Revisiting 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' 10 Years Later — Is It A Sex-Positive Film?
When I think back at some of the best comedies of the last decade, one of the top contenders definitely has to be Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin. From an incredible cast, to a star-making performance by Steve Carell, and great direction from one of the geniuses behind Freaks & Geeks, the film is still a wonderful comedy 10 years later. But even with all the brilliance in the film, the message of the story does bring up a few important questions about our society's outlook on sex: Is The 40-Year-Old Virgin a sex positive film? Does it shame virgins? Is it a positive and/or accurate portrayal of how people really feel about sex and how it pertains to age and even gender?
For those who have not seen the film, go do it immediately. Putting aside the social aspect of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it's still extremely funny and features a sweet love story. The film follows Andy, a 40-year-old man who works in an electronics store who also happens to still be a virgin. He's had opportunities to have sex in the past and he's either ruined the moment or has just been unable to do the deed. He's a man with a career dream who doesn't do anything about it, and instead lives his routine life until he makes a few new friends and meets a girl.
As an impressionable teenager watching this film when it first came out, I remember thinking that the message behind the film was simple: Sex can be had by anyone at any point, but losing your virginity is better when it's done with someone special. I remember thinking that Andy's friends make being a virgin into such a huge deal thanks to his age and gender, but I didn't really stop to dwell on that fact on my initial watch. I was in high school and it was just a funny, rated-R film that began the crush I still have to this day on Paul Rudd. But now that the film is 10 years older and so am I, I checked it out again to see what the movie was really trying to say, and I think the film shows characters engaging in virgin shaming, even though the climax of the film shows (spoiler alert!) Andy's girlfriend Trish telling Andy that being a virgin is totally fine. The funny thing is that the virgin shaming comes from the virgin himself. And it seems to me that movie is trying to point out that virgins shouldn't be ashamed of wanting to wait or of not having the right chance to have sex. And they shouldn't be ashamed to say they're virgins, no matter their age.
Andy's friends really harp on and on about the need for Andy to lose his v-card, in fact some of the best jokes of the film come from David, Jay, and Cal explaining ways that Andy can get over the pressure of sex as it's time for him to have sex already (like Jay's quote that Andy is "putting the pussy on a pedestal"). But Andy is the one who feels uncomfortable about people — especially his girlfriend — finding out about his lack of sexual experience. Andy is the one who isn't comfortable with the idea of having a "big box of porn" in his apartment, and Andy is the one who can't even pleasure himself without it becoming an awkward or scarring event. Andy gets embarrassed and pressured when everyone around him starts to try and help him get laid, but the problem isn't that everyone around him thinks he's crazy for not having sex (though some of them might). The problem is that he's the one feeling embarrassed and pressured about it because he can't quite explain what sex means to him and why he's not ready to have it.
It's funny because despite Andy's friends having experience with sex, they all have problems with relationships and the people with whom they're having sex. Andy stays sex free while dating Trish and their relationship is so much healthier than everyone else's. The film shows us that there's no wrong way to be in a relationship, some people will have sex and others won't. Sex doesn't have to be what makes a relationship work. It's more about the people and the love they have for one another. Even after Trish finds out he's a virgin they stay together and love each other, and they don't have sex until after the wedding.
I think the concept of sex itself in the film is told in various ways. All of the characters have different ideas of what sex means, which is exactly how people feel about it in real life. The scene when Andy takes Trish's daughter Marla to the sex health clinic shows the differing views of sex in society perfectly. Some of the young boys are too horny for their own good, one man is worried his daughter is dumb and wants to stop her menstrual cycle, and a lot of people don't know much about sex in general. Sure the people at the sex health clinic make fun of Andy when he says that he, like Marla, is a virgin, but I believe that the film is trying to show us how some people in society do treat those who have yet to have sex after a certain point in their lives. But when Marla finds out that Andy hasn't had sex, she doesn't treat him like he's an alien. She might think it's a little weird, but she accepts him and tells him to tell Trish the truth.
I think the point here is that the people who love and care for you, will understand you. They'll understand your decisions if you can come out and just explain how you're feeling. Marla understands Andy and she probably knew that if he would just tell Trish, she'd understand too. And thankfully she does understand him, no questions asked.
When The 40-Year-Old Virgin first came out, I didn't understand that it had a lot of layers and deeper meanings about how people love, have sex and talk about sex. But now 10 years later, and in a time when people are talking more about sex, gender, and other related topics, the film really packs a punch. It's funny, sweet, and is trying to say something about the way we think about love and how we express that love. In my opinion, The 40-Year-Old Virgin doesn't virgin shame, it shows that virgins and people who have been having sex for years share fears and doubts about themselves and others. It isn't negative about sex, it's realistic look on how we view sex. And it does all of these things in a funny, sweet, charming and honest way.
Images: Universal Pictures