Friday, February 26, 2010

Jessica Valenti and The Purity Myth

Posted by: Michelle Haimoff

Cross-posted on

On Tuesday I heard Jessica Valenti, founder of, speak at New York City’s The Tank about her new book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Following are 10 things I left thinking about:

1. Five months before the book was released, anti-feminist conservatives used words like “slut” and “whore” to describe it. These critics had only seen the title and the innocuous cover, but as Valenti said, for them, “the only alternative to being a virgin is being a whore.”

2. Relatedly, it is much easier to commit acts of violence against “sluts” and “whores” than “women” or “girls,” because these derogatory terms dehumanize them.

3. When reports come out about young people and promiscuity, the concern isn’t about young people having sex, it is about young women having sex. There is rarely concern about young men having sex.

4. The FDA held up Plan B and the HPV vaccine because of fears that it would encourage young women to have sex (FDA documents include the phrase “teen sex cults”). Bill Maher likened this to fearing that those who received tetanus shots would run out and jam rusty nails into their legs.

5. Vaginal rejuvenation is the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery in the United States.

6. A 2007 law dictates that women who are raped, who appear to be intoxicated, are denied rape kits. Also in the law, once a woman gives consent and penetration occurs, nothing after that can constitute rape, no matter how violent.

7. The power of “patriarchal rewards” leads women to turn on other women in order to garner the favor of men. This includes women calling other women “sluts” and women saying that they only want to hang out with men. (Notice that men don’t do this in reverse.)

8. The virginity movement teaches women that their only real worth is their ability to remain pure and to refuse to be sexual. By this logic, a woman cannot be a moral person if she has premarital sex.

9. The virginity until marriage movement does not value women, rather it values wielding power over a specific type of (white) woman. These virgin-obsessives don’t focus their energies on sex trafficking and prostitution, which largely involves nonwhite women.

10. 95% of women have premarital sex, and these women are happy, educated and socially engaged (despite anti-feminist funded studies that attempt to prove otherwise). Taking the joy out of sex isn’t going to make women not have sex but it is going to make them enjoy it less.

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