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Monday, June 22, 2009

The Purity Myth

This is one of the best books I have read in a while. The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Women was written by Jessica Valenti, founder and executive editor of Feministing (one of my favorite blogs, you should check it out). So, how is the virginity movement harming women and girls? The virginity movement and the "purity myth" place women's value in their sexuality. Moral women are women who are pure (i.e. save themselves for marriage) and immoral women are dirty (i.e. have sex before marriage). Boys are taught to be respectful, strong, aggressive, etc. to be moral people where as girls are taught that their morality lies in their sexuality. Valenti offers many examples of this from purity balls (gag!) to Girls Gone Wild to abstinence-only education and everything in between. The book is very comprehensive in its argument and just overall a good read. It is easy to approach, funny and sarcastic, but obviously has valuable and credible research behind the argument.

So what needs to be done about the virginity movement's attack on women?

"Abstinence classes that tell girls they're dirty and used unless they "save it"; a culture that doesn't believe women who are raped; porn-based beauty standards for our genitals; a moral compass for young women that's based solely on sexuality...There's no doubt that we have a difficult fight ahead of us, but I know we're up for it," (203).
What we need is a more complex and comprehensive approach to sexuality. Should all teenagers be having sex? No, that is not what Valenti is arguing. She is simply arguing that we should teach our youth (through schools and cultural views and values) that sex is a natural thing, but you have to be prepared for it both in the way of protection and in the way of maturity. We cannot stop women from having sex. That is not what we want to do. Women's sexuality is a natural thing. We want women (and men) to be prepared for sex and not feel ashamed of their sex life.

I cannot not make this argument as eloquently as Valenti did, so I recommend that all of you read the book (and check out Feministing!).


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