“Virgin Diaries” Harbinger of a Sexual Paradigm Shift?

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“Less chewing. Not supposed to be so chewy.”

That’s Ellen DeGeneres, responding to couple Ryan and Shanna’s wedding kiss. Why so notable? This kiss, which ABC’s Nightline tagged as “one of the most cringe-worthy kisses in television history” has served as the shocking selling point for TLC’s new program, “The Virgin Diaries.” According to its website, “Virgin Diaries takes you inside the lives of adult virgins who reveal the challenges, truths, and anticipations of losing their virginity.” It premiered Sunday, December 4. Whether the season has since continued remains unclear, and a full episode of the show is nowhere to be found online. Instead, we’re left with lots of clips — most of them zooming back to that nightmarish kiss. One YouTube commenter quipped: “Ryan, you may now eat your bride.”

In reality? Ryan, 31, was given permission to kiss his bride. His reaction: “Really?” It was, after all, his first kiss. Ellen, any wise words? “Dear Diary: today I had my first kiss. Not worth the wait.”

But the hype around this extraordinary kiss is not only exaggerative and exploitative but also misleading. The show is about adult virgins, and features a slew of people in the upper unmarried age range who have remained celibate, whether by choice or by circumstance. They must have done some lengthy digging to find Ryan and Shanna in order to serve up a hearty serving of second hand embarrassment.

But TLC defends the program, saying that they are showcasing something that can be celebrated. As their west coast vice president of production Timothy Kuryak put it, “Losing one’s virginity is a big life decision. It seemed like one of those seminal life moments that’s interesting to follow for TLC.”

Okay. I mean, reality TV has gotten its hands on pretty much every topic imaginable — so why not unclaimed adult virginity? Seems like a broadcast-worthy matter. The funny fact, it turns out, is that it is: according to ABC News’ Nightline, 27 percent of men and 29 percent of women consider themselves virgins, and the number of virgins between the ages 15 and 24 has increased in recent years. Which is counterintuitive, when you look at how much sex has permeated American culture. }Nightline” host Terry Moran described the 30 year-old virgin as seeming not only exceptional, but in a way, revolutionary, and he says the number of these “sex dissenters” are growing. This was all part of Nightline’s series “Modern Sex in America.”

However, rather than approaching the topic in a thoughtful manner, “Virgin Diaries” places its characters in puerile, derisory light. PopWatch pointed out that the show purposefully features scenes of a set of roommates interacting with their cat “in a not-so-subtle illusion to the cat-lady spinster stereotype,” and infantilizes the soon-to-be newlyweds Ryan and Shanna by setting a scene on a playground. The three female roommates in the pilot episode share their ideal men: the Viking, the rock star and the boreal forest beach mountain man, while the pitiable Carey, a 35 year-old who has kissed two women in his life, is quoted saying, “I want to have sex. People seem to really enjoy it. Maybe I can get a piece of the action.” When he fills in his mom, she gawks, mimics shooting herself, and replies, “I think you should get that taken care of.” Keeping all that in mind, it’s hard to be convinced that TLC’s Kuryak is any more than a talking piece when he says that they’re “not trying to make light of this or treat it in a sort of trivial way.”

But would anyone watch it if it were reasonable and respectful? Don’t we turn on reality TV to boost our own trodden egos? For a balanced approach to the issue, you’d be better off tuning in to something like “Nightline,” which incorporates the opinion of biological anthropologists and references to prominent people like Tim Tebow, “the only virgin in the NFL.” As one woman posted on the TLC website, “Can I just be on Virgin Diaries to prove that not all virgins are this awkward? Or Christians for that matter? No teenagers are going to want to stay virgins with shows like this on TV.”

There’s undoubtedly some truth in that. But is there hope for change? Is the show even running any more? Neither is clear. All these are part of a bigger question — that is, are we looking at a possible sexual paradigm shift? We’ll just have to see.

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