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How to Lose Your Virginity (…and how not to) – Book Review

By Shawn Wickens.

This is a tough book to summarize. It is full of contradictions, not unlike the subject of virginity itself. Some of these contradictions might have been better thought out in the editing process and perhaps this would have allowed a better understanding of what the book was trying to do.

I began with lukewarm expectations about a book of titilating tales. This is what the front cover suggests, with its by-line “Shocking, Humorous, Dangerous, Sweet & Scandalous Stories of the First Time Taken from 1,000 Face-to-Face Interviews”. But the introduction creates a very different impression; it takes a serious, albeit non-academic, look at early sexual experience and suggests that this mosaic of stories helps young people who are considering doing the deed to think what they want out of it. This is indeed a lesson that comes out of reading a great deal of the snippets, which tell of first sexual encounters that were minimally thought out and, in many cases, regrets that followed. However, this is not the underlying tone and it is certainly not the intial flavour.

With a lot of expectations about a book that is going to reflect the real experiences that people don’t often share, you are thrown into the first chapter, entitled “You’ll never believe what happened to me”. A stream of short quotes and tales, in the language of the interviewees, regale erotic episodes that would fit well in any exhibitionist website or conversation. They are far from believable and feel anything but real stories by real people. Sex with porn stars, kinky incest, paedophilia and sex with drug dealers just didn’t follow up on the promice of the real exposé. I didn’t want to continue but I had to.

After this misplaced and perhaps superfluous initial chapter, the book settles down to tell its tales with minimal editing and interuption. It becomes more actual, not necessarily covering the full gamut of experiences, but something that managed to illustrate a certain range. My feeling is that the stories shared reflect more cliches than unexpected discoveries. This makes it fun reading for erotic thrill, at least most of the chapters, but less of a way of illustrating the reality in its diversity. If I was a first timer, seeking advice from this book, I’d probably be left with the expectation that most people lose their virginity drunk or stoned on a meaningless encounter in order to avoid making a fool of themselves with someone they care about. This is discordant with any good sex education messages, but it is powerfully transmitted, despite various comments by the author suggesting otherwise.

There is a basic message theme breakdown, which I liked. Wickens chooses to sort stories according to a few interesting issues like how religious beliefs entered the experience or stories of people who were still virgins. Organizing these unstructured interviews by some common denominator is not an easy task, since sex stories often bring in so many themes. Still, I was disappointed that many tales brought together did not necessarily produce any message. They did not even tend to back up the short introduction that Wickens writes at the start of each chapter, suggesting his understanding of the material on each given subject.

I was impressed to see that stories of fumbles and battles with condoms came immediately after the initial fantasy-laden section, and had a real coming back down to earth effect. Another important reality check was the chapter on sexual abuse. I would add, though, that a great deal of stories throughout the book were intrinsically stories of abuse or force, even if the storyteller or editor did not define them as such. Pressure, bribery, threats, alcohol and drugs are commonly used to coerce people, usually females. In fact, it is so common that it appears to be completely normative.

For me, an intrinsic bias in this book is brought in by the fact that the majority of stories are told by young men. It may be true that males were more accessible as subjects on the authors trail, but it left me feeling that wherever he is finding his interviewees, the female volunteers are far from representative of the entire female experience, much more so than this is true for the guys.

On a positive and inspirational note, Wickens has decided to donate 10% of his earnings from the book to a sexual abuse charity. Good turn. Anyone who reads the book will be reminded how much these organizations are needed.

Features

    • Written by a novice writer
    • Self-published and self-edited
    • Based on 1,000 face-to-face interviews across the USA
    • Constitutes collection of informal stories
    • Reproduces the speaker’s voice
    • Written partially in prose and partially verbatim
    • Intended to incite discussion on sexual first times (usually intercourse)
    • Part of book proceeds to be donated to sexual abuse organization
    • Printed in smaller than usual font

Publisher

Seven Stories Press; 2010

 

Dinah Rates      


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