Losing It by Emma Rathbone Doesn’t Scratch That Itch

Losing ItLosing It, Emma Rathbone, Riverhead Books, July 19th 2016

Emma Rathbone
Riverhead Books
July 19 2016

Julie Greenfield is a virgin—a twenty-six year old virgin to be precise. She’s not saving herself for marriage, or waiting until she’s in love, or anything like that. But somehow there’s just never been the right moment. Now here she is a college graduate with a failed athletic career, a full time job that she hates, a boring apartment, and her virginity.

One day she decides: enough is enough. She doesn’t like the direction her life is headed in, so she’s going to change it. She hates her job? She quits it. She doesn’t want to be a virgin anymore? Then she’s going to have sex. There’s just one small problem—she had planned to move back home after quitting to save money but her parents have a surprise announcement of their own—they’re moving to Costa Rica for the summer. So, with nowhere else to go, Julia moves in with her eccentric aunt Vivienne in Durham North Carolina. Once she’s there, however, she makes a startling revelation—her 58-year-old aunt is a virgin too. Which only makes Julia more desperate to complete her summer goals and avoid a similar fate.

On the surface there is a lot to like about Losing It. Julia is not a particularly charming or sweet character; in fact for most of the novel she’s downright selfish. But those same personality traits are also what allow her to take control of her own life and her own sexuality. She knows that she’s unhappy so she’s making a change. A large part of that is losing her virginity on her own terms. In addition, Julia’s strong personality is often what contributed the most humorous lines and moments to the story.

But I wanted so much more from Losing It than it had to offer. While I appreciate Julia’s motivations, I’m left disappointed by the treatment of her aunt, and to a lesser extent her mother. Vivienne also being a virgin could have lead to some sort of camaraderie between the two women. Instead, while Julia is allowed to take control of her own life, Vivienne is treated as an ongoing joke. Julia never shows her any kind of respect and instead of the characters bonding, Vivienne only serves as a way for Julia to gossip with her mother and best friend. We never hear Vivienne’s story or how she feels about it. Her virginity is treated a blemish, a flaw, something to be feared and avoided at all costs. It downplays and ignores all the incredibly valid reasons she may have for never having sex.

If nothing else, Losing It breaks down some of the common stereotypes about virginity, for example that 20-something virgins must be unattractive or prudes (Julia is neither) and it does offer some genuine comedic moments. But I still wish it had been a more nuanced look at the way we see virginity and women’s sexuality in society. I wish it had treated the sexuality of older women with respect and that it had peeled back the the layers of virginity as a social construct and the importance we place on it, and how that value changes for men and for women. But unfortunately, for me, that itch still needs to be scratched.

Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.

3 thoughts on “Losing It by Emma Rathbone Doesn’t Scratch That Itch

  1. Thank you for reviewing it, I now know that I don’t want to read it.

    “She knows that she’s unhappy so she’s making a change. A large part of that is losing her virginity on her own terms.”

    How does she do that? If she is a virgin, then we can assume that she hasn’t ever met someone she wanted to have sex with, at least not someone who also wanted to have sex with her.

    So where does she suddenly find an adequate partner?

    If she prioritises losing her virginity over the attractiveness of the partner, then how much of this is “on her own terms”, and how much of it is simply yielding to the societal pressure that says she must not be a virgin?

    Sure, a man would just buy a prostituted woman, and indeed, paying a man for sex would be the easiest way to really have sex on her own terms. (If we assume that she can afford this, and can also find a male prostitute who is attractive to her) But that would be a rather lazy way to resolve the novel, so I don’t think that’s what happens.
    (It would also not be at all feminist, but what you write about how the aunt is treated already implies that this is a rather anti-feminist book.)

    1. By “on her own terms” I was referring to her deciding that she was no longer going to wait for the idea of the perfect person or moment. Essentially, she was no longer going to treat losing her virginity like it was this big event – if she found someone that she was attracted to and wanted to have sex with she was going to do it.

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