Tomorrow is September 16, 2008. At some point in the course of the day, "Natalie Dylan," real name unknown, will sell her virginity to the highest bidder. The auction will take place at the Bunny Ranch, a legally licensed brothel in Carson City, Nevada; over the course of the ensuing days, she will transfer said virginity to her deep-pocketed Romeo, will be interviewed on Howard Stern's show, and will enter the history books, either as a chapter or as a footnote. In the process, she will make a huge amount of money, which she claims will be used to finance her graduate school education.
Cultural critics have been attacking Ms. Dylan since she made the announcement on September 10. We can more or less take the conservative critiques as a given: this is an offense before God, it is a perversion, she's going to hell, blah, blah, blah. The irony is that Ms. Dylan is a walking advertisement for abstinence-based sex education: if fear of God doesn't inspire young women to keep their legs closed, then maybe a hefty check will do the trick. After all, the real selling point of Natalie's maidenhead is that it is nestled in the vagina of a legal adult.
So the conservative perspective is fairly obvious. The liberal take, on the other hand, is a little more interesting, as it is couched in the mealy-mouthed platitudes of pseudo-feminism. The first critique, that this situation is somewhat dangerous for Ms. Dylan, is laughable. Unlike most young ladies, who surrender their virginity in the back of a car, an empty house, or a cheap hotel, Ms. Dylan will be "giving it up" in a licensed brothel, with attendant bouncers and chaperones. Should she choose to reneg on her deal, it is likely that her swain will be more or less forced to cease his advances. In real life, most women must rely on their physical strength or the morality of their beaux.
Furthermore, if the Bunny Ranch is anything like the average Amsterdam brothel, Ms. Dylan's customer will be expected to adhere to safe-sex policies and, probably, double wrap himself. Again, unlike the vast majority of young virgins, her first time will carry minimal risk of pregnancy, STD transmission or genital parasites.
A far more powerful argument against this event is that Ms. Dylan is degrading herself. However, like the Charlie's Angels from whom she takes her nom de defleurir, she is, arguably, striking a blow for her own empowerment. After all, she seems to be controlling this exchange from start to finish. She has claimed that she will only agree to go through with the act if she feels "chemistry" with the seller, and has repeatedly stated that she sees this as a route to empowerment. While her visions of her Knight in Shining Prophylactic are somewhat naive, she has clearly left herself an out for dealing with any trolls who come to her door.
In truth, the greatest problem with Ms. Dylan's virginity auction is the mirror that it seems to be holding up to American culture. An underlying theme in this event is the idea that, for all her intelligence and media savvy, the most valuable thing that Natalie Dylan has to offer is a paper-thin membrane that is located between her legs. The sad fact, of course, is that this is actually true. We don't know what Ms. Dylan's grades were or why she has to embark on this path to fund her higher education, but the truth is that tuition has become ridiculously expensive. Moreover, while most college graduates must scrimp, save, and hope for a reasonably well-paying job to help them service their loans, Natalie Dylan will walk out of the Bunny Ranch with enough money to cover her college debt, finance her further education, and keep her comfortable for a good long while. In a few seconds, she will probably earn more money than most of her classmates will make in their lifetimes. Should she choose to pursue further notoriety, either as a porn star or as a Monica Lewinsky-style demi-celebrity, the sky is the limit.
Ultimately, while the message that Natalie Dylan has absorbed from her culture may be morally empty and ethically flawed, it is also completely accurate, and she has transformed herself into the perfect icon for an era in which "sell thyself" might be the highest commandment. In a land that seems to price, package and market everything from youth to talent to hope, the hymen is just another commodity that is waiting for the highest bidder.