The Asian Virgin: Sex as a Solution in Western Storytelling
Updated: Mar 12
Content warnings: Sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, ‘virgin’ as a descriptive (not to shame), relationship abuse, minors, consent (& lack thereof), alcohol consumption, ‘virgin shaming’, peer-pressure, mention of drugs and alcohol.
Trigger warnings: relationship abuse, emotional abuse, pressuring and shaming, minors, non-consensual activities.
Disclaimer: This piece has no intention to slut-shame. I believe in sex positivity, the autonomy to explore their sexual desires and boundaries without shame. This piece will specifically examine the flip-side which is autonomy to not have sex.
Hi, hello, welcome. I am back with another episode of ‘complaining about specific topics and trying to write about them in a coherent way so you don’t have to suffer through my verbal ramblings too much.’ Buckle-up.
This time, I would like to talk about sex. Specifically, the ways in which Western audio-visual media shifted from ‘SEX BAD, MARRIAGE GOOD, BABY AFTER MARRIAGE SUPER GOOD’ to ‘EVERYONE’S BANGIN’!’ in terms of writing adolescent characters. Following that, I want to address how this is often used to ridicule Asian characters and cultural stereotypes about Asian relationships, specifically The Big Bang Theory’s token Indian, Raj. We might even go into a *greater discussion* about *sex being used as a crutch for realism in stories about modern youth. Exciting stuff. So, let’s get ready to ramble!
Now, the idea of the ‘virgin’ contains ongoing discourse about the ways in which such a term can be used to weaponize people’s body autonomy and insecurities — to degrade those who have sex (before marriage or in general) as ‘impure’, even when talking about masturbation, depending on regional or cultural circumstance.
As someone who has not personally experienced dating, relationships, or sexual activity with another person, I will be using ‘virgin’ as a descriptive for ‘someone who has not engaged in a form of sexual activity with at least one other person’. ‘A form’ can be open to interpretation from any reader of this piece. Individuals are allowed to make their own personal and individual judgement about what they may consider their first experience with sex (their ‘first time’). The way you define your ‘firsts’ is your choice as it is your body, and I think it is important to consider that a general ‘umbrella’ definition can not be applicable for everyone and individual experiences. Some people do not necessarily experience the definitions of sex that are heavily centered around heteronormative explanations you may get in biology lessons.
Defining ‘Sex as a Solution’
When referring to ‘sex as a solution’, I am specifically referring to the idea that for many characters, sex is a goal — something to achieve and something that ‘resolves’ the ‘issue’ of being a virgin or someone who hasn’t had sex for a certain timeframe. It is also this ‘idea’ that sex can be used as a tool to ‘solve’ character arcs. Take any Netflix teen film for example, where sex is shown to solve everyone’s problems, from trauma to their dArK, bRoOdInG pAsTs. Films glorify sex to the point where the outsider suddenly feels cool and normal just because they have lost their virginity.
In my opinion, all of these examples are very flat, one-dimensional, and frankly, stupid ways of approaching the nuances of sexuality and relationships when it comes to modern youth. I’m going to say ‘modern youth’ because if I say ‘young people’ I might need to address the fact that I haven’t been a teenager for a good few years, and I already used my quarter-life crisis coupon four years ago, thank you x.
The change from ‘sex as a sin’ to ‘sex as a solution’
To figure out how modern youth consumes stories with explicit displays of sexuality as an expectation of contemporary life, it’s important to recognise how previous decades were expected to tell stories with sex as a topic of shame and disgust, especially for women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
In 1952, CBS prohibited the program I Love Lucy from using the word ‘pregnant’, which is baffling when you consider how it’s extremely expected for women to be mothers; yet, it’s considered a no-no to say because it implies that the married characters had sex.
Sex between humans in audio-visual media was worthy of clutching your pearls and wrapping your cardigan tighter around you, to the extent that Samantha and Darrian from Bewitched could only acceptably share a bed because Samantha was a witch and therefore not considered human. Thus, you could only be in such a circumstance if you weren’t treated as a literal ‘human’. Lovely. It was in the late-1940s when a show called Mary Kay and Johnny had two ‘humans’ sharing a bed.
