Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Purity Myth

Feministing is by far one of my favorite sites and the Executive Editor, Jessica Valenti, was on the Today Show to promote her book The Purity Myth.

But instead of allowing her to talk, they turned the interview into a debate with a woman, Lakita Garth, who spewed her abstinence diatribe the entire time.

See for yourself:

I found this interview to be extremely frustrating.

Not only was Jessica allowed little time to speak, but the three women continued to reinforce the exact ideas her book brings to light (that women are only “good” if they’re “pure”) while throwing out bogus information without any sources to back it up.

I also thought it was extremely bad taste for Lakita to liken the people who did the studies on abstinence only sex education to “members of the KKK.”

This is essentially the problem with the abstinence movement: either you’re with them or you’re Hitler. You are pure and abstinent, or you’re a slutty whore who doesn’t deserve happiness.

It’s a movement of shame and obsession over young girls sexuality (which is pretty creepy to me).

For me, the most disappointing aspect of this interview was the hosts behavior. Not only did they continually interject their personal biased opinions, but if they had actually taken the time to read Jessica's book, like they should have, then maybe they could have found something more intelligent to talk about then "giving it up."

Kudos to Jessica for keeping her cool and not allowing the conversation to focus on the standard slut-shaming dialogue abstinence conversations seem to inspire.

Here is part of the introduction from The Purity Myth:
So while young women are subject to overt sexual messages every day, they’re simultaneously being taught—by the people who are supposed to care for their personal and moral development, no less—that their only real worth is their virginity and ability to remain “pure.” So what are young women left with? Abstinence-only education during the day and Girls Gone Wild commercials at night! Whether it’s delivered through a virginity pledge or by a barely dressed tween pop singer writhing across the television screen, the message is the same: A woman’s worth lies in her ability—or her refusal—to be sexual. And we’re teaching American girls that, one way or another, their bodies and their sexuality are what make them valuable. The sexual double standard is alive and well, and it’s irrevocably damaging young women.

The Purity Myth is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. When I lost my virginity as a high school freshman, I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel changed somehow. Wasn’t this supposed to be, like, a big deal? Later, in college, as I’d listen to male friends deride their sexual partners as sluts and whores, I struggled to comprehend how intercourse could mean one thing for men and quite another for women. I knew that logically, nothing about sex could make a girl “dirty,” but I found it incredibly frustrating that my certainty about this seemed to be lost on my male peers. And as I talked to my queer friends, whose sexual experiences were often dismissed because they didn’t fit into the heterosexual model, I started to realize how useless “virginity” really was.

I started to see the myth of sexual purity everywhere—though in the work I do as a feminist blogger and writer, it wasn’t exactly hard to find. Whether it appears in a story about a man killing his girlfriend while calling her a whore or in trying to battle conservative claims that emergency contraception or the HPV vaccine will make girls promiscuous, the purity myth in America underlies more misogyny than most people would like to admit. And while the definition of “virginity” is fairly abstract (as you’ll see in Chapter 1), its consequences for young women are not. And that’s why I wanted, and needed, to write this book. The Purity Myth is for women who are suffering every day because of the lie that virginity exists, and that it has some bearing on who we are and how good we are. Consider the implications virginity has on the high school girl who is cruelly labeled a slut after an innocuous makeout session; the woman from a background so religiously conservative that she opts to have her hymen surgically reattached rather than suffer the consequences of a nonbloody bedsheet on her wedding night; or the rape survivor who’s dismissed or even faulted because she dared to have past consensual sexual encounters.

This book looks great and I can't wait to read it myself.

-You can read the full introduction here.


  1. Wow this is something that i have never even thought about, and i can totally see her point.

    I can only imagine how hard this subject could be in a society so heavily guided by religious and culutral ideals of purity.

    Its like the Taliban are in charge.

  2. As a feminist myself, I have worked hard to treat all of my children the same - my 2 sons and my daughter, and to answer their questions about sex and guide them all equally. If I had my choice, I would prefer they all remain abstinant until they're old enough to understand the emotional consequences of sex. I don't think anyone from 13 to 17 is really emotionally ready for sex. It's tough enough to be a teenager without throwing in the sex crap too. But we've talked about birth control and how sex can affect your life. So I hope what we're accomplishing is raising boys who treat women as equals, and a daughter who can think independently. We'll see!


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