Words Amelia Walters and Alison Hall
Hosts of The Hard Pill podcast, Alison Hall and Amelia Walters, sat down with cultural studies and queer theory expert Nikki Sullivan to discuss the evolution of sex since the 70s and how we define virginity in 2022.
For many Australians, Puberty Blues is an entertaining coming-of-age drama, but for Nikki Sullivan who grew up in the 70s, it was a way of life.
Moving from Wales to South Australia in 1977, Nikki found herself in the beachy suburb of Port Noarlunga South, “It was really a community in its own right—a little bit like Elizabeth was in the north, Christie’s Beach was the southern version.”
Although Australia shares much of Britain’s culture, Sullivan said the difference in lifestyle was unparalleled.
“I arrived in this place where everybody spoke differently to me. All the young people didn’t necessarily dress like me. The boys had either cars with CB radios in them or panel vans. They wore lumber jackets and desert boots—it was all very different, and it took quite some time to get my head around it and become part of it.”
Like the beachside suburb of Cronulla in Puberty Blues, girls in Adelaide’s south could be found lounging in bikinis on the beach, “fagging” away, and watching the boys jetty jump before running to the kiosk to buy them Chiko Rolls.
“We didn’t need too much being girls…girls were there to be looked at.”
This negative perception of gender roles and sex was reinforced by the objectification of Ms Sullivan and her friends.
“The boys used to buy a slab of beer, tear up the boxes, write numbers on them, sit there, and when girls walked past, they’d hold them up and give girls a number…Your own boyfriend would do that to other women.”
“I definitely identify as a feminist and I look back on that and think, how did I not see that that was not okay,” Sullivan said.
Although, there’s been significant positive change towards the treatment of women since the 70s, the negative stigma surrounding virginity and the conversation around it is still prevalent today. In an anonymous survey conducted by The Hard Pill podcast, 90 per cent of 110 South Australians, aged between 16 and 30, confirmed this belief.
When the respondents were asked why they believe this topic is stigmatised, females explained how religion, gender stereotypes, and old traditions play a large role in the shame associated with sex.
This issue is not exclusive to women; male respondents are also struggling from the lack of positive conversation around virginity.
“If you’re a bloke, you are expected to lose it as soon as possible, which makes the guys that don’t, feel like shit.”
“The younger you lose it, the cooler you are… I think people are always feeling left out or like it’s an achievement or a task to complete.”
For a more positive outlook on sex and sexuality, Nikki suggests removing labels and factoring in the LGBTQIA+ community when defining virginity.
“You can be having a great sexual relationship with somebody, but it doesn’t involve penetrative sex,” Nikki said.
“Who’s not to say that those people haven’t lost their virginity to one another?”
Two survey respondents shared Nikki’s outlook, signifying the need for Queer representation when discussing virginity.
One highlighted the heterosexual viewpoint on virginity and the concept of penetration, while another wrote: “Virginity is largely a social construct, used to reinforce gender norms. Its loose definition and heteronormative nature can be used to isolate minorities”.
With all things considered, how should virginity be defined in 2022?
You, as an individual, get to define virginity. Is it the first time you did something remotely sexual? Is it the first or second time you had penetrative sex? Whatever it may be, it’s a personal experience. Society doesn’t get to choose. You do.