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Romancing the virgin: female virginity loss and love in popular literatures in the West
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 22:41 authored by Jodi Ann McAlister
This thesis is a literary history which seeks to elucidate dominant Western cultural narratives around female virginity loss, and the ways these have evolved. It takes as its primary focus popular literatures authored by women, particularly popular romance fiction and autobiographical stories about virginity loss. The study of virginity has hitherto failed to meaningfully address the role played by romantic love in scripts for female sexual activity. Sex and love are clearly linked in twentieth century sexual history, leading to the emergence of a paradigm I term “compulsory demisexuality”. The development of this paradigm – which dictates that for women, sex and love are intrinsically linked together, and that sex without love is unnatural and harmful – has affected the way women think about sex. This is not a study of empirical data: rather, it is a study of stories, and the way their evolution has impacted cultural attitudes. I trace the way in which my texts interact with the paradigm of compulsory demisexuality – alternately upholding, supporting, resisting, and subverting it – and the ways this has changed over time. I contend that romantic love has been key in giving the virgin an active voice when it comes to her sex life, and has been vital in incorporating female pleasure back into sexual narratives. The emergence of compulsory demisexuality has created a space in which women can be free to explore their sexual desires, but it is a space with boundaries. There continues to be considerable cultural emphasis on the idea that virgins must receive the “right” (that is, appropriately romantic) messages about sex. This idea of “rightness” clearly implies female virginity can be lost “wrongly”. Ultimately, I argue that this is a pernicious discourse, and that the virgin needs to be reimagined as a critical, active sexual agent, capable of making sexual decisions which are neither right nor wrong, but simply hers.