“What does it feel like to lose your virginity?” This is a question asked in red font, all-caps, at the top of the back cover. This is also a question that I can confidently say The Virgin Diaries answers. With the stories of 72 men and women and their respective first-time sexual experiences, this is a book that provides several dozen responses.
Edited and compiled by mother/daughter writing team Kimberly A. Johnson and Ann Werner, The Virgin Diaries is made up of stories that span a number of decades. To gather this information anonymous questionnaires were sent out, with the expectation that they be answered in a story format. While the authors of these stories make themselves distinct from one another through their voices, the way in which questions were asked definitely has an impact on how narratives were told and, consequently, how they read.
After many of the standard questions [How old were you? How old was he/she?] the fifteenth one on the list asks, “Was he respectful of you while it was happening? Was he gentle…awkward…sweet?” Although an important question in its own right, I was dismayed to read how many accounts included the words “gentle” and “sweet,” whether they be describing the male when female, or oneself when male. As a result the stories began to blend together a little bit for me as I read on, one quiet, intimate night flowing into the next.
Another troubling aspect for me was a lack of regrets, all across the board. It’s not that I wish bad sexual experiences to befall others, it’s simply that I find it unrealistic. The vast majority of men and women in this book regret nothing in regards to their first time having sex, even in what is easily the book’s most disturbing narrative. Cited in the introduction as the one story the editors felt the need to comment on, this particular loss of virginity was enacted with both parties only 13 years old, and with the girl’s father both watching and coaching the couple. The first sentence of the story’s last paragraph reads: “Looking back, I feel fine and don’t regret my life.”
What I found most interesting about the data, and what I believe to be one of the book’s most enlightening aspects is the sexual act as a bonding experience. A woman who lost her virginity at 17 recounts that “I loved him more. I felt more attached to him. I felt more vulnerable,” all sentiments echoed by a large number of stories in the book. In a culture where sex is often viewed as simply a physical experience and nothing more, this is a source in which many people admit to an emotional bond being created. Even in the case of a man who first had sex at 20, a one night stand ended with the two “[sleeping] the whole night together but it was as if [they] were repulsed by [their] closeness.”
My last comment on the book’s content deals with representation. Upon receiving a response to their internet ad from a lesbian woman the two editors sought out more homosexual accounts, and as a result there are roughly half a dozen in the book. As far as different ethnicities, a story found in the last twenty or so pages of the book is written by someone who adds that he is of Asian descent; there are also a couple of other accounts where Caucasians had sex with non-white people. There is also not a single reference to a person losing their virginity on their wedding night, an anomaly I’m sure, but perhaps a perspective worthy of 1/75 of the book’s content. Representation of this variety, whether intentional or not, severely limits the scope [and in part the audience] of this book.
The Virgin Diaries is a book “dedicated to virgins everywhere,” and one that does so by sharing the life stories of close to a hundred people. Unfortunately quite a few of these tales are affected by the language of the questionnaire, and are further limited to being largely told by middle class Caucasians. If there is any message meant to be communicated, it is a conflicting one: the first is to have no regrets, and the second to wait for someone you truly love. If you’re a parent considering buying this for your children you should know that this is a book that expects its readers to come to their own conclusions; if there are values you want to impart to them that’s entirely up to you.
The Virgin Diaries
Compiled and Edited by Kimberly A. Johnson & Ann Werner
Published by ARK Stories in cooperation with Createspace.com