Quick Hit: The Virginity Movement, Rebranded

Check out Jessica’s new piece in The Nation on the rebranding efforts that the virginity movement has been making; it’s a must-read!

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39 Comments

  1. Lance
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Jessica’s article was excellent, as always.
    Two things:
    1) I love the artificiality of the brick trick. Previously, I was under the impression that a thin layer of latex could block a five pound brick. I’m glad I know better now.
    2) The Bristol Palin quote is gold: “Girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby and then think before they have sex…. If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex.”
    Is it even worth mentioning that she explicitly lays the responsibility for not having sex at the feet of young women, completely absolving the menz of any obligation to abstain and implicitly assumes that women will have sole child care responsibilities?

  2. Amplify Your Voice
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    and she mentions us! :)
    http://amplifyyourvoice.org
    http://advocatesforyouth.org
    Thanks Jessica!

  3. liz
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    That’s a good point, Lance, about the onus of “impurity” existing for girls / women only. It is something that the abstinence group keeps returning to and is principle in their thinking. Women and children (bound as the property of the man) are the same. Men own their wives and children (from a traditional viewpoint), but they do not need to own their actions. Everything they do is okay, unless they are married and cannot provide. Only then does this group hold them responsible. One student argued with me recently, making a very personal statement (aimed at me) on the matter of abortion. He said, “You should never have sex and expect not to pay for it.” Pregnancy for the abstinence crowd is not a celebration of a new life (for that they give not one care) but to make sure that women understand their (subordinate) “place.”
    I think Jessica does a wonderful job in this article. I’m impressed by how she keeps the line of thinking clear and focused. I get so angry about it that I very much appreciate women like Jessica who can argue a sound and rational case.
    An additional point I’d like to make is that while they may try to hide their extreme rhetoric to remain viable, such a softening (even if it is meant to obfuscate) shows that their primary argument has failed. I am glad about that.

  4. kisekileia
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s important to note that parts of the abstinence movement do restrict male behaviour as well as female behaviour. As an evangelical Christian teenager, I was taught that sexual fantasy or expression directed towards people one is not married to is sinful, regardless of one’s gender. I knew plenty of guys who thought they were perverted sex addicts because they couldn’t quit masturbating. While the abstinence movement does teach that women are responsible for not ‘tempting’ men, it also teaches that men are particularly susceptible to ‘temptation’ and that both sexes’ natural desires are wrong.
    While it’s important for us to pay attention to the harm that the abstinence movement does for women, we shouldn’t ignore what it does to men, because that’s damaging too.

  5. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful article. Thank you for this, Jessica. I love how it (and all of Jessica’s writing about so-called purity) notes that sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of.

  6. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps all this debate will lead to an effective middle ground. No matter what some people here would have me think, I see the “virginity movement” as a predictable response by concerned parents to combat the messages society receives from the mass media and marketing machine that is in league with it.
    Are these “lollipop wrapper” analogies clumsy and ineffective? Yes. But with all the talk that goes on around here about “othering”, etc., I get the sneaking suspicion that our community is guilty of “othering” the people involved in this movement.
    At the end of the day, they are comprised of people who are concerned, just as we are, for the health and welfare of their children and society. They are attempting to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, just as we are. I think the way that Jessica views the “purity myth” functions as a red herring. It’s sort of like Crack Cocaine for Feminists. It results in so many people talking about how the abstinence movement gives girls and young women the message that all they are valued for is “what’s between their legs”. I don’t think that most people involved in abstinence movement view women that way. They seem to value women, but are very inarticulate when it comes to explaining and achieving their goals.
    If only there weren’t so much useless divisiveness between our two groups, a better, less clumsy result could be reached. Sometimes I think that some of the books and ideas that get promoted here only serve as voices in an echo chamber.
    I would also like to add that feminism is a big tent. What use is it to include the Independent Women’s Forum in the groups we are supposed to be demonizing? I think women like Michelle Bernard and Heather Higgins have a lot to say, and are excellent role models for young women.

