Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Been There, Haven't Done That by Tara McCarthy

Seems a little odd to call a memoir about not having sex a sexual memoir, but that is indeed what this "virgin's memoir" really is. McCarthy decided long ago that her virginity was not something to be given lightly and she chronicles the many failed relationships in her past that make her glad to have stuck to her principles. She fully admits that she is quite sexually experienced for a virgin. And there are some discussions in the book that might make the reader wonder just what definition of sex she's using in declaring herself a virgin. Some might be unkind enough to say that she's using the same definition that the news would have you believe is prevalent in high schools today (that oral sex is not in fact sex) or to which one of our former Presidents subscribed. Clearly she's of the camp that only actual penetration of one sexual organ by another counts. I disagree with her but thought her account of her relationships up to age 25 would be interesting despite our differing viewpoints.

Sex aside, her relationships are the same as relationships the world over, fraught with the same problems as any other. Interestingly, the older she gets, the less pressure she faces from her boyfriends (most fairly short term--she says she averaged about 4 months or so in a relationship there at one point) to have sex and she is conflicted about this. She spends much of the book repeatedly asserting that she is happy with her choice to remain a virgin and reflecting that her decision is more about her than about the guys in her life but it's a little disingenuous for her to be bothered when they respect her decision without pressuring her.

She does touch on the pervasiveness of sex in our culture and the way that we readily assume, even expect, sexual relationships between couples. She talks about her early feelings that virginity was shameful, something to hide and the way in which she has come to be proud of her sticking to her convictions and openly admits to her virginity (after all, how much more open can you be than to publish a book announcing it to the world?). The big problem is that she merely touches on these aspects of her decision while detailing her fairly repetitive relationship exploits. While the topic is thought-provoking, the book went on too long, starting to sound as if she had written it to help convince herself that her stance was indeed the one in which she wanted to continue. Now I don't think that's actually true, but the refrain was very much in the broken record vein by the time I turned the last page. Certainly a provocative subject, I wish there had been more memoir or more sociological study, not a tepid mix of the two.


  1. Great review. I do agree with what she is saying about the pervasiveness of sex in our culture, but surely she is a victim of that rather than different. If there wasn't so much sex around, she wouldn't feel the need to stand up and declare herself as a virgin.

  2. Great review. I don't like the sound of the mix between sociological study and memoir - i tend to like those two genres better when they are kept apart. Interesting subject though.


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