corbenic, this son of the adulterous Lancelot nonetheless is the one who at last attains the Holy Grail, said to have held the blood of Jesus. Why is Galahad alone of all the Knights of the Round Table, including fellow seekers Perceval (Parsifal) and Bors, given this honor? In his poem “Sir Galahad,” Alfred Lord Tennyson offers the answer:
“My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.”
But such purity is not made for this world. In drinking from the cup, Galahad beholds a vision that leads his soul and the cup to ascend to Heaven.
The more likely male virgin scenario involves the hero’s loss of innocence in a coming of age story, as in the movies “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Summer of ’42” or Richard Wagner’s “The Ring” cycle. There Siegfried goes down, down, down into the burning ring of fire – thank you, Johnny Cash – to rescue the maiden warrior goddess Brunnhilde and awaken them both to love.
“Loss of virginity is a significantly different psychological experience for a woman than a man,” the Jungian psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen writes in “Ring of Power.”
“It is an initiatory experience that happens in her and that leaves her vulnerable. For many women, it is also an emotionally bonding act that increases their vulnerability.”
Whereas, she writes, “Loss of virginity for Siegfried and men like him is an experience of mastery rather than vulnerability. When Brunnhilde responds to him passionately, Siegfried notes, ‘My fear, I find, has faded and gone like a dream.’”
But according to sociologist Amy T. Schalet, fear – of making a mistake that may alter their lives forever – is one reason that more teenage boys are holding on to their virginity nowadays. Writing in the April 7th edition of The New York Times, Schalet cited a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that less than 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds have had sex – down from 50 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls in 1988.
Fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases was only one factor in the decline among boys, however. The other was the desire for love and a real romantic relationship.
And why shouldn’t males as well as females have this option? Whether as a lifelong commitment or a station on the way to a meaningful relationship, virginity, experts say, has its uses, particularly as a metaphor for psychological self-possession and integrity, a word that means wholeness. The Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding, in her book “Women’s Mysteries,” could just as well have been speaking of men when she wrote: “The woman who is virgin, one-in-herself, does what she does—not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not because of any desire to gain power over another, to catch his interest or love, but because what she does is true.”
In other words, the male virgin doesn’t have to say with Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”
He’s complete in himself.
The Rev. Chad David, a stand-up comedian turned minister, has never had sex and lives with his mother. And no, that’s not a sitcom concept or a treatment for a Steve Carrell movie.
David, a youth minister and pre-marriage/marriage counselor with a nondenominational church in Ontario, Canada, believes that sex should be reserved for a man and a woman united in holy matrimony.
“I believe God gave us marriage as a framework for understanding all kinds of relationships,” David says.
Yes, he knows what you’re thinking. (That’s the funny thing about comedians. They always beat you to the punch line.) But you ask the question anyway: How can a guy with little or no, um, “swimming experience” counsel couples who are either about to take the big plunge or find themselves barely treading water?
“I counter with the line ‘Those who can’t do, teach,’” David says with a laugh. “Those who aren’t having sex tend to talk about it a lot.”
He’s like that – a self-deprecating charmer with an easygoing warmth. It’s not surprising that he should be good at the give-and-take of counseling. He holds master’s degrees in theology and education and is working on one in spiritual care and psychotherapy.
Yes, he’s heard it all before: He must be deeply closeted or deeply repressed or deeply tied to his mother’s apron strings or deeply something. But what he is, he says, is a man who’s comfortable in his own skin and has been in a relationship with a woman for six years.
“The young guys I counsel say, ‘No way, no way.’ But I have no problem saying to young people, ‘I’m a virgin.’”
It was stand-up that gave him the courage to be himself. If you think virginity is hard – and David acknowledges that it is – try getting up in front of a tough audience to tell jokes.
“When I started loving myself, I didn’t need to be on stage,” he says. “I didn’t need the approval. But I’m grateful for the experience and use humor in my teaching.”
Humor also plays a role in his new book, “Emotional Sex” (Balboa Press/Hay House), about making psychological, intellectual and spiritual connections with a partner beyond the mere physical.
David is not one of those spiritual types who sets impossible goals for couples. He understands that you don’t lack a sexuality just because you’re not having sex. Single people and unmarried couples have to express it in some way.
“Even the Bible has gray areas….I encourage kids to make wise choices. But I don’t say follow my path.”
He also understands that even good kids eager to make smart choices might rush into marriage just to have sex.
“Christians tend to get married younger.”
That’s not a trap David and his girlfriend want to fall into. Faced at the moment with financial concerns and her sorting out a career path, they’ve decided to wait.
“If I had sex, I don’t think I could refrain from it,” he says. “It’s easier to not do something when you haven’t tried it.”
In the meantime, there’s the pleasure of anticipation.
“You still have something to look forward to, and that’s exciting.”