  7. Jessica
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Come on, the exercises that tell women they’re used up pieces of trash if they have sex are a lot more than “clumsy”! They’re meant to shame and are built on a longstanding narrative that paints sexually active women as tainted and less than.
    Do I believe that most people out there want the best for their kids? Of course. But the virginity movement is absolutely NOT honest about their motivations. I’m sure they’re concerned about kids’ health – but they’re more concerned about enforcing traditional gender norms.
    If abstinence only folks were truly out for the health of young people, if that was their priority, they wouldn’t be LYING to them and putting their health and lives in danger – and that’s exactly what they’re doing when they tell kids that condoms cause cancer and contraception doesn’t work. It’s scare tactics that the Society of Adolescent Medicine called “ethically problematic” and a violation of young people’s human rights.
    If this sounds harsh, and not all common ground-ish, it’s because I’m pissed. Pissed at the idea that we’re supposed to believe that a movement which is more concerned with promoting a regressive agenda for women than saving young people’s lives is acting in good faith. Give me a serious fucking break. /pissyness

  8. Jessica
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and I certainly don’t consider groups that tell young women pay inequity doesn’t exist, VAWA is shit, and that what they really need to be afraid of is the Vagina Monologues, good role models. I consider them bad for women.

  9. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I see the “virginity movement” as a predictable response by concerned parents to combat the messages society receives from the mass media and marketing machine that is in league with it.
    Good intentions don’t excuse those concerned parents. Incidental cruelty and illogic is still what it is. This seems like an especially poor excuse when considering that the abstinence only message goes hand in hand with the messages of mass media. It is the opposite side of the same coin. It doesn’t say “Own your sexuality!” It says “Let your sexuality be owned!” just as much as any Playboy spread ever could.

  10. Kelley Jean
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I think what is also interesting and not really ever mentioned is that proper sex education is necessary even for married couples. I mean, marriage itself does not prevent pregnancy or disease. So what if you have a bunch of teens scared into not having sex and they do indeed wait until marriage… then what? Without the proper tools to make responsible/healthy decisions then unwanted pregnancies can and will happen.

  11. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I get your point. A lot of these tactics are ridiculous and insane. I just wonder if we are actually marginalizing our cause in the manner in which we criticize the abstinence movement.
    That said, I can tell you that they are certainly marginalizing THEIR cause by the absurd things they say. I cannot for a second imagine telling my child that “condoms cause cancer” and “contraception doesn’t work”, or that her sexuality is like a lollipop in a wrapper. Please.
    I would hope, OTOH, that she would wait to have sex until she is fully prepared, so she would not otherwise regret it for the any myriad number of pitfall that exist in this very real world.

  12. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    About the IWF. No organization is without flaws. There are valid criticisms to be made concerning them.
    There are, also, valid criticisms to be made concerning the Vagina Monologues. As far as equal pay goes, I’m not the only sane person who thinks that there are those in the equal-pay movement who overplay their hand.
    I absolutely consider Michelle Bernard to be a wonderful role model. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  13. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I would hope, OTOH, that she would wait to have sex until she is fully prepared, so she would not otherwise regret it for the any myriad number of pitfall that exist in this very real world.
    This is a notable statement. Everyone says they want their child to wait to have sex until their child is fully prepared, but the abstinence crowd does their best to make that very preparedness impossible.
    I had sex for the first time at sixteen. My mother’s issue was not that I wasn’t fully prepared; it was that I was fully prepared too soon for her liking.

  14. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with the assertion that they are “opposite sides of the same coin”. They are, in my opinion, two separate things altogether.
    I do get what you’re saying, though. Good intentions do not excuse those concerned parents.
    Good intentions do, however, indicate that they might be of an open mind to considering a healthier, more effective, alternative message. My point is that there is a middle ground perhaps, where people of different ideologies can put aside their differences and unite for a cause in which we all can agree, namely preventing unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and all the other unhealthy consequences that can result from sexual intercourse.

  15. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I agree.

  16. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I see what you’re advising. Being against abstinence-ONLY sex education seems like the middle ground to me. It’s not like there’s one side for abstinence and one side for wild orgies. There’s one side for abstinence and ignorance about safeguards in case abstinence doesn’t work, and there’s the other side, which merely recognizes that abstinence isn’t realistic enough to safely bet on.

  17. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    That’s true. People often act as though the wedding ring magically bestows full knowledge and mastery over the situation.

