- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Britney Spears was 18 when she lost it. So was Marcia Cross from “Desperate Housewives.” Rocker Ozzy Osbourne was 14. His daughter, Kelly, was 16. Gary Coleman, the former sitcom star? Well, he might still have it.

Other than Steve Carell as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the new film opening nationwide tomorrow, celibates are tough to find in Hollywood. When they are noticed, the formerly very special topic has become part of the meticulous image-crafting required of today’s celebrities.

“We’re so interested in it because it’s different for everyone,” psychologist Joyce Brothers tells Associated Press.

Miss Spears, very much pregnant and married to Kevin Federline, once famously proclaimed she was saving herself until marriage, prompting years of has-she-or-hasn’t-she speculation. In a 2003 interview with W magazine, the pop star finally revealed she had — with fellow pop star and one-time beau Justin Timberlake, two years into their relationship.

Sorry, Kev.

“She made a big fuss that she was not going to give up her virginity, and then apparently she did,” Miss Brothers says, “but I was not there to know for sure.”

No one is certain about the big V except the celebrities themselves, making chastity declarations a vague publicity stunt that stars can use to portray themselves as innocent and pure, according to Elayne Rapping, professor of pop culture and media studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

“It’s a way to differentiate yourself from the mainstream Hollywood image of everybody sleeping with everybody else,” she says.

Unlike Miss Spears, fellow blond bombshell Jessica Simpson ostensibly kept her promise. “The Dukes of Hazzard” star was the poster teen for abstinence during the beginning of her career. Miss Simpson often pledged to save herself for marriage before she and Nick Lachey became “Newlyweds” — although Mr. Lachey admits he didn’t do the same.

“Virginity is such a personal thing,” Miss Brothers says. “You can’t judge anyone on it. A lot of young women feel they want to save themselves for the man who they think they’ll love forever.”

Long before Miss Spears and Miss Simpson, Brooke Shields was Hollywood’s most famous virgin. In the controversial 1978 film “Pretty Baby,” Miss Shields, then 13, played Violet, a child prostitute whose virginity is auctioned off. In real life, though, Miss Shields didn’t lose it until age 20 — to “Lois & Clark” actor Dean Cain while the two attended Princeton University, according to Mr. Cain.

When it comes to virginity in film and TV, Miss Rapping notes, abstinence has become the new innocence. In the 1980s and ‘90s, screwball comedies such as “Porky’s,” “The Last American Virgin” and “American Pie” revolved around doing the deed.

Losing it for fictional TV characters formerly merited very special episodes. Conflicted “Doogie Howser, M.D.” remained a virgin until season three, introvert Dawson Leery waited until season five on “Dawson’s Creek,” and Donna Martin famously saved it for seven seasons on “Beverly Hills 90210.”

Not anymore. Nowadays, characters such as Seth Cohen on “The O.C.” and Ephram Brown on “Everwood” are able to hold out only until second-season sweeps.

“All of this has become a new way to sell sex when sex has become commonplace and fairly uninteresting,” Miss Rapping says.

Former NBA player A.C. Green made no secret of his decades-long drought. Neither did “Diff’rent Strokes” star Mr. Coleman, who told Us Weekly magazine he was still a virgin in 1999.

“For men to be virgins, we think it’s negative,” Miss Brothers says. “We think that there’s something wrong with them. At the same time, we think when a woman gives up her virginity too early she’s a bit of a tramp.”

Mr. Green was just two years shy of becoming a “40-year-old virgin” himself before marrying in 2002 at the age of 38.

The virgin jury’s still out on Mr. Coleman, 37. He didn’t respond to an interview request.

“It’s come full circle,” Miss Rapping says. “There’s more intrigue when people identify themselves as virgins or celibate or whatever. People have gotten bored with the endless display of graphic sex.”

“But then,” she quickly adds, “they pretty much have sex, anyway.”

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