Meanwhile, in mainstream American culture, almost the exact opposite phenomenon can be observed - both men and women feel enormous pressure to "lose their virginity" or to become sexually active. A lack of sexual experience is a burden, a curse, or a liability - for both men and women. Last year, Tina Fey good-naturedly mocked herself on "The Late Show" with David Letterman for being a virgin until 24.  Dan Savage, author of the column Savage Love and popular sex expert, took a question at a lecture from a young woman who was ashamed that she was still a virgin and afraid to bring that up on dates in the video below:
If there is little space in conservative culture to be a sexual human being, there is little space in the mainstream media to be a virgin. Fey self-deprecatingly praises her own "wholesomeness" while the questioner at Savage's lecture demonstrates her fear of rejection and alienation. There is an enormous pressure on teenagers to lose their virginity, a pressure articulated through pop culture. The argument for losing it is not very sophisticated, but it is prevalent: "losing it" is "cool" - well, sometimes. While young men court acceptance and adulthood by becoming sexually active, young women - even in American, sexually charged teenage culture - face shame in either category.
Popular movies that discuss virginity loss demonstrate the difference between the teenage male losing his virginity versus the teenage female. In movies like "The Graduate" and the "American Pie" franchise, engaging in intercourse for the first time is part of the male coming-of-age narrative. Boys cannot be men unless they have "lost it" - and many of these coming-of-age movies follow the virginity loss with graduating high school or college, entering careers, and/or getting married. In most of these narratives with men, having intercourse for the first time does not often have negative consequences. On the contrary, virginity loss is a rite of passage towards a virile and capable manhood. "The 40-Year Old Virgin" attests to this by implying that the main character has not really grown up because he has not yet had intercourse. The stigma of virginity is front-loaded; a man no longer faces the shame of still being a virgin.
The stigma and shame around a young woman, meanwhile, is more diffuse and more complex. There is some stigma attached to being a virgin. Some of this stigma parallels the stigma of being a male teenage virgin, and that seems to be the sentiment expressed by Tina Fey above. There is also the uniquely female stigma of not "putting out" enough for her sexual partners. Young men appear to exert pressure on each other to gain sexual experience; with young women, the pressure seems to largely come from within the relationship - a potentially far more dangerous source of pressure, I might add.
But young women who do lose their virginity shed that stigma but can quickly fall into several other zones of shame, primarily because unlike men, young women are easily labeled as "too" sexual. So if teenage girls do become sexually active, they can quickly be labeled as "sluts," as in the upcoming movie "Easy A" and in several episodes of "Sex and the City." She could become teenage and pregnant and eventually a single mother, like the protagonists in "Juno" and "Grease." She could age without settling down and be stigmatized as "single" or even a "spinster," as portrayed in "Bridget Jones' Diary" and other episodes of "Sex and the City."
[It's unsurprising that given this kind of pressure towards "putting out," but also given very established modes of stigmatizing women who put out "too much," parents and even young women might embrace groups like Barlowgirl for encouraging them to not give into that kind of pressure and instead remain true to their faith and therefore, possibly, themselves.]
The mainstream media and socially conservative views on virginity share at least one belief: that women can and often are "too" interested in sex and lose their reputations as a result. Furthermore, a woman's virginity, or lack thereof, is everyone else's problem. The status of her virginity determines her worth as a human being. In many ways we do live in a progressive society, but a belief like this - based on, as I discussed above, nebulous "facts" and biased values - having such a hold still on American women is a throwback to historic values that openly dismissed and devalued women. One may ask, justifiably, what is the point of caring anymore about virginity?