Last night, MTV premiered Virgin Territory, a new series that puts the teen-movie archetype of the late-to-lose-it young adult through the docuseries lens it has successfully trained on teen moms. The result is both more fascinating and less apparently exploitative than 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom. What MTV’s virgins lack in financial disasters and lifestyle upheaval, they more than make up for with introspection. Here’s five lessons on modern virginity from episode one.
Virgins don’t look like virginal.
Everyone on Virgin Territory is attractive enough that audiences don’t need to wonder whether that’s the reason they haven’t already had sex. Kyle is a hairless gym rat, and Dominique is so pretty she could be on a scripted MTV series. Mikaela and Lisa have the piercings and tattoos of people who had a lot of sex on a Central American beach during their gap year, actual chastity notwithstanding.
Losing your virginity can be a family affair.
For all four of the premiere’s virgins, older family members loom large. Kyle says the death of his father during his adolescence stunted his ability to socialize with girls, and Lisa stresses that her father’s poor health may delay her wedding and attendant deflowering. Dominique’s plans to find a guy who wants to marry and have sex with her are emotionally derailed by her mother who, six years after divorcing Dominique’s father, announces that she is engaged. Aunts, on the other hand, are clutch: Dominique’s tells her to get out and date more, while Mikaela’s offers up her house for a party.
But losing it at your wedding is stressful.
The first episode follows devoutly religious Lisa in the days leading up to her wedding, when she will have sex for the first time. (She has never even masturbated, she says.) But being a religious virgin doesn’t free her from the awkward power dynamics of losing it to a nonvirgin: Her Edward Snowden–lookalike fiancé is born-again, and “the last time he had sex was when he was 14.” The pre-wedding anticipation lays bare the arbitrary importance we assign life milestones. You are a capital-V-Virgin until one day you’re not, and you’re legally single until one day you’re married, even though nothing much tangibly changes. And scheduling your deflowering for your wedding night is a doubleheader of dangerously high expectations. “It wasn’t breathtaking,” Lisa reports.
Secular virgins are inherently interesting …
When Lisa says that staying “pure” is “honoring to God,” you have to take her at her word. Being a nonreligious virgin means owning up to personal insecurities or unmet desires, which makes for great television. Dominique and Mikaela are in search of meaningful connection or commitment (“No ringy, no dingy,” Dominique says), which older viewers know they are unlikely to find at clubs or fratty parties with “anything but clothes” dress codes.
… but especially male ones.
Kyle might be seeking the same things as Dominique and Mikaela but, as a guy, his anxiety about losing his virginity manifests as performance anxiety. When presented with an apparently willing young woman identified as “Drunk Friend,” he says: “I have no idea what to do with her.” It is by far the show’s most sympathetic moment. Like, if only such ignorance had given pause to the jittery male amateurs of your adolescence! I watched Virgin Territory with a female friend whose nickname is V-Card Bandit (she has stolen six). “This is why you sleep with virgins!” she shouted at this point in the show. “They’re so sweet.” For better or for worse, male virginity carries a uniquely fascinating stigma, because it requires gender-incongruent vulnerability. He’s this season’s virgin to watch.