Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Natalie Dylan is A Genius

...for auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder through a Nevada brothel in order to pay for grad school, in case you haven't heard.

How many "virgins" are totally sexually inexperienced? The vast majority of people have kissed and touched and gone through several of those junior high "bases" before engaging in heterosexual intercourse. Many have also experienced *some* form of genital contact. (Dylan obliquely acknowledged this when she said, " I think people misconstrue virginity with being prudes... ") Why do we make the insertion of the penis into the vagina such a sexual milestone? Sure, it's different in that it is a potentially reproductive act, but fewer and fewer people lose their virginity in order to have children. In the age of effective birth control, it is no more of a reproductive act than any other sexual activity. Many people who only have same gender lovers have *never* had heterosexual intercourse, but it would be an insult to their rich and extensive sex lives to call them virgins. The idea that having a penis in one's vagina marks one's transition away from sexual innocence is a recapitulation of heterosexist, patriarchal norms that are really no longer relevant. Natalie Dylan, a young woman from a generation with changing viewpoints around sex, with a sister who's worked a sex worker who has also probably given her more expansive ideas on the subject, and a degree in Women's Studies where she's examined just these sorts of questions, probably doesn't view heterosexual intercourse as some huge turning point in her sexual life. But cleverly, she's exploiting the obsolete ideas of men who do see her lack of experience with this form of sex as holding some huge cache. So both parties get what they want--the man who makes the winning bid gets to believe he's buying a once in a lifetime experience, while Dylan loses nothing b/c she understands that " losing her virginity " is merely a technicality bolstered by a huge amount of hype, and after a sexual tete-a-tete that will take no more than an hour, she gets to walk away with the cash to pay for her degree, plus a few million to spare.

Of course, the hold that the idea of " virginity " still has on this culture is incredible, judging by the fact that more than 10,000 men have bid on the auction. Dylan is also benefiting in yet another way, by analyzing the phenomenon as a Women's Studies scholar:

" We wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s really been so few case studies of it… "

And thank you, Ms. Dylan, for tying in sex work with the feminist credo of my-body-my-choice, an obvious connection that's often lost on too many second wave feminists, in a mainstream venue:

" I think this is about being pro-choice with your body, " she said on the Tyra Banks show.

Of course, coverage of the auction has been as hysterical and insulting as one might expect. For some trenchant commentary on that, check out Sex In The Public Square.

I'd also like to put in what a commenter in my facebook said when I posted this link---" It pisses me off to see this stuff in the media as part of a moralistic debate on how one should/should not make a living instead of a conversation about the cost of education and the realities of low wage jobs... " It's the usual sleight-of-hand with the issues of sex work and economic need, similar to the way people focus on low-income women streetwalking rather than why they need to do so,in depressed urban areas in a country where so many low skilled jobs have been shipped abroad to sweatshops where corporations can pay pennies on the hour for the labor. With welfare cut so that poor people often have to make a choice referred to bitterly as "heat or eat" during the winter, it's no wonder that the inflated wages of the black market appeal to many people struggling to get by. Whatever your opinion of the morality of prostitution, surely people should understand that the greater crime is not the nonviolent offense of prostitution but the systemic violence that leads low income women to make desperate choices trying to feed themselves and their children. At Arise For Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked with that advocates de facto decriminalization of prostitution in Springfield as one of its goals, we often made this argument, and I still have the pin proclaiming, " OUTLAW POVERTY, NOT PROSTITUTION. "


  1. Great post. I didn't know her sister was a sex worker...interesting. It's funny (though not surprising) to me that this is such a scandal.

  2. I bid a buck two-eighty. Does she take food stamps?

  3. According to this web site since the smallest bill in circulation is $100 you would need 10,000 to make a million dollars:

    A million dollars can't fit in a standard briefcase, but you can probably fit 3.7 million into 4 briefcases. The whole thing would weigh about 80 pounds so it would be hard to "walk away" with quite that much cash. And I'm not sure if you can pay for a degree in cash unless you're a Bush/Kennedy, get one of those online ones, or give away a whole briefcase or two to a Women's Studies department. I'm almost sure that would work.

    Anyway what would a genius, and the modern day embodiment of Horatio Alger need with a degree? Wouldn't that just set a bad precedent for entrepreneurial girls everywhere?

  4. What is your problem?
    If you have an argument, make one.

  5. I think that might be addressed to me?
    I agree she can do whatever she wants.
    I agree the virginity as a prize concept is stupid, and can't believe someone would pay her 3.7 million.
    She did keep hers a lot longer than I did mine, so some credit would be due her, if I had been trying to keep mine longer ...

    I disagree with sensationalism = genius.

    Is she a financial genius? Well see in 5-10 years if she gets the money, and if she manages to keep it.

    In my mind she's equivalent to a starlet making $10 million to appear in Mission Impossible XII, or Simon Cowell - whatever it is he does. I'm sure quite a few people have sold their virginity for less (I can think of maybe one person ...) and they never made the news. Hopefully they didn't sell their soul. So $3.7 million is important. Important for community, identity, stability. I grudgingly accept that in the prevailing reality of things, people that land outrageous sums of money are somehow "newsworthy", more newsworthy than Africa, South America, Indonesia, or Europe. You never hear about those places. They must be idyllic Shangri-Las where nothing ever happens.

    The message I'm seeing in this story is: "hey this is an easy way to make money, why bother being a doctor, or lawyer, or writer, or leader, or bus operator". Those things are hard! Those seem to have been the prevailing winds at least since 1980 and the Regan revolution. As a closet optimist (and idealist) I am hoping for a change.

    I've been blessed with not giving too much of a fuck about money. I'm happy. Beyond internet and subsistence, I'd much rather have more freedom than more money.

    I'm not an arguer by the way... ;)

  6. Ummm, she's brilliantly subverting the concept of virginity IN ORDER to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher--in this case, a family therapist. Having finished one degree, and having announced her intent to go for another, she's not saying these things are too hard at all. She may be pointing out that higher education is too expensive, and if so, I agree with her.

    You can be a sex worker AND be something else, and one doesn't negate the other. I am a sex worker AND an activist. And by the way--sex work isn't easy.

  7. Just a brief correction- during interviews, she's said that her sister worked for about three weeks at the bunny ranch several years ago, but is not a current sex worker.

  8. Right, I knew that, but still, her sister worked long enough, I think, to take on a sex worker identity--but I'll change it to a "sister who's had experience with sex work"...

  9. I believe Natalie's actions don't show society's under-valuation of virginity so much as it does our over-valuation of money. Natalie, like all of us, needs enough money to meet her needs and some of her desires. If she values herself enough, she will not feel she is selling her soul when she cashes in on her pussy.

    I do think, though, that she should just name her price rather than have a bunch of creeps haggeling over her cunt!