Your tolerance for secondhand embarrassment was put to the test last night by the premiere of TLC’s The Virgin Diaries. The much-hyped show definitely had its share of gross-out moments (that wedding kiss wasn’t any less gross in the episode than it was in the trailer), but mostly, it was just incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable.
This documentary-style confessional had all the makings of a TLC exploitation. From the trailers, it seemed the show would be focusing on couples (like Ryan and Shanna, pictured) who were making a choice to abstain from sex — and kissing — until they were married. In actuality, everyone else on the show was not a virgin entirely by choice — which made the laughing and judging that everyone seemed so eager to do seem much more mean-spirited.
There was no shortage of shots that made me cringe. Here are six squirm-inducing moments I’m going to have trouble getting out of my head:
1.) That Kiss. I may have known it was coming, but that doesn’t change the fact that Shanna and Ryan’s kiss was one of the most disgusting, over-the-top displays of affection I’d ever seen. Unlike the other featured people tonight, Shanna and Ryan seemed completely delusional. From a TV standpoint, they were awesome, seemingly created by some reality-show robot that didn’t give them an ounce of self-awareness. (The same robot created Snooki.) I hope they were doing all the kissing as a reality-show gag, but I somehow doubt it.
2.) Even more disturbing than their multiple Mouth Attack Zone kisses (seriously, once those two started mouth-to-mouth contact, they didn’t stop), though, was Ryan’s relative indifference for most of the episode. Shanna seemed psyched to finally have her wedding night, chatting with her friends about crotchless panties, etc. (Side note: ugh.) Ryan just seemed like he was looking for a way to put off “having intercourse” and “doing foreplay” for as long as he could.
3.) Shanna’s father gave Joe Simpson a run for his money in the Creepy Dad department. The way he confessed to the cameras that he would love to be a fly on the wall for her wedding night had me and my roommate both doing a double-take.
4.) Another featured player, Carey, is a 35-year-old virgin not entirely by choice. He is essentially the real-life version of Steve Carell’s character in The 40 Year Old Virgin, minus the happily ever after. He confessed that he has a date this week that will be his first in seven or eight months. Before that, he hadn’t been on a date in seven years. Bru-tahl.
5.) There were also the three female virgin roommates. Well, two of the three were virgins. One was a “born-again” who had previously had sex with past boyfriends. A.k.a., much like Bristol Palin, not a virgin.
6.) I’m going to give the participants the benefit of the doubt and assume TLC told them to bring up their virgin status right away on their dates. Both Lisa (one of the roommates) and Carey immediately told their dates they were virgins, and understandably, the dates were more than a little weirded out. Too much too soon. Later on the episode, Lisa and her roommates went on a triple date with three guys who were — surprise! — also virgins. What was the message there? Only other virgins are going to be cool with this?
Besides the gasp-worthy moments and the “Did that really just happen?” scenes, the bigger question surrounds whether or not you were willing to laugh at Virgin‘s subjects. Yes, they are all adults who agreed to be on a reality show on a network that is known for not always showing the best in people. (See: Toddlers and Tiaras.) But especially with Carey, who seemed like a perfectly nice albeit extremely anxious guy, I wonder what the show is accomplishing besides encouraging people to laugh at others. Some of the editing choices, like having the roommate bunch hang out with their cat, in a not-so-subtle illusion to the cat-lady spinster stereotype, or infantilizing Ryan and Shanna on the playground, seemed to further the patronizing “you should be laughing at this” tone.
Oprah had an episode of her show this past season dealing with a few women in their late 20s who were virgins. With all of them, there was some kind of anxiety/intimacy issue. I can’t help but think if TLC is really interested in being the learning channel, a better idea might be to follow these people around for several episodes, employ a therapist and help them get over some of their hang-ups so they can have fulfilling adult relationships — and yes, those include sex.
PopWatchers: Did you watch? Have you ever been more uncomfortable? Did you think it was a kind representation, or did you hope for better?