Jennifer Walters spends part of She-Hulk’s premiere speculating about whether Steve Rogers was a virgin. But what’s with our obsession with virginity, and how has it changed?

Marvel’s She Hulk: Attorney at Law made waves beginning with its Disney+ premiere’s running gag about the likelihood of Captain America‘s virginity. Yes, title character Jennifer Walters is absolutely fixated with the question of whether Steve Rogers ever had sex.

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The joke builds to a payoff that expands our knowledge of Captain America, and adds another detail to Marvel Cinematic Universe. But all of this (humorous) fuss about virginity raises the question: Why is it a big deal if Captain America is a virgin?

The Question of Captain America’s Virginity Predates She-Hulk

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger

The conversation surrounding Captain America’s virginity is hardly a new one. Fans have wondered since the 2011 release of Captain America: The First Avenger whether Steve Rogers ever had the time, or chance, to dance the horizontal mambo. Actor Chris Evans himself even speculated on the subject as far back as 2014, during the production of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

“He’s probably a virgin,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “He’s probably a virgin! I don’t know when it would’ve happened.”

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When the writer noted that Captain America could have been presented with an opportunity during a USO tour, Evans conceded, “He was on tour. Maybe, that’s true. Maybe one of those [dancing] girls blew his mind. He’s probably just a good guy. He was probably holding out for Peggy Carter and he’s probably a little more old-fashioned in that sense.”

However, She-Hulk protagonist Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), isn’t so convinced. In a flashback in the premiere episode, she needles her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) for information about his Avengers teammate’s sex life.

“Steve Rogers did not have a girlfriend before he went into the service,” Jennifer observes. “So he becomes Captain America, and from that moment on he’s a symbol of America. He is rushed to the front lines, he becomes a war hero, then he is frozen in ice. Based on everything you’ve told me, after he gets unfrozen, he goes from world-threatening disaster to world-threatening disaster. That’s when he’s not a fugitive from the law. So it seems like he was pretty, pretty busy … Obviously, Captain America was a virgin!”

Bruce is clearly uncomfortable with the topic of Captain America’s virginity, as anyone might be while discussing a colleague’s bedroom activity (or lack thereof). However, he finally gives Jennifer a straight episode by the end of the episode: “Steve Rogers is not a virgin. He lost his virginity to a girl in 1943 on the USO tour.”

“I knew it! Captain America fuc—!” Jennifer cheers, only to be interrupted mid-sentence.

Chris Evans Reacts to Captain America’s Virginity Revelation

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

It might seem like an odd choice for the Disney+ series to showcase speculation about Captain America’s virginity. But She-Hulk showrunner Jessica Gao revealed there originally was going to be a lot of more of it in the series.

“It used to just be a running joke, that it’s going to be a lifelong obsession for Jen, that this is the one thing that keeps her awake at night,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “It actually used to be in the show a lot more, where in every episode there would be some little reminder, like you’d see that her search history was this, and she was always in asides talking to other characters where everybody’s reaction was like, ‘She’s talking about this again.'”

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Evans reacted to the new revelation by tweeting three laugh-crying faces and a zipped-lip emoji. Mark Ruffalo responded with his own tweet: “Sorry bro. It was under extreme duress.”

Apparently, Evans wasn’t informed the information was going to be revealed. As Ruffalo explained to Entertainment Weekly, “I laughed my ass off. I’m like, ‘Does someone need to talk to Captain America about this?’ I haven’t. I was afraid he was going to have it cut. Too late now, buddy. The cat’s out of the bag.”

The entire gag was, no doubt, a way to lampshade something fans have been wondering for years. But it also raises an important question: What’s with our culture’s outdated obsession with virginity?

What Is Virginity, Anyway?

Diana of Versailles
Greek goddess Artemis, often described as a virgin goddess

Virginity as a concept is pretty messy. It goes as far back as ancient Greece, where virgin simply meant an unmarried female-presenting person or goddess. In its classical definition, a woman didn’t need to be chaste to be a virgin, and a man couldn’t be a virgin at all.

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The typical modern definition of a virgin is a person, of any gender, who has never had sexual intercourse. But what counts as sex? For heterosexual couples, anything short of penetrative sex isn’t likely to be consider “real” sex. But in queer culture, a whole variety of activities fall under the umbrella of sex.

So, two people could engage in the same activities, and one could be considered a virgin and the other not, depending on their identity and who they’re with. A person’s virginity, then, is in the eye of the beholder, which is just plain weird.

Virginity in Pop Culture, From Hocus Pocus to Twilight

Omri Katz as Max Dennison in Hocus Pocus

There’s a gross double-standard when it comes to virginity. Female-presenting people are still celebrated — even fetishized — for remaining virginal. Our culture has idealized the idea of the “pure” woman who saves herself for Mr. Right. (Never mind that many women are not interested in finding the “right” man, or any man at all.)

We see this everywhere, from franchises like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey all the way to young women, in the real world, successfully auctioning off their virginity to the highest bidder. It seems like our culture hasn’t evolved past the archaic obsession with female purity.

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Meanwhile, there’s pressure for male-presenting people to be experienced in bed from a young age. It’s reached the point that being a male virgin past a certain point in adolescence is often viewed as embarrassing or shameful.

Movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin make laughing at male virgins the main event. But the object of ridicule doesn’t have to have even reached adulthood. Disney fans will remember Hocus Pocus, in which the 15-year-old protagonist’s virginity is not just a plot point, it’s a running joke.

It could be argued that Jennifer Walters speculating about Captain America’s virginity is somewhat subversive. After all, it’s a female character obsessing over a man’s sexuality, and not the other way around. And making the franchise’s symbol of masculinity relatively chaste is a refreshing departure.

But so what if She-Hulk revealed that Captain America had been a virgin? Virginity is hardly the symbol of inexperience and naivety that our culture makes it out to be. It simply means that someone hasn’t slept with anyone yet.

Making Steve Rogers a virgin would have sent powerful messages about male sexuality: that it’s OK to wait, that manliness is not defined by the notches in one’s bedpost, and that inexperience in one aspect of life doesn’t equate to inexperience in others.

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