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Virginity Auctions: Going Once, Going Twice

Are Alina Percea and her ilk reinventing ancient initiation rites, accidentally-on-purpose? Is the online virginity auction the initiation rite of a new age?
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Alina Percea is not the first woman in the world to sell her virginity for cash. She's just the latest to do it and tell the media.

The eighteen-year-old Romanian student placed an ad on a German dating site offering her "first time" to the highest bidder. The ad said, "I am a 108lbs, 5ft 6in tall, brown-eyed Romanian girl. I don't smoke and own a certificate from a gynecologist which says I'm a virgin. I want my first time to be special and not very abrupt. I want to meet a gentle, respectful and generous man."

Yeah, abruptness. That old life-ruiner, abruptness, eh? I mean, sex with a stranger, sex for money, sure, but when I ponder abruptness my skin crawls. Doesn't yours?

"The Romanian had hoped to raise as much as £50,000 through the controversial sale," the Daily Mail tells us. She ended up getting £8,800. The winner was a 45-year-old Italian businessman who, after learning that he'd won, flew Percea to Venice. She described to reporters how, at the arrivals lounge, he smilingly handed her a box of chocolates, looked young for his age and was nicely dressed. "The two went sightseeing," the Daily Mail continues, "then to a five-star hotel where they had unprotected sex." Percea had "promised in her auction pitch that she would bring documentation proving she was a virgin, and said she would agree to forgo the use of condoms on the condition the winning bidder provided her with certificates proving he was free from STIs."

The student, who subsequently took a morning-after pill, told reporters: "I was attracted to him, so I enjoyed it, even though it was quite painful."

She didn't make nearly as much money as she wanted to: "I hoped I'd be able to have an apartment in town. But now I will live with my parents while I go to university." I wonder what her parents think about this auction thing.

I wonder what I think about it too. I turn the story around and around and like a Magic 8-Ball, it conveys a different message every time. I think: This is basically sex work glamorized with "gentle" and "respectful," sightseeing and candy. Then I think: What's wrong with sex work? Then I think: Nothing, if she's her own boss. But...

But what? It's not as if we who never sold ours but gave it free to college guys who didn't wash their hair have memories worth treasuring. Were our "firsts" better -- nobler, nicer, more authentic -- than hers because we knew the guys (did we?) and/or because no cash was exchanged? What is sex worth and to whom? As a scavenger, I spend lots of time thinking of money and how not to spend it. How did Percea decide she was worth £50,000? That's around US $100,000, and see? I said she was worth when she wasn't selling her whole self, body and soul. She was selling one act, once. Still, £50,000? At her age, I had incredibly low self-esteem. Whatever price I would have put on myself, way back when, would have been more telling, and more wretched, than free.

If Percea wanted £50,000 and got just £8,800, would I have sought $100 and got $17.60?

The Magic 8-Ball asks: Oh, so you envy her? Is that it?

I think the specter of envy haunts the dialogue whenever these stories appear. This past year, other young women around the world have posted similar sell-my-virginity campaigns. We're horrified. We're morally outraged. We wrestle thoughts about fame and the media. We yearn to pull these young women aside and whisper: Wait. Someone special is out there for you -- maybe." Then, realizing that we are marveling at this novel idea for making college bucks, we shock ourselves and want to kick ourselves, ashamed, around the block.

Among many young women, the general attitude about virginity is "How can I get rid of it?" An urgency, but not the looking-forward-to-it kind of urgency. Rather, the kind of urgency one feels awaiting root canals. This has been true since the late '70s at least.

In postmodern society, we mock initiation rites. Our ancestors took them for granted. Approaching each new stage of life, our ancestors prepared to undergo ordeals and ceremonies marking them as changed. Each time, our ancestors might have been a bit scared, yet surely they took comfort in the solidarity of knowing all their peers and elders went through the exact same rites -- with the exact same scriptures, drama, dances and pain that rendered the passage sacred. Today we mock such rituals as backward and dogmatic.

But are Alina Percea and her ilk reinventing it, accidentally-on-purpose? Is the online virginity auction the initiation rite of a new age?