Virginity Auctions: A Marxist Perspective

In the first part of this story, we provided a quick synopsis of a number of women who had recently auctioned off their virginity to the highest bidder, with bids sometimes reaching millions of dollars. In Part II, we take a closer look at what’s actually for sale here and try and work out some of the elements—be they economic,  psychological or cultural—that contribute to the somewhat outrageous prices being offered. So let’s kick this off with a couple of facts that are almost as outrageous as some of the bids!

Fact: There are over three billion vaginas in the world, thus they are not a scarce resource/commodity. Their utility or use value is pretty much the same the world over and, given the laws of supply and demand, their utility value could be put at, let’s say, a couple of hundred bucks (and that’s being generous because if you live in country/culture with a dowry system where you have to ‘pay’ to get your daughter married off, you have negative equity in this investment, so that’ll bring the average down).

Fact: The design of vaginas hasn’t really changed over time and the means of their production are fairly standardised; and therefore it’s difficult to argue for a price increase because “it’s been revamped and we’ve got a new model coming out.”

So what are you paying for here, when you are willing to shell out three million dollars to shag a virgin? Basically, you are paying for (1) the advertising, (2) the packaging, and (3) a shit-load of cultural baggage. In short, you are paying for a fetishised commodity, one that is valued far beyond its basic utility value.

Let’s expand on these three categories, looking first at advertising. This is a key component. Without modern communication technologies such as the internet that enable the auction to reach a critical amount of potential (wealthy) bidders, then it is highly unlikely a virgin could attract the sort of money detailed in Part I. Contrast this with virgins in underdeveloped countries who have no access to technology;  as this 2008 Telegraph story on virgins for sale in India details, they are limited to advertising locally—often by sitting beside the road and waiting for passing businessmen to make offers—thereby achieving only a fraction of the price reached in recent Western examples.

Secondly, the key ingredient is packaging.  Question: Do we ever actually get to see the goods that are for sale? No, we don’t. And this tells us that what is really being sold here is the context, or that which the surrounds the vagina. Putting it bluntly, what the girl looks like will help determine value. Again, the Indian example is instructive here, describing how beauty commands a premium that can double or triple the ‘typical’ price paid for a virgin.

The final ingredient is surplus value—the premium—what the market is willing to pay. This value is inextricably linked to the ephemeral cultural and psychological elements of a system where virginity is valued more highly than non-virginity. Although this may have changed somewhat in many modern cultures, there is still evidence of societal over-investiture in myths of female virginity.  This is patriarchal culture writ large: at the heart of these bids lies a male desire to own, possess, and control the female body. If you think I’m taking this a little too far, ask yourself the following question: Would a woman pay that much money for a male virgin?  I tell you, it’s a guy thing!

Adding all of these elements together, what we have here is a clear example of what in Marxist terms could be described as “commodity fetishism”. Coming up with this idea, Marx borrowed the term “fetish” from anthropologists who had used it to describe the way in which African tribes “fetishised” totems and artefacts, valuing them far beyond their worth.  The objects themselves were little more than a piece of wood or a river stone, but because of the cultural and religious histories/ narratives attached to them, they attained a  conceptual value far beyond their utility. Marx  saw the same thing happening to commodities in a  capitalist system as commodities gained in significance and replaced these totemic objects.

Thus, goods in a capitalist economy can have a value that far outweighs their use, or utility, value.  Cars are a good example of this—all cars do more or less the same thing but there are huge price differences between different vehicles—quality aside, there is a premium built into many brands far beyond the use value of the car. Another example might be expensive French perfumes where sale price is often twelve times use value (or what it cost to make in terms of labour and ingredients). The virgin vagina has likewise become a fetishised commodity, overvalued both psychologically and emotionally by potential “purchasers”.

Taking all this into account, here is the final opinion of this bartender: In a capitalist economy, it is a smart move on the part of these women, as the auction bids they are generating would seem to be far in excess of the actual use value of their ‘commodity’. But perhaps the smartest move was getting in early, as supply and demand dictates these prices won’t hold up if a deluge of new ‘product’ hits the market.

As for any moral objections to these transactions?  As the recent economic collapse should have  taught us, since when did morality have any part in our capitalist system?


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4 Responses

  1. I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read.. <a href="http://wiki.hudson-ci.org/display/~bill-bartmann&quot;

    -Bill-Bartmann

    • Thanks for the feedback Bill, it is most appreciated. We’re glad you’re enjoying it and will try to keep you informed and entertained!

  2. […] exchange captured so succinctly in these images is little different to our earlier investigation of virgins auctioning off their vaginas to the highest […]

  3. […] January 27, 2010 by Duffster We’ve previously looked at virginity a couple of times (here and here) at Notes, particularly the way in which virginity can become overvalued within a culture, and how […]

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