Virgins Wanted: Why Two People Are Auctioning Off Their Virginity
What was your first time like? Everyone’s varies, but chances are yours was probably nothing like Alexander Stepanov and Catarina Migliorini’s are going to be. These two young people are going to be part of a controversial new documentary. Virgins Wanted, made by Australian filmmaker Justin Sisely, is going to record the process by which their virginities are auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Sisely has been trying to create a project like this for years. He first launched an ad looking for virgins to be a part of a film project in 2008. There have been many legal and practical setbacks since then, which is made obvious by the fact that one of the film’s trailers features a woman who has since backed out of the project due to family pressure. It appears that he’s finally worked out the kinks (pun intended) though, because the auction has been live for a few weeks.
So what exactly does selling one’s virginity entail? According to the terms and conditions posted on the film’s website, the buyer must go through an STD test and background check, can only have intercourse (no kissing or any other sex act), and cannot include any fantasy, roleplay, or accoutrements. The sex will not be recorded for the documentary, although the time before and afterwards will be. Alexander and Catarina are said to be receiving a $20,000 up-front payment from Sisely as well as 90% of the profits from the auction. Much of the film, including travel expenses, will be funded out of Sisely’s pocket. One of the most curious rules is the time limit: both parties involved will agree upon how long they’ll be together, but the minimum time required is one hour. (I’ll definitely be wishing Alexander’s inexperienced anatomy good luck.) There is also mandatory medical examination to certify that Catarina is actually a virgin, which is all kinds of ridiculous, but we’ll get to that later.
Alexander seems to have been involved in the project for awhile, but it’s definitely Catarina who’s getting the majority of public scrutiny. The only article that profiles Alexander was from his native country, Russia, and doesn’t portray him in the most positive light. He talks about his history of depression and being bullied, and notes the free psychiatric treatment as a motivator for doing the film. (Incidentally, from the way he describes his perfect girl– “Latin-American roots,” “shy brunette” – it seems like he has a bit of crush on Catarina, who’s from Brazil.) Regardless, Alexander is definitely a more awkward, slightly pathetic character, while Catarina is either a feminist goddess or a complete whore depending on who you ask. In the promotion for the film, Catarina is photographed in revealing outfits made of lace and sheer materials, usually on a beach, presumably to emphasize her Brazilian allure.
She’s also the one getting the most backlash. In an article published by the Latin American Christian Post, Pastor Jamie Kemp condemned the film, saying “It is the use and abuse of the girl…It is sad!” If Catarina were being forced into this in any way, I would agree, but that doesn’t seem to be the case — and of course he said nothing about Alexander’s choice to take part in the film, because why judge a guy’s sex life when you can judge a girl’s? Catarina has issued a statement to the Brazilian press, saying “I am 20 years old, am responsible for my body, and I’m not harming anyone.”
Obviously there is the fact that there is a huge societal taboo against prostitution of any kind, but Sisely has worked hard to get around that. Filming took place in Indonesia, he’s running the auction from Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal, and the deal will be consummated in a plane flying from Australia to the United States, which supposedly circumvents the laws against prostitution in both countries. The legality is admittedly still questionable, but it’s really not the fact that this tends towards prostitution about which people seem to be getting upset; it’s the use of virginity as a marketing tool. Feminspire writer Emma Tarver says, “I don’t see how this is different from any other sex work. Most agencies will exploit anything (virginity, race, body shape, age, etc); at least in this case the virgins keep the profits.” If it is sex work, it’s probably some of the safest and most potentially important sex work around; this documentary, if it’s allowed to be made and done right, could educate people about the absurd levels to which our society elevates virginity and sex. But still, the Sisely has had to fight to get anything done. He’s faced a huge amount of hatred for this project, especially from religious organizations. He even began receiving death threats. He defends the film, though, saying that he wishes he would have done something like it and that he’s “exploring the idea of virginity as a commodity”.
Another staff writer, Sully Moreno, writes, “My perspective is that while this movie could definitely spark an interesting conversation, is it really necessary to auction off these two people to start that conversation? I know it was clarified that they will be compensated…but obviously the producer of the film will still profit from it, so it really feels like the auction element is just sensationalizing the film so he can make the most money possible.” And sure, it’s obvious that the auction is partially intended for shock value, and anyone in entertainment probably wants to make money, but if this film is good and makes a unique statement on the value of virginity in today’s society — which I have hopes that it will — why should that matter?
