The papers went into a frenzy last week when a story was run in various publications (from the Metro to The Huffington Post UK) about 19-year-old Clayton Pettet’s astounding art performance project Art School Stole My Virginity. Pettet is embarking on this outrageously personal project as part of his assignment at Central Saint Martin’s University, where he studies Art.

According to a friend of his who wrote an article about him over at Vice, Pettet is doing this in order to understand our culture’s obsession with virginity. In an interview with Dazed and Confused Magazine (Dazed Digital), Pettet elaborates explaining, “What fascinates me (is)…the value of the word virginity…back then you were valued more, especially if you were a girl.” He goes on to say that people “form a negative connotation,” when someone of his age group is still a virgin which led him to quietly reflect on the prospect of why this is such a big deal for us as a society.

What Pettet’s thought process helps us examine – particularly those of us who are in our teens to mid-twenties is the uneasy juxtaposition between the heralded innocence and virtue that is often attached to virginity, and the dichotomy of the Madonna-Whore complex.

At a time when there are increasing amounts of money being expended into producing programmes such as Channel 4’s recent ‘Diary of a Teen Virgin,’ and BBC 3’s ‘Unsafe Sex in the City,’ it seems like there is an unquenchable desire amongst many of us to understand many of the issues that come with engaging in sex – whether for the first time or the twentieth time.

It’s also interesting to think through the heteronormative values deciphered about what it means for straight people having sex for the first time and what it means for gay and lesbian people to have sex for the first time. Pettet comments on the fact that the tabloids have been twisting the story, making him seem like a “pretentious artist,” and trying to make his work seem “seedy” because he is gay but in his own words, “sex is sex,” and his personal blog muses thoughts on how gay men’s virginity is not taken very seriously because there is no physical ‘loss,’ contrary to the breaking of a girl’s hymen.

Maybe Pettet’s art piece is arousing more attention purely because many find it salacious that the general public will be given a chance to see two men engage in an intimate moment. I don’t doubt that there would be a media craze if a woman decided to do the same thing as a forum for stirring debate. However, that also raises another question in itself: is this fuss really about the fact an individual is choosing to defy the unspoken laws on deflowering one’s self in such a way that goes against societal norms and values? He’s aware that many will simply just be uncomfortable with the idea, as he’s already said: “people aren’t going to like it, even at art school.” Though his major hope is to stimulate conversation and get people excited again as he feels contemporary art has become “dry.” The reaction to his project quite clearly proves his agenda is not in vain but even so, he assures that this is something personal to him and not “a gimmick.”

In order to be an audience member and engage in conversation with Pettet on the day of his art performance, you can order free tickets online but you must be over 18 and he will be screening who attends as he doesn’t want “a collection of perverts” present.

The event is to take place on 25 January 2014 in Hackney. To get tickets, you must register here.

Photo: snap,snap / Flickr

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