Adult Virgins Speak Out About Their Lifestyle

The hit comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin has sparked conversations about adult chastity — and some adult virgins are coming out of the closet to defend their lifestyle. Mike Pesca speaks with adults who claim to be virgins to find out what motivates them to avoid sex, and what rewards they find in a life without it.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, what makes Washington, DC, such a hip town? Maybe it's a punk record label that's turning 25.

First, this. Virginity has gone from mandated during the Victorian era to passe during the free love era. Today, virginity seems to be comedic, at least judging by the most popular movie in America at the moment, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." DAY TO DAY's Mike Pesca talked to some adult virgins and former adult virgins and found that virginity can be a source of pride and struggle. There's no obscenity in this report, but as you can imagine, there will be some sexual content; also, Mike gives away the ending of the movie.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

The key gag in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" has Steve Carell's character, Andy, the titular virgin, ineptly describing the feeling of a woman's breast: bag of sand, he says. The analogy essentially outs him.

(Soundbite of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin")

Unidentified Character: Are you a virgin?

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Andy) Yeah. Not since I was 10.

Unidentified Character: It all makes sense. You're a virgin!

Mr. CARELL: (As Andy) I am--shut up!

PESCA: Thirty-four-year-old Peter Chattaway reviewed the movie for Christianity Today's Web site.

Mr. PETER CHATTAWAY (Christianity Today): I myself was a virgin until about six months ago and, you know, a year ago, I wouldn't have known what a breast felt like, either, and I could totally understand and identify with his cluelessness in that area.

PESCA: Chattaway gave the film a generally positive review. Still, it does grate on Chattaway that adult virginity is seen as so unusual.

Mr. CHATTAWAY: I would be happy if we could just get to the point where saying `I'm a virgin' doesn't cause any more surprise or shock than if you say `I've never gone skiing.'

PESCA: Chattaway, like the vast majority of people who discuss their status as adult virgins, is a Christian, though at 34, he is more than twice as old as the average male is the first time he has sex. Teen-agers, as hormonally crazed as they are, do have large organizations trying to convince them to stay virgins. The best-known is True Love Waits, which has convinced millions of teen-agers to sign virginity pledges. Chattaway says the adult virgin has to be more self-motivated.

Mr. CHATTAWAY: It probably is something that is emphasized with young people a lot more, like teen-agers and perhaps early college. After that, the idea that you should be abstinent until marriage, I mean, certainly it'll come up in the more conservative churches and so people will hear that message and be reinforced by it perhaps, but outside of that environment, yeah, there isn't a whole lot encouraging people to keep waiting.

PESCA: And there is a lot to discourage them. Virgins often blame the media or specifically movies, TV, pop songs, stage plays, magazines, billboards, shock jocks, reports like this one--OK, basically the entire media. One member of the media, TV producer/director Paul Feig, now author of "Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin," says his industry does make it difficult to remain chaste, but not nearly as difficult as biology itself.

Mr. PAUL FEIG (Author, "Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin"): I really did say back--you know, all through my teens and into my early 20s that I was going to wait, I was--my wife was going to be the first one I ever slept with and it was going to be on our wedding night. But the thing is, if you have any kind of libido at all, that gets really, really difficult, and obviously, one can indulge in massive amounts of onanism to help vent that, and Lord knows, I did.

PESCA: Feig was raised as a Christian Scientist, and while pamphlets titled "Chastity: The Premarital Standard" influenced his outlook, so did plain old fear of girls and being naked in front of any other human being. He says that virginity made him feel in control, sort of like the one guy sober enough to drive home safety. Catharine Ryun is a 30-year-old virgin.

Ms. CATHARINE RYUN (Executive Assistant to the Director, White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives): You know, when we get involved sexually with somebody, you know, and have that sexual intimacy, you lose perspective of the person that you're dating; just, you know, are they going to make a good lifelong companion?

PESCA: Which invites the question, `Well, how do you know?' Ryun, who works in the White House and is the daughter of Kansas Congressman Jim Ryan, answers that when she talks to a friend or hears about someone who has had premarital sex, the person regrets it. `Every time?' I asked her.

Ms. RYUN: I would have to say every time. You know, it's had some emotional distress and it's complicated the relationship.

PESCA: In a recent survey commissioned by ABC, 37 percent of men and 50 percent of women said the first time they had sex, they were too young. Paul Feig, in looking back at his first time, says that as he grew older, his status as a virgin became so enmeshed with his identity, he began wondering if sex would make him ordinary.

Mr. FEIG: Up to the day that I lost my virginity, it was the--one of the bigger debates was not religious anymore. It was like, am I willing to give up this title? Because once I do it, as far as I'm concerned, I become like everybody else.

PESCA: Adult virgins often have a dueling instinct. They hold a status they regard as special and precious, but don't want to be regarded by others as remarkable or exceptional. The movie--and here's the part where we give away the finale, volume down for 10 seconds--the movie concludes with a wedding and then, and only then, sex. For people like reviewer Peter Chattaway, it wasn't just a Hollywood ending. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more coming on DAY TO DAY.

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