“You’re going to have so much un-special sex in your life,” Timothée Chalamet tells Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, moments after her character loses her virginity to him. The scene is one of the most honest treatments of a subject that often remains pretty old-fashioned when it comes to stories in movies – especially when it concerns the exploits of women.
If you’re a guy, you grow up on movies telling you that losing your virginity is some sort of exciting quest. There are perils to negotiate: public humiliation, unattainable girls, cock-blocking authority figures, parents walking in at just the wrong moment. This wisdom has been passed down through generations of sacred texts, from Porky’s to American Pie, Superbad to The Inbetweeners Movie.
You might not be as lucky as Cameron Crowe’s alter ego in Almost Famous, who is deflowered by three obliging groupies in what looks more like a dreamy pillow fight. You might not break out into song and dance right afterwards, like Steve Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin. But when you complete the adventure, you’ll no longer be publicly shamed by jocks. You’ll be a man, my son. Welcome to the house of fun.
If you are a teenage girl, on the other hand, you’ll suffer for not being a virgin. We all know it’s the sexually active girls that horror’s crazed slashers decide to kill first. And virginity still underlines the essential decency of many a teen heroine, from Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles to Alicia Silverstone in Clueless to Kristen Stewart in the interminable abstinence saga known as Twilight. Virginity is both a precious thing to protect and a burden to be rid of in the movies. And when you do lose it, you either won’t enjoy it (Lady Bird), or you will be punished for it: you’ll get pregnant (like Juno), you’ll get HIV (as in Kids) or, like Emma Stone in Easy A (one of the best takes on the subject), you’ll be both slut-shamed and sought after.
You could always blame the parents. Two years ago, Turkish drama Mustang gave us a disturbing tale of a Muslim father who put his adolescent daughters under house arrest and subjected them to virginity tests and arranged marriages. But Mustang’s repressive culture depicted wasn’t all that different to that of The Virgin Suicides, set in 1970s Michigan. Coming soon, we’ve got Blockers, in which three parents make it their mission to intercept their daughters’ prom-night “sex pact”. “Did your dad try to stop you when you wanted to lose your virginity?” One daughter asks. “He was too busy high-fiving me,” replies dad.
Times are changing, though. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson joins a succession of recent teen heroines who have ditched the gender divide and taken the initiative. Such as Aubrey Plaza in The To Do List, who treats the acquisition of sexual experience like a homework assignment; or Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, who actually enjoys sex, even if she’s having it with all the wrong people. It is no coincidence that both, like Lady Bird, were written and directed by women. And just occasionally in the movies, you get something like The Spectacular Now, in which a boy (Miles Teller) and a girl (Shailene Woodley) lose it together in a sweet, giggly, natural way, and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they never went to many movies.
Lady Bird is in cinemas from Friday
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