Was heavenly music played by loin-cloth-clad angels ringing blissfully in your ears?
Or, was losing your virginity a quick, messy and disappointing blot on an otherwise impeccable love-making career?
These are among the questions asked in a documentary to be aired next Thursday, Nov 7, on RTÉ Two. Like a Virgin, produced and presented by fashion guru turned documentary-maker, Darren Kennedy, investigates people’s attitude to virginity and sex. The results are revealing.
Kennedy says his inspiration was watching a young religious zealot on an American chat show.
“I just started wondering what this person’s story was,” says the Dubliner. “In [parts of] America, keeping your purity until you’re married is creeping back in — the difference being that the average age to get married there is about 23.
“But that doesn’t really translate over here, because people get married when they’re much older, obviously. So, I wanted to find out what the story was with virginity and if it is important, or relevant, today.”
Kennedy, who is gay, lost his virginity to a girl when he was 15.
“I remember, at the time, my main objective was to lose it before it was legal,” he says. “She was my girlfriend and it happened on my lunch break from school.
“It was all very pleasant and I did it many more times after that.”
Before starting the documentary, which is part of RTÉ’s Reality Bites series, naysayers told the 32-year-old there was little hope of getting Irish people to discuss their loss of virginity. As it turned out, Kennedy had little difficulty.
Among those interviewed were a flower seller on Henry Street, whose husband has got better with age, and a couple Kennedy met just after they’d had sex, in a tent at a music festival.
Our consumption of music, and sex, for that matter, might have changed since the time of Dicky Rock and the showbands, but, according to former politician, Mary O’Rourke (below right) who is also a contributor to the documentary, urges and curiosities were no less prevalent. “We spoke about it among peers,” says the former minister.
“Girls will always gossip. Funniest thing of all was in boarding school. There was a know-all who had it all off. We were about 13 or 14 and she said ‘I know how you do sex and how you have babies’ and we were all big, round eyes gaping at her. And ‘we’ll meet this evening at four o’clock and I’ll tell you all,’ she said. She had quite a gathering when we all met behind the hockey shed.”
“It’s not as if we wouldn’t have had sex before we were married,” says O’Rourke.
“We would have, and God knows we came close many times. But when I was that age, you daren’t, because the worst thing that could happen to any young woman was to get pregnant.”
Most of Kennedy’s contributors speak about the pressure, and urge, among younger people to lose their virginity as soon as possible. Some, like presenter, Jennifer Maguire (far right) who lost her virginity aged 19, say that they regret doing so early. One of the most interesting contributions comes from 30-year-old Scott Evans, who is waiting to get married before having sex.
“Every girl who looks at him fancies him,” says Kennedy. “I was looking at him thinking ‘surely, you’ve been propositioned lots of times in the past, it’s not like it’s going to be a struggle for you.’ It was something I found hard to get to grips with ... all this time that he could have been having great sex.
“I asked was he worried about not being sexually compatible with the person he ends up marrying and he said he was fine about it. I asked him did he masturbate and he said ‘yes’ and he has engaged in other activities, but not full-on sex.”
A study published in 2006, for The Crisis Pregnancy Agency and The Department of Health and Children, discovered that 94% of 18 — 65 year-olds in Ireland have had sexual intercourse. Some, like Scott, abstain but, of course, there are those who, for whatever reason, have just not lost their virginity and may need help.
Padma Deva, who features in the documentary, describes herself as a sex surrogate.
“It’s the first time I’ve agreed to be in a documentary,” she says, from her home in England.
“So I am somewhat excited and somewhat anxious. It’s a tricky situation, doing media appearances. Any media interview I do is meant to let people suffering from sexual issues know that there is hope, whether through surrogacy or another route.”
In the documentary, Padma’s face remains blocked out and the name she uses is not real.
She says this is “to preserve her clients’ privacy”. Although she does not specify, Padma says that she “trained with an organisation in Europe” for four years before integrating tantra, nutrition and psychology into her surrogate therapy. Sessions typically last for periods of days, over the course of three or four months, and a course costs £4,000. After therapy and coaching, Padma has sex with clients, putting the theory into practice. She says that, “over the years,” she has had four Irish clients.
“My role is as the stand-in for a currently unavailable partner,” says Padma. “The most effective way to resolve sexual issues is through working with a partner. It’s a catch 22. Obviously, a patient’s issue prevents them from entering a relationship and the lack of a relationship keeps them stuck in their problem. A surrogate can offer a safe, non-judgmental place. My objective for my clients is not just to restore or improve their sexual functioning, but to teach them everything they need to have deeply fulfilling, connected, intimate relationships that actually work. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally transformative work.”
For Kennedy, the debate around sex needs to be broadened. “Sex is much too important a part of life; a fully rounded life,” he says. “It’s as important as getting a walk in the open air is. Having sex is healthy.”
¦ 22% of Irish girls who have lost their virginity had sex at the age of 15 or younger, with the figure for boys at 19%. (UNICEF 2011)
¦ The age of first sex has fallen in Ireland: for 18-to-24-year-olds the average age of first sex is 17; for 35-to-39-year-olds the average age is 19 for women and 18 for men. (ISSHR Survey 2006)
¦ Most people in their 60s first had sex when they were 23.
¦ The rate of teenage pregnancies stands at 12 per 1,000. That’s the lowest it has been since the 1960s.
¦ 68% of 18-to-24 year-olds have received sex education. 23% of those aged between 35 and 39 received sex education, while 12% of those aged 40 to 44 were taught about sex at school.