  18. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m not for ab-only programs. I never said I was.
    I am advising against keeping with the notion that those who are for abstinence are automatically subscribing to patriarchal doctrines and are promoting willful ignorance. It serves no purpose but to polarize and divide.
    I might also add that it bothers me that BOTH sides of the debate use Bristol Palin as a tool to promote their respective agendas. She is, after all, a human being. It’s disgraceful the things that are said about her. I’ve read multiple feministing posts that referred to the Palin daughters as “piglets” and “sluts”. Absolutely shameful.

  19. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not for ab-only programs. I never said I was.
    I am advising against keeping with the notion that those who are for abstinence are automatically subscribing to patriarchal doctrines and are promoting willful ignorance. It serves no purpose but to polarize and divide.
    I might also add that it bothers me that BOTH sides of the debate use Bristol Palin as a tool to promote their respective agendas. She is, after all, a human being. It’s disgraceful the things that are said about her. I’ve read multiple feministing posts that referred to the Palin daughters as “piglets” and “sluts”. Absolutely shameful.

  20. TeenMommy
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t think you were abstinence-only — I just wasn’t sure what you were trying to say. I can’t say I completely agree, but I do understand where you’re coming from now.
    I agree with you about Bristol Palin. I really have nothing but sympathy for her. She’s in a very uncomfortable place.

  21. Ruby
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Umm..what feministing posts are you referring to exactly? I find it hard to believe that anyone here would engage in maliciously calling another individual a “slut”, especially young women like the Palin daughters. Could you please link to these posts you speak of? Otherwise, that’s a little slanderous.

  22. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Oh yeah. I’m just making this up as I go.
    Not.
    This is a quote from one of the Palin/Letterman discussions the other day, courtesy of a poster who calls herself “Alex Catgirl”:
    “I don’t consider 1950esq wifey/mommy things like Palin and her brood of piglets human. If Letterman advocated setting them on fire and I would of brought marshmallows to roast over their burning bodies.
    things like Palin keep traditional women’s roles and the patriarchal faiths alive and have claimed 4th wave feminism under the guise of “spirituality”, do we *really* want them under the feminist tent? They have been throwing feminists under the public opinion bus since the 1960s…paybacks are a bitch.”
    I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

  23. courtship dating
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. I’m probably being hypercritical. I probably wouldn’t completely agree with me either!

  24. ShifterCat
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    You do know that the site admins are not responsible for every comment that appears here or on the community, right?

  25. dbshawn
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    I’d really like to erase all of this and simply promote Honesty-Only Education. While I agree and support most of Jessica’s viewpoints I think the deeper issue is that sex educators, abstinence promoters and sex positive citizens attempt to simplify the idea of sexual behavior. Am I suggesting that students should be frightened into abstaining from sex? No. Am I suggesting that students be told to sow every oat in their field of dreams? Not exactly.
    I believe that abstinence is an essential part of sex education. It helps keep people free from disease and allows them the space to get to know their partners (if they so choose) before entering the sexual realm.
    For those who decide to engage in sexual activity, there shouldn’t be massive shame regarding their wholeness or freshness, if you will. The very act of sex not only continues family lines but is an important creative center for other areas of our lives. But sex carries many responsibilities and risks. And along with this come what I consider conundrums that are rarely addressed.
    Do teens understand that some diseases can be transmitted even with the use of condoms? Do they have ideas of contraceptive alternatives if they happen to be allergic to latex? What about the fact that having several abortions can ruin later dreams of getting pregnant. Or are they even aware that relationships or marriage still may not allow them the freedom to have sex without condoms (talk to married women who have painfully discovered that their husbands were cheating).
    My concern is that students be told the truth (in as diplomatic way as possible). Abstinence may not be wholly reasonable for those with raging hormones. But on the other end of the spectrum, sex is not as care-free and liberating as some would like to suggest. There are several issues to weigh throughout the spectrum and it’s time we prepare the youth for all of it.