The late ‘70s really started to propell sex as a conversation when the title character of Maude chose to have an abortion in an episode in 1972, for example. A show titled Soap had letters written in protest before its 1977 debut on ABC because Billy Crystal would be portraying an openly gay charatcer; sex was absent but this was less to do with characters opting out of sex and more to do with sex as a topic in general being antagonised and a good way for sponsors to drop advertising deals that would help fund television shows — especially when it came to antagonising same-sex relationships.
Let’s not forget the major setback in the acceptance of sexuality in Britain, when the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 in 1988, which stated that “councils should not ‘intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ in its schools”. Getting the general public to collectively normalize sexuality as a possibility in an individual’s life was a long journey that we are still undertaking, and law enforcement that disproportionately impacts marginalised groups does not help at all.
To corroborate this, the report ‘LGBT in Britain – Hate Crime and Discrimination’ states that “One in five LGBT people (21 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months […][and] One in four black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people (24 per cent) accessing social services in the last year have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity”. Amongst other statistics, this report highlights that hate-crimes targeting the LGBTQIA+ community are ongoing, even if greater proportions in modern societies are more welcoming than policy in previous decades, such as Section 28. Furthermore, the report iterates the fact that non-white members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to experience racial discrimination in addition to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Examples of a slow….slow…..slow realisation that the mere suggestion of sex does not make you morally bankrupt was accompanied by the continued waves of Feminism and LGBTQIA+ activism that fought to change the way sex was discussed and body autonomy. We are at a stage in history where casual sex outside of marriage is not only accepted and celebrated in modern life but has desenzitised a lot of audiences to the idea that sex equaling shame is ‘protecting’ impressionable groups.
This, amongst other profound changes made in history and law, means that many individuals and groups, especially modern youth, can experience more physical, mental, and emotional safety than they may have in prior years. However, it is also possible that the continued push for body autonomy, particularly in relation to desensitising sex as shameful, has led to some…choices media production has made, believing sex is necessary for storytelling. It also becomes more of a problem when minors are involved in the conversation.
Sex and Adolescence (minors)
It has become an expectation for media about teenagers to explore sexuality under the veil of ‘realism’, even if the characters portrayed in the stories are minors. Granted, it is not uncommon to have known at least one person that bragged about having sex or engaged in sexual activity during school, but it’s strange how some media is so concerned about the sex lives of modern youth that other things almost seem obsolete. We are expected to just accept that the main character got accepted into Harvard, even if we have been given no evidence of them working on their grades and eligibility (The Kissing Booth 2, I’m talking to you, look me in the eye and explain, please). I could know more about a sexual partner’s hickey preferences before I find out what the main character wants to study (ahem).
Kennie J.D., someone who has frequently called out the moral setbacks presented in media targeting teenagers and young adults in their Bad Movies & a Beat series, published a video about HBO’s Euphoria (2019). They argue that it is really jarring to watch a show revolving around 16-year old characters with the implication that many adult viewers would be incidentally witnessing the nudity of minors; regardless as to whether or not the actors are adults, the shows wants us to interpret Euphoria with an understanding that the actors are performing a characterisation of minors (J.D.).
Kennie continues this video by addressing one of the counter-arguments that the nudity presents realism about some of the wild things teenagers get up to. They address that it is not impossible to imagine teenagers drinking, taking drugs, and saving because some do, but not all; it’s becoming apparent that adult writers of media who were teenagers in specific decades don’t know how to write about teenagers of this decade and use sexuality as a shortcut for the ‘realism’ of sexual liberty, when normalizing the absence of sexuality in a non-shaming way was never an option to begin with. Kennie J.D. states that,
“Ranging from every genre: Degrassi, American Teenager, Pretty Little Liars, On My Block, Skins, Superbad […] they all in some way or another capitalize on this idea that ‘it’s okay to make sexual content about teenagers because “teens out here sexualising themselves”; which becomes something to question if and when content curated to be ‘real’ is consumed through an adult lens.”
Kennie J.D.’s argument exemplifies how the societal expectations that audio-visual media has curated about sex has had a significant shift from presenting abstinence as an expectation to belittle sexually active people and sex work, to presenting frequent sexual acitivity as an expectation to belittle those who aren’t. Moreover, the gradual desensitization to writing about explicit sexuality and sex in