Virginity for Sale

January 29th, 2009 · 3 Comments

The auction for 22-year-old Natalie Dylan’s virginity has been open for almost five months now.

Dylan (not her real name) hails from San Diego. She already holds a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from Sacramento State but doesn’t have the money for grad school, so she has decided to prostitute herself in. According to Dylan, selling one’s virginity is an “empowering” act about “being pro-choice with your body.”

Dylan appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show in September and The Tyra Banks Show in November. Her endeavor has received attention from CNN, Fox News and other television news stations. According to CBS News, Penthouse magazine offered to feature her in a photo spread. Dylan has 1,352 friends on MySpace, where she advises those with “business inquiries” to e-mail her.

She claims that so far she’s received over 10,000 offers, the highest for $3.7 million. The auction is being conducted online through a Nevada brothel, where Dylan’s sister, another feminist prostitute, works. Dennis Hof, the brothel’s obese pimp, is overseeing the ordeal.

“I think it’s a tremendous idea. Why lose it to some guy in the backseat of a Toyota when you can pay for your education?” Hof told the New York Times.

Why, indeed?

At first glance, Dylan’s actions may seem feminist. She has control over the final sale and says that she won’t necessarily be choosing the highest bidder: “It all depends on the chemistry.”

On The Tyra Banks Show, she explained, “We’re doing premature research for our thesis project, and we wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution.”

“We’ve studied women and the psycho-social implementation in public for four years,” said Dylan’s sister Avia during the same interview. Her actual credentials were not mentioned.

Dylan doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into. The venture started as an embarrassingly ignorant attempt to rebrand prostitution as “empowering,” although she and Avia (who appears with Dylan in several interviews) remain extremely vague on the details of their thought process. They also fail to address most of the criticism they have received, which is possibly for the best, as the two women apparently lack any sort of reason.

Before any more news stations forgo the problems around the world to further inflate this hideous zit on the face of feminism, let me clarify a few things.

Dylan is obviously not a feminist. She’s the kind of woman who manages to pass four or five women’s studies courses at a university without reading anything then, despite the fact that she’s absorbed nothing of the meaning of feminism, decides she can get away with commodifying her body by flashing her women’s studies degree. Dylan is a “sex-positive” feminist.

Sex-postivism isn’t, as it sounds, pro-sex for women. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When it comes to sex, our culture puts an overwhelming importance on men’s pleasure and almost none on women’s. Sex-positivism essentially seeks to justify this hierarchy by saying that women’s ability to sexually excite men is the kind of power they’ve been seeking since the 1970s. This sort of “feminism” is fairly digestible to most people, especially women who read Cosmo and the men who date them. This phenomenon has become so deeply woven into our social fabric that even women have begun to see themselves as objects. Case in point: Natalie Dylan and her wrapped-and-ribboned virginity.

When a woman’s sexuality is reduced to her ability to please a man rather than her own sensuality and capacity for orgasm, it becomes easier for her to rationalize selling it. Natalie Dylan thinks about her first time and doesn’t consider her own experience or pleasure. She doesn’t expect to enjoy it. She will be performing the service of pleasing a man, not acting on any actual arousal. Our pornified culture has taught us to forget that sex involves two people and two orgasms.

The outrage lies in the fact that Dylan doesn’t realize that she is a victim of pop culture’s misogyny. It is absurd to even attempt to equate real sex with prostitution, yet Dylan doesn’t hesitate to appear on national television wearing her women’s studies degree like a badge and telling everyone that prostitution is feminism.

“When I was younger I wanted to be 100 percent about the romance, possibly even wait for marriage, but as I grew up reality kind of hit. I think this is a capitalistic society, and I want to capitalize on [my virginity],” said Dylan in a news interview.

The reality that hit her when she “grew up” is the reality that the romance she so coveted as a child is at best capitalism in disguise. Baldly put, the concept of romance has been MTV-ed down into a simple “pay for her dinner and later you’ll get laid.” Pop culture’s romance is directly linked to capitalism, an investment in dinner and roses for the profit of sex.

Natalie Dylan would make an excellent businesswoman. She knows how to take something of personal value and turn it into a product that can be exchanged for money. Dylan is buying right into the system by removing the middleman of romance and overtly labeling her body a commodity. If it really were possible to simplify human sexuality into a simple business equation, Dylan’s decision to sell her virginity would be a brilliant move.

She might have actually gotten away with it, too, if she hadn’t made the mistake of requiring “chemistry” as part of the deal. How do you measure an emotional connection with someone else? Her humanity shows through the cut-and-dry deal in her reluctance to completely objectify her first time.

And that’s just it. It’s a lack of humanity that enables people to attempt to sell their own experiences and bodies for profit. This isn’t feminism. It’s a woman’s attempt at appropriating an insensitive, calculating and manipulative patriarchal system for her own ends, and it’s not working. A person’s virginity is not a product to be sold, and there is a lot to be said about a market system that treats such an abomination as an everyday exchange.

Tags: 2009 · AP Issues · Commentary · January 2009

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin // Jan 31, 2009 at 1:50 am

    I read an essay she wrote about this and found it pretty convincing–thought provoking at the very least. This is a very intelligent critique of the choice of this girl. Below is a link to something she wrote about it that readers may also find thought provoking:

    Jenna, you seem to refute every point Dylan has brought up in everything I have read. Excellent article/column. I greatly enjoyed reading your writing.

  • 2 Jenna Miller // Feb 3, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Thanks for posting that essay, Kevin— I didn’t know she’d actually tried to explain herself in writing. It still fails miserably to justify her actions, and the language sounds suspiciously like it was cut-and-pasted from news articles. (A “cool” $3.7 million?)
    I still think the “study” Dylan claims to be conducting is just a front. In any case she’s still using the system she claims not to support: does this make her a better or worse person?
    I think it makes her a hypocrite, but the joke’s on whatever idiot decides to cough up $3 million for an hour of awkward alone time.

  • 3 Kris Vander Lugt // Apr 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Hey Jenna – I’m pleased to see that you are continuing to fight the power! :) I enjoyed reading your article, too… I’m wondering, though: I don’t think what Dylan is promoting can even be considered sex-positivism – as you pointed out, she’s not celebrating her sexuality, she’s celebrating capitalism (and claiming it’s “feminist” because she “recognizes” that the caché associated with virginity is a tool of the Man and is now prepared to use it against Him. That’s like getting married and saying “I’m going to take my husband’s name even though I know that it’s a patriarchal practice aimed at erasing my individual identity and replacing it with that of my husband. Since I know that this is how my feminist friends will react, I’m going to take it anyway to show people that you can take your husband’s name and still have your own identity. Plus, getting married to begin with is succumbing to patriarchy, but it’s okay, because I recognize that.” Wait a minute, that’s what I did! … hmmm….). Anyway, I’m just wondering if there is some middle ground between sex-positivism as a discourse that simply resuscitates patriarchal notions of woman-as-sexual-object, on the one hand, and sex-positivism as a real tool of empowerment and reclaiming of female sexuality for females, on the other (what about Annie Sprinkle, for example?).

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