Sorry for deceiving you, but I’m not a virgin. But guess who is? Iris.
Keith Manley and Iris Caldwell: “Married at First Sight” Season 9. Image: Lifetime
I have jumped on the “this is ridiculous but I can’t stop watching” reality show bandwagon, (another thing to thank Corona for), and have recently discovered “Married At First Sight.” Now, having the show being in its eleventh season, I know I’ve started this journey eleven seasons too late. Having said that, I spent the last two days binge-watching the entire ninth season. Why, pre-tell did I spend 16 hours of my life, watching a pseudo “reality” show (can we ever really be ourselves with a camera in our face 24/7?), that in my humble opinion, completely disrespects the sanctity of marriage? Well, I’m quarantined, what else is there to do? And besides, I’ve gotten tired of everyone around me telling me how obsessed they are with this show and shows like these, (90 Day Fiance).
Far be it from me, to pass judgment on complete and total strangers, even if they have put themselves in a spotlight, where it is expected that they would be just that, judged, but I think the whole concept of the show is ridiculous. What sane person would sign up to marry a person they have never seen, never heard of, or met? Apparently over 59,000 people, according to the matchmaking special. For those of you, who may be like me and didn’t know too much about the show, here’s a brief rundown. The “experts” consisting of a sociologist, marriage/sex counselor, and a Pastor, sift through thousands of applicants, whittling it down to eight people, four couples, they feel may be successful at the married at first sight “experiment,” (that’s not satire, its what they call it throughout the show). They put the four couples together, they meet on their actual “wedding day,” go on a honeymoon and then start their “real” lives, together, for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, they can then decide to either stay together or get divorced. This is not an exercise or a ruse, they get married, legally.
Again, my intent here is not to judge people who are essentially strangers to me, but I do want to focus on one couple in particular for this post, Iris, and Keith. Keith is a youth mentor and basketball coach, Iris, head of a youth center. They both live and work in the Charlotte area, and are generally good looking people. Keith is not a virgin, but Iris is. And that is where we have the “problem.” Their entire storyline is centered around Iris being “sexually immature,” and Keith’s inability to reconcile that. One by one, all of the other couples, (some within days of each other), within the first month “consummate” their marriage. However, for some “reason,” Iris, is hesitant. Perhaps the fact that she just met this person, and has never had sex EVER, has something to do with it. I’m not sure any of us aspire to lose our virginity to a “stranger,” husband, or not. My problem with this show, no matter how addicting it became, is that Iris is essentially ostracized because she decided to be a virgin. Now before I delve into the “virtues” of keeping yourself “pure” for your husband/wife, let me state this: I did not. I had my daughter before I married my first husband, which means, I wasn’t a virgin when I got married. And I’m okay with that. I’m not ashamed, don’t begrudge it, or anything. Life happens, I’m a firm believer that experiences, bad, good or indifferent, make us better people, period. I’m a grown woman, it’s my body, I do what I want with it, period. And Iris, is the same, a grown woman who has the right to do what she wants to or doesn’t want to, with her body as well. Why though, is my decision to have sex before marriage not frowned on upon as much as hers not to? Throughout the show, the “experts,” dispense advice to all of the couples, but the majority of the advice given to Iris and Keith is centered on her inability to explore “intimacy,” and exploring her “sexuality.” They do everything but say: “you’re not having sex with a stranger you just met two weeks ago, what’s wrong with YOU?”
There was a moment in the show where my disgust with this “virgin shaming” reached an apex. About halfway through the “experiment” four weeks in, two of the “experts” the pastor and the marriage counselor, sit down with the couples, each person individually to sort of “check-in.” Basically to see if they still wanted to continue, or needed a bailout. Spoiler alert, all of them decide to stick it out, despite some questionable actions on some of their part. Keith talks to Pastor Calvin Roberson, and of course, the conversation is centered around the fact that Iris won’t give it up. At some point in the conversation, right before Keith says he’s not sure he wants to be the one to take Iris’s virginity (too much pressure I presume), he’s complaining about how tough it is to be with Iris because of her “situation,” i.e her virginity. Pastor Calvin responds with, “Dude that is tough!” WAIT A MINUTE. Um, I don’t know too much about other religions besides Christianity, (of which I am a proud card-carrying member), but I’m pretty sure in many cultures and religions being a virgin is something to be championed. An honor. You have a Pastor on tv, telling this man who is frustrated that his wife of three weeks, who prior to the three weeks was a stranger, “it’s tough” she won’t “drop her drawers” for him. Dude, for whatever her reasons, practicality, religion, culture, not finding the right person, Iris thought it important enough to keep that part of herself, sacred for the person she chooses to spend the rest of her life with. That’s not “tough,” it’s ADMIRABLE. And I can’t stress this enough, HER decision. I get, that this is television, we need a storyline, we need a reason for viewers, such as myself to tune in. But I have to say, I had a big problem with the way Iris was characterized. Her whole “persona” was centered around her virginity. I believe one of the words used was “unicorn.” All everyone could do was marvel at the fact that she was a virgin. If you’re tired of me talking about her virginity in the five or six minutes it has taken you to read this, imagine sitting through 16 hour-long episodes of it.
If you don’t care to know how it all ends up for Keith and Iris end up, stop reading now or skip over this next part. At the end of the eight weeks, Iris decides she wants to stay married, and Keith, doesn’t. His official reason: “Iris’s emotional immaturity” and her “inexperience” with intimacy. And to be clear, he wasn’t asking for a divorce because she was a virgin, intimacy isn’t only about sex, (his words), and while I agree with him wholeheartedly, let’s be real, it was about her virginity. There is another side to all this tho. I used the words “reality television” loosely because we don’t know what happens on the other side of the camera. When the producers and editors of the show get into that editing room, they decide to edit the way in whatever they think will shape or fulfill whatever narrative they are trying to portray. Some scenes didn’t get shown, words that didn’t get said, etc. And my quarrel is not with “reality” tv here. Not at all. It is, with the societal notion, that being a virgin is bad. That choosing to save yourself from marriage, makes you a “unicorn,” and of course you should have sex with every Tom, Dick, and Harry you come across, I mean how else are you going to know what you like? Forget intimacy, connecting with your partner, communicating your needs and desires effectively with said partner, none of that matters. You need a high body count to be accepted in this world. I just don’t agree with that.
One of the best parts about living in this country is the “perception” that we are all free to do whatever we choose. (Yes, I know how loaded that statement is, but not here). If we want to start a business? Go Ahead. Do you want to run around naked? Go Ahead (just be prepared to suffer whatever consequences), and if you want to hold out. By all means, hold out. Don’t let anyone or anything try to control what you choose to do with your body, with your life. Period. What works for you, may not necessarily work for me, and vice versa. And that is okay. You don’t get to judge me for it. So don’t.