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Sexuality is defined, expressed, and experienced as a personal but also as a social and political phenomenon (Siedman, 2010, p. 11). The film 40-year-old Virgin presents a strikingly unique twist on Western norms and values related to sexuality. Specifically, 40-year-old Virgin focuses on male heteronormativity, and the notion of the male as being expected to be sexually virile and sexually ravenous from puberty onwards. When the title character is forced to admit in public that he is a virgin at forty years of age, he exposes himself as a sexual deviant. His virginity is an ironic form of sexual deviance, however. He has no culturally acceptable excuse for being a virgin, as a monk might have. Rather than being expressed as an externalizing perversion such as a sexual fetish, Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) expresses his sexuality via inadvertent abstinence. The film both supports and subverts several of the Western sexual natural attitude (SNA) axioms, addressing such issues as sexual drive and sexual identity as being essential to the definition of self.
According to Seidman (2010), sex is at the "core of the self," (p. 7). The view of sexuality as being the key to the self is also a core component of McGann's (n.d.). NSA. A Freudian concept, the essential nature of sexuality is evident in the fact that Andy views his virginity not as a form of perversion but as something incidental due to his value system. Sex has simply never "come up," for Andy, which implies that he takes on a more passive role in sexual expression than is commonly expected by males. An androcentric worldview assumes that males are programmed to hunger and lust after women from puberty onward, and it is not a matter of sex "coming up," but of needing sex badly enough to seize any and all opportunities. Likewise, the androcentric view of sexuality that is embedded in the NSA values how many times a man has had sex, viewing sexual experiences with different women as symbolic social and personal trophies (McGann, n.d.). For Andy, the only trophies that mean anything to him have become his action figures. He is presented as a big child, someone who has yet to explore his sexual self.
The issue of homosexuality is also raised, albeit tacitly, in 40-year-old Virgin. A prostitute that Andy's friends find for him in order to remove the scourge of virginity turns out to be a transvestite. Although it is meant to be a comical interlude, the situation underscores several of the NSA axioms and exposes gender norms in American society. Schwartz & Rutter (1998) point out that cross-dressing and other gender-bending acts are viewed as comical because the notion of a binary gendered system is fully entrenched in the society. Subverting or challenging the gender binaries is sexually deviant. Andy was not turned on or interested in this particular perversion, and thus 40-year-old Virgin upholds the essential normative axiom related to gender and sexuality. Andy's virginity is specifically a heterosexual virginity. If Andy were gay, his virginity would be one of two deviant self-expressions within the NSA framework. Because he is heterosexual, the emphasis is squarely on his sex drive. The act of sex for Andy must be squarely situated within a heterosexual relationship.
For Andy, simply coming of age did not necessitate an immediate exploration of sexuality or sexual identities. The film does not delve too deeply on whether or not Andy has a weak or strong sex drive. Yet it is clearly implied that his drive might be lesser than that of his male peers. As a middle class white male, Andy situates himself squarely within a cultural milieu that views virginity as being deviant. Arguably, Andy's virginity at age 40 would be considered deviant in any socio-economic strata. His being single is, however, not viewed necessarily as deviant but more as a sign of male control in heterosexual relationships. In 40-year-old Virgin, Andy's peers including his girlfriend Trish, suspect Andy of being a sexual deviant. Trish does not see his virginity as deviant-merely charming. However, her view stems directly from the NSA axiom of differential sex drives for men and women.
For Trish, a man who is not consumed by his sex drive is softened and seems correspondingly safe. Trish does not want Andy to be too safe, though -- as she recognizes his toys also present Andy as someone who does not have a normal sense of adult male identity. His virginity presents him as someone who does not have a normal sense of male sexuality, and Trish is not bothered by his virginity because presumably women are not as driven by sexual needs and desires as men are within the NSA framework. Andy uncomfortably subverts the normative notion of male sexual deviance as being related to respectability and self-control. As Seidman (2010) puts it, "it is the drive for erotic pleasure that places the individual in conflict with social norms of respectability and self-control," (p. 7). However, Andy is both respectable and is the pinnacle of self-control in the sense that he does not allow his presumed male biology to control his actions or relationships.
The NSA assumes that sex drive is gendered. That is, sex drive is different for men and women, and expressed differently. The film questions and subverts the notion that men are automatically hard-wired to become ravenous sexual predators who seek new female conquests constantly. Andy seeks companionship, which is far more important to him than the act of sex. He subverts and challenges the dominant view that sex and sexuality are distinct domains, discrete from emotional intimacy. As Padgug (1989) points out, sexuality is located in social reality; it is disruptive and dysfunctional to assume that sexuality is simply biological determinism. If it was biological determinism, Andy would have not been able to resist the urge to procreate as if he were an animal. He would have had sex in his teens like his peers, because sex would have been as necessary as breathing. Instead, sex is completely removed from biological determinants in Andy's life. Andy upholds Padgug's (1989) view that biological explanations of sex drive are "absolutely insufficient" for understanding human behavior (p. 20).
While Andy, subconsciously at least, recognizes the futility of framing sexuality as being solely a matter of biological urges, his peers become sort of boorish, thoughtless animals who have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing in the prevailing androcentric and deterministic structure of sexuality in society. Sexuality can be viewed as both a structure and a function, a means of propagating the human race but also of propagating patriarchy. Andy does not treat sex as a power game, as might be expected of a male in a patriarchal society. Inadvertently, though, Andy controls sexuality in his relationship and therefore upholds a patriarchal structure by withholding sexual intimacy from a partner who genuinely desires it. His fear of sex becomes a tool with which he uses to control the relationship with Trish. 40-year-old Virgin therefore offers an ironic re-interpretation of the various ways patriarchy infiltrates heterosexual relationships as microcosms of all social structures.
Andy's fear of sex becomes both personally and socially deviant when he withholds sex from Trish after their promised twentieth date. At that point, Trish does start to assume there are deeper psychological issues that would cause him to either not be attracted to her or to not be interested in heterosexual intercourse. "Sex is at the core of the self" in the NSA axiom and in the Freudian sense, and thus, sexuality starts to seep deeply into both Trish and Andy's individual psyches (Seidman, 2010, p. 7). Sex becomes a pivotal element of their relationship, and a symbol of their deepening trust of one another. Like religious people who view sex as something that must…[continue]
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