  26. eric_f
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Abstinence ONLY programs are actually a myth. At least, the popular (among feministing readers) notion of what is in an ab-only program is a myth. You think that ab-only means that kids are told, “don’t have sex. class dismissed” but that’s just a lie that you’ve been told to make you oppose ab-only.
    The truth is, the curriculum is exactly the same as any other sex ed program, but it ALSO contains the message, “the only 100% effect way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is to not have sex.” Kids come out of an ab-only program knowing about contraceptives, knowing how condoms work, knowing everything that anybody else knows. But they’ve also been given this abstinence message.
    I’m not saying that I’m in favor of them, but I do think it’d be nice if people who criticize something at least understand it. It’s kind of sad that you actually thought that a kid who went through an ab-only program wouldn’t know how to use a condom.
    For what it’s worth, my school happened to be in the grip of an abstinence only program when I had sex education. My experience with it is that we saw a movie (that didn’t mention abstinence) then we got some reading material (that didn’t mention abstinence) and then we had a classroom discussion (which, funny as this sounds, spent most of its time discussing IUDs because that was the thing that was amazing to us in the class – we already knew what condoms were but had never heard of an IUD). Then, after all that, they gave us one extra handout titled Abstinence or something like that. I don’t even remember that we discussed it.
    It’s amusing to me that people get so angry about that. Like the whole class is acceptable but then if you give the kids this one extra little pamphlet with another viewpoint, “OMFG GRRR I’M ANGRY”

  27. courtship dating
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Yes. I’m aware of that.

  28. Picaflor
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    The truth is, the curriculum is exactly the same as any other sex ed program, but it ALSO contains the message, “the only 100% effect way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is to not have sex.”
    No, you’re referring to ab-plus education. Ab-only education does not include instructions for using condoms and other birth control. And this type of education sadly does exist. I received ab-only education in elementary school. Condoms were mentioned once, but only to provide inaccurate information such as “HIV can pass through latex pores.” No instructions included.
    I have no problem with ab-plus education, as long as it doesn’t contain slut-shaming.

  29. Swoodsie
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    My nephew graduated from Bozeman HS. My sister asked him about the “condoms cause cancer” comment and he said yes, they got that speech. However, the principle got on the loud speaker the next day and told the kids to disregard the information that they got from the speaker as it was false and most of the kids thought she was crazy anyway. Also, it was just one speaker, not their sex ed class. Bozeman doesn’t teach ab-only. They teach comprehensive sex ed. Kudos to the principle for telling the kids to ignore the crazy lady.

  30. visibility
    Posted June 20, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    my sex ed teacher in middle school was the best. he gave us a comprehensive education about common (and not so common) contraception options, how to use them, and how effective they were, from least to best.
    so he left us with the statement: “abstinence is the only form of contraception that is 100% effective when used properly, as I described. if you are not abstinent, laex condoms will protect you against pregancy and STD’s the vast majority of the time if and only if you use them correctly. Remember they are not failproof, so to give yourself the best chance of being safe, you have to use them correctly.”
    Nothing but the simple truth. I still remember that more than a decade later. You could hear a pin drop in the room as he spoke with us. Everyone was really listening. How often do middle schoolers listen quietly, about sex, nonetheless? Because we were LEARNING about something most of us were interested in.
    I thought his approach was very effective and the perfect middle ground – comprehensive sex education that notes that abstinence, when practiced properly, is 100% effective, with condoms being a close second, etc. I think it helped me to make good decisions, and I hope more schools adopt this sort of approach!

  31. Kathleen6674
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    That is not a Feministing post. That is a reader comment, and I’m guessing you cherry-picked the most extreme one. One that I’m pretty sure 99% of the commenters here would not agree with

  32. Kathleen6674
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    What you are describing is comprehensive sex-ed. Comprehensive sex ed teaches birth control and STD prevention as well as abstinence.
    There is no such thing as sex-ed that doesn’t even mention abstinence, but there actually IS sex-ed that either doesn’t mention contraception and disease prevention or only mentions them in a misleading way.
    My high school (back in the late 80s/early 90s) had comprehensive sex-ed. In the ninth grade, we learned about all the different kinds of birth control then available, with honest, scientific-research-based failure and success rates. We were also taught that abstinence was the only 100% sure way not to get pregnant or an STD.
    Fast-forward to senior year, when we were supposed to redo all the sex-ed stuff. By that time a girl whose parents were heavily involved in Operation Rescue managed to convince/intimidate/threaten to sue if we were taught comprehensive sex-ed. We did cheesy shit like, “List 10 ways you can become closer to your boyfriend other than having sex.” Other than that, we were taught NOTHING. The health teacher had no choice but to move on to the segment about drunk driving because her hands were tied.
    We live in a country where 95% of the total population has premarital sex, and the majority of people who get married have sex with their partners. To sit there and pretend no one is ever going to have sex or ever need to use birth control or disease prevention methods is ridiculous. And it very much does happen.

