Pop Culture: Like a Virgin

The construct of virginity has infiltrated many realms of pop culture. From film references that vilify virginity like American Pie, a four-part series following teenagers on the journey to losing their virginity before graduating high school, to films that glorify virginity like The Virgin Suicides, a film about five sisters sheltered from anything sexual until one sister falls victim to temptation ultimately resulting in death.

Virginity is no stranger to the world of music as it explores virginity and sexual exploration through song. Neil Diamond’s 1967 Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon, popularized by the Urge Overkill rendition in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, a song about a girl becoming a woman through losing her virginity and ‘giving herself to a man. While musically exploring virginity has not been quite as common in the past decade, there are still genres of music that present hypersexual undertones implicitly demonizing virginity. While many artists write about sexual experience, love, and personal interactions, there are very few musical phenomenons that have sparked conversations about virginity. However, 1980s pop star Madonna takes the cake for creating music that evokes sexual freedom and discovery in her listeners. One of the most impactful songs, both in 1980s pop culture and sexual discourse, is Madonna’s Like a Virgin. 

Madonnas 1984 chart-topper, Like A Virgin, became number one on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of December 22nd and stayed there for the following 6 weeks. While the catchy pop song was adored by young teens and music critiques like the Rolling Stones, it didn’t maintain the same popularity amongst parents or religious individuals. While the 1980s seemed like an era of cultural exploration through neon colors and sexual liberation, it was still a period where anything seemingly unconventional could create ripples in society’s comfort. Madonna filmed the music video in Venice, Italy, a city where 85% of its residency are practicing Roman Catholic, a religion that places great importance in the purity behind remaining a virgin until marriage [ 8 ]. 

Like a Virgin, while not necessarily on purpose, tackles the construct of virginity from competing perspectives. On one hand, Madonna idealizes the virginal state by aligning the experience of sex for the first time as a euphoric experience. This fuels the traditional narrative that virgins remain pure and untouched and should stay that way until finding ‘the one’ or in a more traditional sense, getting married. - On the other hand, Madonna combats the historic/religious narrative of virginal importance by almost mimicking the church’s characteristics throughout her music video and summoning a raw sexuality like in much of her other music [ 9 ] .


[ 8 ]  "The Billboard Hot 100: Week Ending December 22, 1984". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. December 22, 1984.

[ 9 ] Balsamo, Briana, Jillian Egan, Kait Gallant, Sam Kahn, Oliver McNicoll, and John Rectenwald. n.d. “Like a Virgin - Madonna in Pop Culture.” Weebly.com. https://madonnainpopculture.weebly.com/like-a-virgin.html.


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