Friday, May 11, 2012

The Fascinating Seventy Year-Old Virgin

The internet loves the news of the weird.  Apparently, a lot of web browsers are clicking over to a brief story about a seventy year-old virgin.  This isn’t that interesting at first blush, especially in light of the story from a few months ago about a woman who’d remained a virgin for over 100 years.  In the latter case, though, I got the impression that the woman may have simply been asexual.  She expressed an overall disinterest in sex and suggested that her longevity could be explained by her not concerning herself with that pursuit.  This seventy year-old woman who is in the news now, on the other hand, claims to have retained her virginity as a matter of moral commitment, as she doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, but never found a husband.

This story wouldn’t be that interesting except for the fact that by being limited to a one paragraph synopsis it opens up my mind to all sorts of speculation about the surrounding circumstances.  That speculation is made all the more intriguing by virtue of two unusual facts:  The woman, Pam Shaw, performed for many years as a cabaret singer, and she’s in the news now because she’s apparently hit her virginity’s breaking point at long last, being ready now to give it up to “a tall, dark, and handsome millionaire.”

This woman seems fascinating.  The image that I get is a tight bundle of lifelong contradictions.  I appreciate that because it’s something that I can relate to, even though there are aspects of it that I admire and aspects that I’m eager to criticize.  First the praise:  Good for her for maintaining her virginity amidst a career in which she was referred to as “The Sexational Pam,” in an industry in which loose attitudes about sex are presumably the recognized norm.

It’s a unique personality type that encourages a person to eschew particular experiences for herself at the same time that she flirts with the edges of those experiences and indulges an active curiosity about them.  As a deliberate virgin, and arguably an asexual, myself, I kind of want the life that she’s led.  I felt oddly comfortable when I had an opportunity to go to an art exhibit at an S&M parlor and when I followed a drunken friend into a pornography store.   So I applaud Ms. Shaw’s commitment to a strangely indulgent sort of chastity.

But here’s the thing that strikes me negatively about her story:  She spent, let’s say, fifty-five years maintaining a commitment to virginity on the basis of not believing in sex before marriage and now she’s announced her readiness to “take the plunge” if the interested part has enough money?  That seems like freakishly inconsistent morality.  Doesn’t the decision to trade virginity for a cash-rich lifestyle sort of betray the very sentiment behind Ms. Shaw’s lifelong chastity.  I would presume that if she didn’t believe in sex before marriage, she felt that love was more important than physical pleasure.  Am I to conclude that now at seventy years old she’d determined that money is more important than both?

On the other hand, I can understand the impulse underlying her statement.  The longer you retain something that requires consistent sacrifice, the more valuable in becomes to you.  Thus, even if you have decided that enough is enough, it can take an awful lot of incentive to push you to an actual breaking point.  It may be that after years of working so close to sex, and now approaching the end of her life, Ms. Shaw has simply decided that she wants to experience something that she’s denied herself for so long.  She probably feels that it can no longer be on the terms that she’d set, so instead she’s changing the terms, compromising the rigid morality in order to cease compromising the physical indulgence.

The woman has evidently lived her life amidst contradictions.  What’s one more?

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