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January 16, 2019

Dr. Jess on Global: The Bachelor’s Virginity and Chris Pratt’s Engagement

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After a few weeks abroad for the holidays, followed by an emergency with her pup in Miami (more here), and a few days at a clothing optional resort working with couples who have been happily married for 30+ years, Jess finally made it back to Toronto. And her first stop, of course, was at Global TV’s The Morning Show. She joined Carolyn and Jeff to chat about popular portrayals of two hot topics: virginity as portrayed on The Bachelor and the role of faith in relationships in light of Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger’s engagement.

Check out the video reply and summary notes below.

1. The new bachelor, Colton is a virgin and people can’t stop talking about it. What is our obsession with virginity?

Virginity is an odd and exclusionary concept. It simply doesn’t apply to everyone because it tends to refer to one specific sex act and discount all the other pleasurable and intimate acts that are also sexual in nature.

The definition of virginity itself isn’t universal — like sex, it means different to different people. There was a time when we believed that being a virgin referred to not having put a penis inside of the vagina (which would suggest that tampons, fingers, toys, tongues etc. wouldn’t qualify), but not everyone plans on putting a penis inside of a vagina and even those who have done so (or plan to do so one day) classify other sexual activities as sex. If you’re a lesbian who has been having sex with your partner for ten years, are you still a virgin?

Our obsession with virginity may be related to:

a. Our need to classify (and judge) people based on their sexuality. The same applies to gender identity and sexual orientation. We feel entitled to understand others based on our own subjective categories. Oftentimes, our desire to understand and judge others is associated with a need to better understand and reconcile our own sexuality — we may compare ourselves to others or use their experiences to validate our own.

b. We live in a world in which sex is all around us — online, in print and right next door. We are fascinated by it, but we don’t get to talk about it as much as we’d like to. Talking about virginity is an excuse to talk about sex. Many of us feel conflicted when it comes to sex, as we feel that we’re supposed to be having it and be highly skilled at it; at the same time, we’re judged for our sexuality (and this intersects with our age, gender, income, race and other identifying factors). The concept of virginity is therefore appealing, as it supposedly offers some clarity without conflict (although if you see my note above, this too is a fallacy).

c. We love to speak about other people’s sex lives — whether they’re having more or less than us. Talking about virginity as some abstract term seems to be offer a more socially acceptable way to gossip about another person’s sex life than talking about what they’re actually doing.

Do you think it gives him an edge? Back in the 50s, the bad boy got all the attention, but given the hypersexuality of our current culture, does being a virgin make you more attractive?

Colton is a great example of the reality that abstaining from one type of sex doesn’t make you a better partner or more of a gentleman. You can have lots of sex and be a decent or not-so-decent person. The same applies if you abstain from sex — you might be a good person or you might not. How you treat the people you have sexual relationships with matters more than how many people you’ve had a certain type of sex with.

Virginity is a tool that has been used to sell popular culture and popular icons for years (e.g. Jessica Simpson). Look back further and you’ll find virginal obsession in the roots of religion – with the Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception. It’s not new. You’re not de-sexualizing someone by focusing on their virginity; you’re reducing them to their sexuality.

We also need to address the fact that gender plays a role in the way Colton’s virginity is being addressed and portrayed (with humour, for example). While female virginity is rooted in patriarchal expectations of purity, male virginity is often treated as a farce — or as a sign of being special, emotional and tender. You can, of course, be tender and emotional and have sex.

Rather than cracking jokes about his virginity, we might consider using this as an opportunity to acknowledge that when it comes to sex, you have many options. More young people are waiting to have sex and that’s perfectly fine.

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1. Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger are engaged and Pratt has commented on the role a shared faith plays in their relationship. How important is shared faith in marriage?

Research suggests that shared faith is of high value to those who are religious. When asked about what kinds of things are important for a successful marriage, 44% of say shared religious beliefs are “very important.” This ranking makes shared religion as more important than shared politics, but significantly less important than shared interests, good sex and a reasonable division of household labor.

2. What if you and your partner don’t share the same religious beliefs – are you doomed?

You’re not doomed! Interfaith unions are on the rise. Prior to 1960, only 19 percent of American married couples were of two different religions, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center. Today, it’s 39% percent. Nearly half (49%) of unmarried couples are living with someone of a different faith.

Research suggests that religion is not a significant source of conflict in interfaith relationships. However, research also reveals that those in interfaith marriages are less likely to discuss religion and these are conversations you’ll want to have before potential conflict arises.