The "Hannah Montana" virginity debate

Our icky cultural obsession with the deflowering of starlets has gotten a bit out of hand.

By Thomas Rogers

Published April 25, 2008 4:15PM (EDT)

Losing your virginity sucks. It either happens too early or happens too late, and it's built up and overplanned, and when the day finally arrives, it's usually a letdown or it takes place while drunk at 5 a.m. in the passenger seat of a French Canadian's Taurus. Well, if you thought we had it bad -- imagine being Miley Cyrus.

Perez Hilton recently started a poll asking readers if Miley Cyrus of "Hannah Montana" would "remain a virgin until marriage." As of Thursday afternoon, 6 percent of readers had answered "yes," 38 percent had answered "no," and 56 percent thought she'd already done the deed. Almost 200,000 people have already voted. Bear in mind that Cyrus is 15 years old.

It has never been easy to be a child star, but as an article in Thursday's Globe and Mail argues, today's teen actors are facing increasing scrutiny about their sex lives. It points to the Perez posting and the media's fascination with the romantic lives of, among others, Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" and "Heroes" actress Hayden Panettiere as evidence of our growing obsession with teen stars' virginity. The article suggests that this development came in the wake of "Olsen Twins Countdown" (the Web site dedicated to counting down to the "Full House" stars' 18th birthday) and Jamie Lynn Spears' recent pregnancy. But it may have more to do with the fallout from her older sister's early branding strategy. As the recent (jaw-dropping) Rolling Stone profile of Britney points out, in the late '90s, manager Larry Rudolph turned her supposed virginity into a key part of her marketing plan -- as the "teenage Lolita of middle-aged men's dreams."

Spears was paraded around talk shows, discussing her virginity and, as the profile suggests, laying the groundwork for her eventual collapse. Jessica Simpson developed a similar look-but-don't-touch persona, and as they reached stratospheric popularity, Spears and Simpson managed to be both wholesome and sexualized -- a dichotomy that made it acceptable for prepubescent girls to show off their stomachs, and may have set a dangerous precedent for a new generation of teen stars whose entire life, including their sex life, has, without their consent, become a part of their public persona. Or maybe I'm giving them too much credit.

Either way, this development is a boon to the makers of "Olsen Twins Countdown," who have expanded their focus with The Web site includes "eighteenth birthday countdowns" for, among others, Watson and -- how creepy is this? -- Dakota Fanning. It's almost enough to make you nostalgic for the awkwardness of our own awful, albeit private, teenage deflowerings.

Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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