Ellie Kolstakis is a 21-year-old college student who seems to have it all: brains, wit, a promising future…and her virginity. Ellie is the heroine of the hilarious, very topical new novel Virgin; the account and adventures of a modern young woman on the ultimate quest to lose her V-card—and gain a whole new understanding of gender relations and sexual politics in the process.
Published through the Berkley Publishing Group, a division of the Penguin Group, Virgin is the debut novel of Radhika Sanghani, a twenty-four-year-old journalist that writes full-time for the Daily Telegraph’s Women’s section, where she writes about politics, health and women’s trends.
This London native studied English Literature at University College London, going on to earn a master’s degree in journalism at City University London. Now her debut novel has scored a four-star rating at Amazon.Com and raves from the likes of Publishers Weekly, who compared the heroine of Ellie Kolstakis to Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, and from the legendary Joan Rivers, who said, “Even Bridget Jones’s Diary could take a page from this novel.”
Scandalous! recently had the pleasure of speaking with Radhika Sanghani about her humorous, very timely debut novel.
Scandalous: Radhika, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book Virgin. It was well-written, witty and so true to life. Thank you for joining us here at Scandalous Women! I felt that Virgin was unique in that it was a true to life, unromanticized account of a woman on a quest to have her first sexual experience. What first inspired you to write this book?
Radhika: I think it was just real life. I was thinking about all the sexual expectations and pressures I’d noticed people experiencing at university, and how challenging that culture can be, but also how hilarious some of the consequences are. It made me want to write a novel that explored all of those issues young people face, and to do it in a non-judgmental, honest and very graphic way.
Scandalous: Your heroine Ellie gets a lot of proverbial guff for being a virgin at 21, from her friends, her extended social circle, even the doctor at the campus clinic (who types the word virgin on top of her case file!). Do you feel that today’s young people feel undue pressure to have sex?
Radhika: Yes, definitely!! I think there are just so many different pressures out there related to sex – not just to have it, but to come across as sexually experienced, confident, and to look the part (hence all the emphasis on Ellie’s struggles with her pubes and feeling like she needs to be hair-free down there). I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing if young people are desperate to have sex because it’s just natural, but the only problem is when they do things they don’t want to do because of that pressure.
Scandalous: I like the way in which Ellie goes on a quest for sexual fulfillment, without waiting around for the proverbial man of her dreams. I was wondering, though, if you had received any backlash or ‘slut shaming’ for portraying a bold, sexual heroine?
Radhika: Most people who have read the book have said exactly the same as you, that they love that I don’t slut-shame Ellie. But of course a few people feel otherwise. There hasn’t really been much of a backlash, it’s more just the occasional tweet telling me that this isn’t realistic, and that it’s sad that Ellie doesn’t wait for the perfect guy, etc. But what I was trying to do was just show a reality that exists. There are lots of girls like Ellie out there, and not everyone may want to act like that, but so what? They don’t have to. I feel like as a society we need to get to a place where we don’t shame anyone – people who are ‘slutty’ or people who are the exact opposite.
Scandalous: Have you known a lot of women like Ellie, and did you consult or interview them from the book? And have you gotten letters from women who relate to the book?
Radhika: I guess Ellie is a mixture of lots of women I know – my friends, people I’ve just come across at uni and then also a lot of my imagination. But the sorts of things she does, and her views, do come from reality. A lot of the funny stories are exaggerated versions of stories my friends have told me, and some of the pressures about pubes come from research I did. I spoke to a few young women, and memorably one 16 year old told me she felt she had to have a Brazilian or people would ‘find out on Facebook’!! So scary how much pressure they have.
I haven’t had any letters, but I have had email/tweet/Facebook equivalents. It’s so, so lovely whenever someone tells me they can relate to Ellie, or that her story helped them in some way, or even just that it made them laugh hysterically out of nostalgia. It makes me feel so glad I wrote it so honestly and didn’t just fudge over some of Ellie’s dilemmas.
Scandalous: I love the part of the book in which Ellie advises her friend Lara to “Embrace your inner feminist, stop being his booty call and come out with me tonight to help me lose my virginity.” How do you think that the feminist movement has furthered the cause of women’s sexual liberation?
Radhika: Feminism is so important!! I think it really helped women several decades ago, when we had a big wave, but I think now it’s also really having an important resurgence. When I was a teen in the noughties, we all (incorrectly) felt that feminism just meant being a weird hippy with hairy legs. But now we’re all happy to say we’re feminists, and so are current teens. It feels like the word isn’t a dirty word anymore and people are more aware it just means ‘equality’. The more that happens, the more people start to question things from slut-shaming to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, and the closer we get to a sexually equal society.
Scandalous: Would you like to see Virgin adapted as a motion picture?
Radhika: Um, yes!!! There’s little I’d like more.
Scandalous: At the age of 24 you’ve already established a stellar reputation as a journalist that writes about women’s issues. What made you decide to become a novelist as well?
Radhika: Ah thank you!! Well, I don’t think I really ever decided to become a novelist – I just really wanted to write Virgin. At the start, I never really thought of publishing it because I was just doing it as a fun project for my friends, but then halfway through I was like, ooh maybe strangers would enjoy this too? Then it all just happened from there. I had actually always wanted to be a novelist since the age of 4 when I discovered how much fun reading was, but didn’t ever think it was possible as it doesn’t really have a typical career path. But now I’ve stumbled into it, I really don’t want to ever stop.
Scandalous: Tell us about your future projects.
Radhika: So, I’m writing a sequel for Virgin that’s going to explore more womensy themes, slut-shaming is a big one there, and tell more of Ellie’s stories. Other than that, I’m still working for The Telegraph, and carrying on writing about all the issues I care about!
Visit RadhikaSanghani online at www.radhikasanghani.com and find her tweeting at @radhikasanghani.