Gender symbolsSYDNEY – Posters appearing around Sydney in recent weeks make a tantalizing offer: A film studio is offering $20,000 apiece for virgins willing to auction their virginity online, and then lose it, as part of a documentary that intends to explore contemporary young people’s attitudes about sex.

Melbourne-based filmmaker Justin Sisely said he has noted an upswing in the tendency to view virginity as just another commodity. He plans to take that idea and run with it on film, if he can find one man and one woman willing to participate in exchange for the cash and 90 percent of the winning bids. The remaining bid amount will be used to finance the film.

Australian family values groups, predictably, are outraged. They have labelled the project prostitution and decry the lack of morality behind it.

Sisely sees things in another way.

“One of the main points I want to make is that right now, young people give away their virginity,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Imagine if it was suddenly worth something. People wouldn’t throw it away.”

However, he conceded the prostitution notion—but not necessarily as a bad thing.

“You can’t deny that selling sex is prostitution,” he told The Herald. “It is. That’s what makes [the project] controversial.”

“Controversial” may be putting things mildly. Police were called to Melbourne’s Monash University when posters began appearing there. Religious groups howled with outrage over Sydney posters depicting the Virgin Mary with male genitalia scrawled across her forehead.

Worse, complaints brought little more than shrugs from Sisely’s production company, according to complainants.

“They told me to go tell someone who cares,” a Catholic resident of Sydney told The Herald. “I found it really offensive. There are three churches on that street [where the posters appeared].”

Virgins, however, find the idea intriguing.

“[The auction] really shouldn’t be as confronting as it is, and it’s a sad reflection on society that it is such a touchy subject,” said one 22-year-old student who has applied for a role but conceded he may chicken out. He told The Herald his main interest is neither the sex nor the money, but the exploration of attitudes.

Sisely said he has been contacted by about 100 candidates. The oldest is 26.

He also said although he expects the man and woman he finally selects to complete every aspect of the project, the ultimate culmination will not be filmed.

The documentary is “not a porno,” he told The Herald.