Memo to Britney: Shut Up or Put Out

Enough of the coy sex talk. Britney Spears needs to shut up or put up.

I will never forget the moment I first saw Madonna's "Like a Virgin" video. I was standing in front of the TV eating after-school cookies, swaying on one hip, watching Channel 50's Top Ten Hitz out of Detroit. I was sixteen and hadn't been a virgin for about ten weeks, something I was not entirely proud of. Madonna would've been twenty-five years old, and probably hadn't been a virgin for ten years, something she clearly was quite proud of. Watching her writhe around in that gondola definitely contributed to a little erosion in my Catholic shame. After all, I hadn't done anything wrong in the back of the Gremlin, behind Mr. Kapassi's granary, had I? It felt good, otherwise why did I want to keep doing it? (Again and again and again ...)

It's hard to remember a time when Madonna's sexual antics would generate post-doctoral essays, op-ed columns, and long scholarly treatises by the likes of Camille Paglia and Andrea Dworkin. Compare it to the current buzz about Britney Spears' precarious virginity. It's largely relegated to celebrity Web gossip, women's magazines and giggling chat-line speculation. The past few months have seen a resurgence of is-she-or-isn't-she speculation, much of it fed by Britney herself. Recently the New York Post quoted some yahoo who supposedly overheard Brit bragging about buying her boyfriend a pair of handcuffs and having "amazing sex," and it was a big story. Ditto when she reportedly told German journalists that "chocolate is better than an orgasm."

Such coyness knows more reputable bounds: in an Elle magazine interview last summer, Britney claimed that Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex and the City character was "just like her" and said, "what they talk about on that show is so true." (Oh, and which episode would be your favorite, Brit? The one about analingus, or the one with the funky-spunk subplot?) Apparently after being reminded that she has basically sold the world on her virginity (in much the way she was reminded that, as a Pepsi spokesperson, she really shouldn't be photographed drinking Coke), Britney finally complained, "I wish I hadn't said anything at all."

That makes two of us.

Who cares whether Britney's getting any? Journalists, primarily, because journalists hate being lied to. (Britney's talking out of two sides of her mouth, and the urge to sew the lying side shut is hard to quell.) Her fans, secondly, and the parents with whom they still live. After all, they're twelve years old. Nobody wants to picture them having sex (almost nobody), though recent studies would suggest that many of them are, or heading that way. Her handlers know if Britney owned up to her sexuality, mounted the stage (if you will), and declared that sex with Justin was rocking her world, there'd be a sick baby boom in backwater Florida, and some silly lawsuits would result.

I exaggerate, but we used to blame Madonna for stirring sexual longing. The wonderful thing about Madonna is that she was too busy hustling Puerto Rican gangbangers to give a shit. Her fans were big girls. Britney and her handlers, however, care too much about her theoretical influence, because she supposedly holds powerful sway over pre-pubescent minds -- children, really. I feel sorry for her.

Unlike Madonna, whose fans grew up alongside her, Britney is forced to charm a fresh batch of preadolescents with each new album. Her eponymous third album is filled with disingenous ballads like "Overprotected" and "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" (uh, last I checked, a twenty-year-old was a woman). Ms. Spears obviously wants credibility with an older set of fans, and who can blame her? Imagine being in concert, gyrating to the beat of your own drum machine, only to be left spent and sweaty amongst a crowd of ... children. Ewww. But Britney's going to have to put up or shut up about her virginity before she can graduate to the next level of fandom, because girls don't want to feel bad about having sex.

I remember hearing my seven-year old niece absently singing "Hit Me Baby One More Time" from the backseat of the car. She had no idea what the song meant. The charm of that video was that neither did Britney. The setup was soft-core porn, and it was utterly riveting, because it married a blank, baby face with a bursting woman's body. The mind seemed not to know what the body was doing to its audience (that's the essence of kiddie porn: "I'm being turned on by this underage girl, but it's okay because, look at her, she has no idea") which is why it made parents so uncomfortable, until it was widely reported that Britney was a virgin, a Christian, and a good girl. Don't worry, parents, if your girls love this music, dress like her, want to sing and dance like her, they're in safe hands. Britney's not a perv. She has no sexual longings of her own, and if you think filthy things about her, then you're the one with the problem.

Like that guy who reportedly offered millions to be Britney's first. Isn't it a felony to offer money for sex? If it were true, and not a publicity stunt designed to keep Britney's virginity in the papers and generate sales amongst increasingly antsy parents, it never would have been leaked by her handlers, and the guy would have been brought up on pandering charges. But if it was a stunt, which is more likely, then it was brilliant. Girls could continue to live vicariously through her onstage sexual persona -- a bad girl who's really a good girl -- and boys could continue to imagine they'd be the ones who'd wrest away Britney's V-card.

But that stunt has backfired, hence her current dilemma: Britney no longer has that patina of innocence, but she can't grow up. She's old enough to have sex. She can't get away with twirling her hair around her fingers and shrugging off the controversy she may arouse by "just being who she is." But losing her virginity means popping the cherry of her entire career. There's great importance in keeping her a virgin backstage, to maintain the fantasy of her innocence on stage.

Problem is, she should have kept her mouth shut to begin with. By constantly denying she's had sex, she's attached a lot of shame to the notion of sexuality by virtue of, well, virtue. And by continuing to deny any link between her onstage and offstage persona, she undermines herself as a kiddie-pop star seeking grown-up status.

It boils down to the kind of havoc fame wreaks on child stars. Britney's been in the spotlight since she was toilet-trained -- she's kind of a JonBenet Ramsey brought to life. But unlike JonBenet, she can't remain eerily preserved, a little girl forever. She has to move on, but she's shown little evidence of a burgeoning intellect, or the musical and marketing savvy Madonna developed early. (Just compare Britney with Madonna's third album, True Blue; the latter is a certified classic that includes "Papa Don't Preach," a song about a pregnant teenager defiantly keeping her illegitimate baby. It's popular and timeless, because, hell, it happens.)

In interviews, Britney is contradictory and reactionary, a stunted teenager called up on bad behavior. On her Us magazine cover last summer, the headline read It's Hard to Wait. It was accompanied by the photo of a girl who clearly hasn't. I know that face. It's the face of a girl who's done it, feels conflicted over it, but wants to do it again and again and again. But if she comes up with a song about that, I have to tell her it's already been done.

Lisa Gabriele writes for Nerve.com, where this article originally appeared.

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