Prom night’s over

“You realize we’re all going to go to college as virgins. They probably have special dorms for people like us.”

These are the nervous words of Jim Levenstein, Jason Biggs’ memorable adolescent character in the 1999 blockbuster American Pie. It’s safe to say that the majority of today’s college students saw this movie. Moreover, they saw it while young and impressionable. In case you (as a Carnegie Mellon student-to-be) were too busy playing with algorithms or composing symphonies, the plot is as follows: Four high school seniors vow to have sex by prom night. Hilarity — and awkward teenage moments — ensue.

What’s the point? Let’s try to figure out how this movie fits into the general collegiate perception of sex. While we were wrapped up in the whips and scorns of high school and junior high, you have to wonder: Where did we really learn about sex?

In school? Well, it’s likely that the experiences of most Carnegie Mellon students are varied, as the debate over sex education in public schools has been going on for years. The wants of Americans are divided. Some consider it the job of sex-ed classes to promote abstinence and gloss over contraceptive methods. Others support the “abstinence-plus” system, where abstinence is encouraged but students still learn about other ways to prevent pregnancy. And a third group doesn’t want abstinence to be a significant part of the curriculum, which they insist should instead focus on condoms and other contraceptives. As of a 2004 study conducted by National Public Radio, these groups consist of 15, 46, and 36 percent of the population, respectively; however, a surprising 30 percent of public schools sponsor abstinence, while 47 percent teach “abstinence-plus” and 20 percent primarily cover methods of contraception.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that not all products of the American educational system are on the same page about sex. But let’s not be concerned with our disparities in learning; let’s talk about what unites us.

Which brings us back to American Pie. Maybe your middle school and that of your roommate differed in their conventions of sex-ed, but you’ve probably both seen this movie. And amidst the sub-plots concerning foreign exchange students and tales of band camp, American Pie has one major theme: the concept of virginity.

Most college students subscribe to the American Pie definition of virginity, which can be broken into two parts. First, you lose your virginity after having vaginal intercourse. Though some of the film’s characters wound up waiting to have sex, most managed to do the deed. Thus, the second part of the definition of virginity is that it’s a good thing to lose before college. Remember when it seemed that simple?

As it turns out, virginity isn’t so cut-and-dried. There are many different definitions and interpretations of what it means to be a virgin. The American Pie definition doesn’t apply to everyone: Gays and lesbians who’ve never engaged in vaginal intercourse often consider their virginity lost after another landmark, such as a first orgasm or the first time they engage in anal or oral sex. And another definition of virginity does not see its loss as something that is necessarily permanent. Some people claim to be “born-again” virgins after taking a belated vow of celibacy.

On top of that, not all virgins are the same. In her book, Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences, Laura M. Carpenter categorizes virgins into three groups: gifters, stigmatized, and processors. And here is where we have to give American Pie a little credit. Gifters typically wait to have sex until they are assured that the experience will be special, magical, maybe even perfect. Tara Reid’s character Vicky is a good example — in the movie she wants to have “perfect” sex with her boyfriend, Kevin. The stigmatized, however, can hardly wait to lose their virginity. Almost everyone has felt like the four lead males of American Pie at one time or another: burdened by inexperience. And finally, the processors are perhaps the wisest of the three categories. They see virginity loss as a part of maturity; they’re not in a rush to lose it or concerned with saving it forever. Maybe this is Chris Klein’s character Oz, who remains a virgin as the credits roll but doesn’t sweat it.

You may wonder why we’re talking so much about virginity when so many college students have already had sex. Well, none of us have thought about it as much as we probably should have. If you don’t understand how you interpreted sex and virginity while you were a virgin, how can you expect to make any sexually related decisions in the present? So, which category were — or are — you?