  33. blue
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    An abstinence only program called “Aspire” came to my school during the fall. The guy leading the lecture was polite but terribly, terribly misinformed. He spelled words like “gonorrhea” wrong and told us that latex condoms were only 34% effective. I was really pissed by the time the presentation was over so I put up my hand and asked him if the ultimate form of “self control” would be to abstain from sex even within marriage. He got all hot headed and said something along the lines of: “you owe it to your wife/husband.”
    What a prick.

  34. Silverarrow
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Seriously? This reminds me of the Family Guy episode where Lois tries to teach kids about sex-education, then gets fired for teaching about condoms.

  35. Mina
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    “…I was really pissed by the time the presentation was over so I put up my hand and asked him if the ultimate form of ‘self control’ would be to abstain from sex even within marriage. He got all hot headed and said something along the lines of: ‘you owe it to your wife/husband.’…”
    Heh, good one. ;)

  36. Mina
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    “I believe that abstinence is an essential part of sex education. It helps keep people free from disease and allows them the space to get to know their partners (if they so choose) before entering the sexual realm.”
    It also helps keep people from raping, if they don’t have consenting sex partners in the first place. Imagine what messages like “abstinence is backwards, sex is 100% necessary for everyone, you have the right to have sex!!!” sound like to someone who doesn’t have any consenting potential partners and whose only options are either abstinence or having sex with someone against her or his will. I’ve even seen someone defend human trafficking and sex slavery in the name of lonely men!

  37. Mina
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    “No, you’re referring to ab-plus education. Ab-only education does not include instructions for using condoms and other birth control. And this type of education sadly does exist.”
    Even more sadly, there are secondary schools where even abstinence doesn’t get mentioned (some Dutch teachers don’t want to offend a 15-year-old’s father-in-law by mentioning abstinence the same way some American teachers don’t want to offend a 15-year-old’s father by mentioning condoms).
    “I have no problem with ab-plus education, as long as it doesn’t contain slut-shaming.”
    Right on! After all, for some of us abstinence really is the only option you want us using…because we don’t have any consenting partners for sex. What do you want me, or a very unpopular teenage boy, to do instead of abstain from sex? Go have sex with someone against his or her will?

  38. Mina
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    “I think what is also interesting and not really ever mentioned is that proper sex education is necessary even for married couples. I mean, marriage itself does not prevent pregnancy or disease. So what if you have a bunch of teens scared into not having sex and they do indeed wait until marriage… then what? Without the proper tools to make responsible/healthy decisions then unwanted pregnancies can and will happen.”
    Right on!
    I bet some of the “abstinence-only” crowd (who actually aren’t promote only abstinence since they also promote unprotected marital sex) also
    think it’s eugenics against “their people” if these married couples use birth control and only have the pregnancies they want instead of adding as many babies as possible to “their people.”
    Then we got the ones who don’t seem to think marital sex counts as sex. They don’t call it pedophilia when someone has sex with his child bride, they don’t call it prostitution when someone pays for marital sex by paying for marriage, they don’t call it teen pregnancy when someone impregnates his wife while she’s a teenager, they don’t call it rape when someone forces his or her spouse to have sex ahainst her or his will…

  39. Mina
    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    “I think what is also interesting and not really ever mentioned is that proper sex education is necessary even for married couples. I mean, marriage itself does not prevent pregnancy or disease. So what if you have a bunch of teens scared into not having sex and they do indeed wait until marriage… then what? Without the proper tools to make responsible/healthy decisions then unwanted pregnancies can and will happen.”
    Right on!
    I bet some of the “abstinence-only” crowd (who actually don’t promote only abstinence since they also promote unprotected marital sex) also
    think it’s eugenics against “their people” if these married couples use birth control and only have the pregnancies they want instead of adding as many babies as possible to “their people.”
    Then we got the ones who don’t seem to think marital sex counts as sex. They don’t call it pedophilia when someone has sex with his child bride, they don’t call it prostitution when someone pays for marital sex by paying for marriage, they don’t call it teen pregnancy when someone impregnates his wife while she’s a teenager, they don’t call it rape when someone forces his or her spouse to have sex ahainst her or his will…

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