‘How to Lose Your Virginity’ or: How We Need to Rethink Sex

How to Lose Your Virginity promo.
Written by Leigh Kolb
If you talk to a feminist for a significant amount of time, you’re going to hear about virginity–specifically the value placed on women’s virginity in our culture and the persistent virgin/whore dichotomy that places women in an impossible sexual bind (and not the good kind).
The 2013 documentary How to Lose Your Virginity follows filmmaker Therese Shechter’s reflections on her own “loss” of her virginity in her early 20s. Her first-person narrative gives way to interviews with experts and sexual novices interspersed with historical tidbits and definitions.
Shechter features excellent interviews with feminist heavy hitters–Joycelyn Elders, Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna, Shelby Knox, Jessica Valenti, Hanne Blank, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown, and love and relationship coach Abiola Abrams, among others. Shechter speaks to numerous young people about their perceptions of virginity and sex–including those who claimed/reclaimed virginity or actively shunned it. She talks to the president of Harvard’s chastity club and she goes on location with the co-founder of the “Barely Legal” porn series, Erica McLean.
How to Lose Your Virginity poignantly points out that in our culture, if you are a woman and have sex, you’re doomed, and if you don’t have sex, there’s something wrong with you.
Shechter covers all of her bases, and leaves no sexual stone unturned.
I pressed play to watch How to Lose Your Virginity thinking that I didn’t have that much to learn. I think/write/teach about these issues a lot. However, I  was captivated throughout the entire film. Shechter tackles what we know–virginity mythology, hymen obsessions, queer definitions of virginity, purity balls and the virgin-whore dichotomy–and takes it all a step further, researching and delving into others’ stories and history.
A crew member of Barely Legal shows the white panties that the virginal “first-timers” wear during shoots. The female owner and director points out that her films are about the “first memorable time that you [as a young woman] liked the person.” 


My favorite part of this film is that it is upbeat from start to finish. There’s no anger, there’s no judgment. I don’t want to riff on the “angry feminist” stereotype, but I know I tend to get pretty worked up and, well, angry when I talk about our culture’s toxic obsession with female sexuality and expectations of virginity. Shechter’s ability to teach, dismantle, expose and explore is remarkable. The audience is left with newfound knowledge with which they can criticize myths of virginity in our culture. However, the audience is also left with respect for everyone’s stories–those who are remaining virgins (no matter their personal definition), those who don’t and those who have no idea what it all even means. When a documentary can do that, it succeeds in a big way.


The phrase “purity balls” will never not make me giggle.

Throughout How to Lose Your Virginity, Shechter establishes common ground and values every individual’s experience, criticizing only the cultural myths that make us feel fear and shame about our sexuality. Even when she tackles pornography and purity balls, she does so with respect and cultural criticism, not disdain.

She wishes that it wasn’t called “losing your virginity,” but instead making your sexual “debut,” and that sexual experiences are a series of first times that create our sexual history. In her peppy, happy narration, she asks us to not think about losing virginity, but instead losing the mythology about virginity that’s controlling how we think about sex.
Now that is something worth losing.
Shechter, who got engaged during filming, tries on wedding dresses and comments on the fantasy and recent history of a white-clad virginal bride. She jokes and laughs with the store attendants, but shows us that the fantasy has gone on long enough.


How to Lose Your Virginity is a selection from Women Make Movies, an organization that “facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.”
Leigh Kolb is a composition, literature and journalism instructor at a community college in rural Missouri.


One Comment

  • Posted August 9, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    This sounds pretty interesting! I like that it has an upbeat tone – I know what you mean about the inevitable anger that comes with feminist discourse, but it genuinely becomes exhausting after a while.

    I enjoy blowing people’s minds with how heteronormative and vague the concept of virginity is. If it is entirely defined by penetrative sex (either vaginal or anal, usually vaginal) and dildos etc. “don’t count,” when does a lifelong lesbian stop being a virgin?