Catarina, for one, sees no problem with what she’s doing, and in her statement she mentioned that she will use some of the money to start a housing project and study medicine in Argentina.
For me, it’s not prostitution. When someone does something once in his or her life, this is not considered a profession. If you take a picture and it comes out good, you are not a photographer because of it. I have no problem with prostitution. It’s the oldest profession in the world and should be legalized. There is a phrase from a philosopher that I like, Henry Thoreau: ‘A second opinion is a weak tyrant compared to our opinion of ourselves.’
So if it’s ostensibly safe (there will be a security team on board the plane when they have sex), legal, and all parties involved are consenting, why is it such a big deal? Probably because a traditionally “hot” young woman losing her virginity is like the holy grail to some people: highly sought after, supposedly close to God, and probably not worth all the fuss. In all of the media I’ve read about Catarina Migliorini, very little of it presents her as who she really is: someone that wants to have sex for money to make her life and her loved one’s lives easier. The headlines aren’t “Girl Takes Part In Documentary,” they’re “Hot Brazilian Auctions Off Virginity;” because that sells better. Jessica Valenti wrote in her book The Purity Myth, “If you spend any amount of time doing media analysis, it’s clear that the most frenzied moral panic surrounding young women’s sexuality comes from the mainstream media, which loves to report about how promiscuous girls are, whether they’re acting up on spring break, getting caught topless on camera, or catching all kinds of STIs. Unsurprisingly, these types of articles and stories generally fail to mention that women are attending college at the highest rates in history, and that we’re the majority of undergraduate and master’s students. Well-educated and socially engaged women just don’t make for good headlines, it seems.”
The part about how Catarina’s donating some of the money to charity and using it to fund her education? Ignored. Her quotation about how she’s a romantic and her family supports her? Well, that takes all the fun out of it. But these things are the truth. It’s pretty amusing that all of the hype around this film has only revealed just how much our society hyperfocuses on virginity as a standard of personal worth. If we’re talking just plain numbers, Catarina’s virginity is currently going for $190,000. But Alexander’s? A mere $1,300. If that doesn’t illustrate the problematic way we think about sex, I don’t know what does.
And the fact that Catarina has to submit to an exam to “prove” that she’s a virgin, but Alexander doesn’t? That’s a whole ‘nother level of bizarre. That exam will consist of a doctor looking at her vagina and determining whether or not her hymen is intact, which is not a foolproof indicator of virginity. I didn’t think I’d ever have to explain this, but for the record, this is how the hymen works, courtesy of the good people at Scarleteen:
The hymen (now also called the corona) is usually very thin, stretchy tissue just inside the opening of the vagina. For most women, most of it wears away on its own over a woman’s lifetime, with or without intercourse. It is not a seal that “breaks” or “pops” with first intercourse, though first intercourse, and any vaginal sex thereafter, will often play one part in that tissue gradually wearing away. One round of intercourse will not remove the hymen or cause it to be all gone. If a woman has menstrual periods, you can be sure that the hymen/corona has already begun wearing away, otherwise that fluid could not leave a woman’s body…Many women who have not had any kind of sex do not have fully intact hymens…
And the hymen can also break when inserting tampons, fingers, or anything else into the vaginal opening. Popping your cherry, aside from being a gross phrase, is highly inaccurate.
In the end, I don’t think it actually matters what two consenting adults do with their sex lives. I’m a twenty-year-old virgin too, and I don’t think I’d engage in sex work, but I don’t care if anyone else does, and neither should you. As sex educator Charlie Glickman says in his article If You Don’t Respect Sluts, You Don’t Respect Women, “I don’t care how much sex anyone has, how often they do it, or who they do it with. I’m much more interested in the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants and the people affected by it. I respect women who are asexual, celibate, monogamous, multi-partnered, or have had more partners than they can recall. I respect women who only have sex after a commitment to monogamy and those who have sex with someone within minutes of meeting them. I respect women who have transactional sex, women who have sex for love, or for any other reason. I know that all of these categories are permeable and that many women move from one to another. And I know that any of these decisions can be made from a place of personal power, choice, and authenticity, as well as from a place of coercion, shame, and disempowerment.” Catarina Migliorini has made a choice for her own well-being, and she’s sticking to it. She’s not yours to objectify, she’s not a victim, and she’s definitely not you; so what right does anyone have to judge her?
What do you think of Virgins Wanted? Should people be allowed to sell their virginity? Let us know in the comments!