The noughties were, for all intents and purposes, a simpler time.
There were no smartphones to distract us; Facebook was still four years away from Mark Zuckerberg making it a reality - and, in popular internet culture, there were countdown timers marking the exact moment famous underage girls turned 18. Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen were casually described as "jailbait" with little outrage in response and young female artists’ virginity status was major entertainment news.
“It was the most amazing moment of my life,” Jessica Simpson described the night of losing her virginity to ex-husband Nick Lachey. It was their wedding night in 2002, she was 22 years old, and they had been together for three years. Much of the coverage around the build-up to their big day was less focused on dress designers and floral arrangements, and more on the fact that the couple would definitely be having sex that night.
By that time, Jessica was a maturing teen pop sensation with a platinum album and a star on the ascent. Any relationship of hers would have been headline-worthy, but the fact that she was dating the much older Nick Lachey - also at his musical height of fame with boyband 98 Degrees - meant there was a feeding frenzy about the details of their personal life. And a lot of it revolved around sex.
In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, there was a tendency to openly fetishise the perceived purity of the young women climbing the charts with bubble gum pop hits - by that time Britney Spears had asserted she was a virgin at the age of 16 (who asked her and why will remain one of the many accepted mysteries of that time), prompting the same questions to her peers like Christina Aguilera.
Simpson was the daughter of a Baptist youth minister from conservative Abilene, Texas, and she said it was her strong sense of Christian faith that led to her decision to remain a virgin until marriage.
"I'm so lucky I didn't lose my virginity in the back of a Jeep or something. Instead, I had this amazing, elaborate wedding and I topped it off with that,” she said.
It was open season on Jessica Simpson's sex life and that was designed by powers much greater than her.
In Newlyweds, one of the original fly-on-the-wall reality shows which followed Nick and Jessica in their first years of marriage (which ended after five years), their incompatibility was clear, but their chemistry was impossible to ignore. But the conversations around sex persisted, making everyone - including the viewers - uncomfortable.
In one episode, Jessica asked Nick what he wanted for Christmas and he replied, “a sex guarantee”. “Like every day?” she asked. “At least three times a week,” he said to his ex-wife, who was visibly exasperated by the idea.
In recent years, the fascination around their relationship has reignited thanks to social media and in 2017, Newlyweds producer Sue Kolinksy said the tension between the two was apparent from the beginning.
“They were very different people,” she told Complex. "He was a blue-collar guy - he did a lot of things himself, like he and his brother would build things. He was frugal, and she had excessive taste. In the end they weren't suited for each other. The only thing they really had in common was their music."
Although their marriage ended in divorce in 2007, their relationship remains a hallmark of the noughties and holds a special place in the hearts of young-ish millennials everywhere.
With the release of her new memoirs Open Book in which she speaks candidly about being sexually abused as a child and overcoming her addiction issues as an adult, she also references her first marriage to Lachey in the selected extracts released (she has been happily married to Eric Johnson for 10 years and they have three children together).
She first met Nick while touring in 1998, just a few months before I Wanna Love You Forever would put her on the map. “"Hi I’m Nick,’ he said. Hello, my life. I thought. Nick loved the fact that I was so strong in my faith and that I had this wide-eyed innocent approach to life. When he proposed in 2002, I said yes," she wrote.
"We had been together almost seven years when I told Nick, ‘I think I want a divorce.’ I later heard that he told the press he was blindsided," she said. "I don’t know how. At that point we were not even speaking to each other. Maybe he was just shocked that I stood up for myself. I don’t think he ever thought I would take the leap."
She also confirmed that she gave him $12m in their divorce settlement as she had more financial success by that time; a statement which will once again stoke interest in her, their relationship and just what it was like to be a young woman at that time.
Last year, Natalie Portman touched on this dichotomy of celebrity which demanded sexual purity and overt sexuality, explaining she found it was confusing as she was the same age, and on her own path to fame.
“I remember being a teenager, and there was Jessica Simpson on the cover of a magazine saying, ‘I’m a virgin’ while wearing a bikini, and I was confused,” she told USA Today, prompting a response - and a polite exchange between both women.
Jessica said: “As public figures, we both know our image is not totally in our control at all times, and that the industry we work in often tries to define us and box us in. However, I was taught to be myself and honor the different ways all women express themselves, which is why I believed then – and I believe now – that being sexy in a bikini and being proud of my body are not synonymous with having sex.”
In much of the early years of Simpson’s career, she was wearing an American flag bikini on the cover of GQ or was dancing in a red bikini to promote the Dukes of Hazzard. But she even knows that the sexualisation of her at a relatively young age wasn’t her design, but it’s something she still looks back on with pride.
“I only meant to say I was confused – as a girl coming of age in the public eye around the same time – by the media’s mixed messages about how girls and women were supposed to behave,” Portman responded, and they came to a peaceful conclusion.
Simpson's memoirs also reference her on-off year-long relationship with singer John Mayer, who famously referred to her as "sexual napalm" in an interview with Playboy, a further illustration of her sexualisation in the public eye.
“He thought that was what I wanted to be called,” she writes in her upcoming book. “I was floored and embarrassed that my grandmother was actually gonna read that.
“He was the most loyal person on the planet, and when I read that he wasn’t, that was it for me,” she recalled. “I erased his number. He made it easy for me to walk away.”
In recent years, Simpson earns an estimated $100 million annually from her eponymous lifestyle company, which is now valued at over $1bn. She doesn't need the same levels of celebrity she once had, and the magazine covers on which she features are more reflective of this stable, extraordinarily successful stage of her life.
And her book is clearly a reflection of an extraordinary career, told with the kind of candour so rarely seen in an overly PR-controlled culture; and serves as a reminder of someone's private pain in public life.
The concept of the countdown clock might thankfully be a thing of the past, but the legacy of Jessica Simpson will live on forever.
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