The Purity Myth


It took a lot of courage for me to write this, much less actually post it.  This is a topic which most people are not comfortable discussing but it’s a topic that I think is very important & thus bears discussing regardless of how awkward it might be.  Being a nurse I have lost a lot of my sense of what is normal conversation because I am so used to dealing with & talking about every bodily function known to man.  However, I know this post is of a sensitive nature & may provoke a lot of criticism, perhaps even from some people close to me.  But again I think this subject is too important to bypass.  With that being said, here goes.

the purity myth 2

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book called The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti.  This is one of those books that I can’t help but feel like the author was reading my mind when she wrote it.  I love that feeling!  In this book Valenti asserts (with a great deal of evidence to support her claims) that the “purity or virginity movement” is hurting women, especially young women, by basing their value on their sexuality (or lack thereof) & is thus not much different than the hyper-sexualization of women that the purity movement claims to  hate so much.  What a refreshing concept!  Indeed it’s an idea that I have often considered even before reading this book.  I’ve often thought how paradoxical it is that our society is so hyper-sexualized in the sense of what we see in the media & what we actually discuss in real life.  Why is it that sexualized music videos are the norm & porn is ubiquitous & yet the average American is still shy about discussing real sexual issues?  Why is it common practice for parents to buy their teens (or even younger children) video games that promote violent sexuality such as Grand Theft Auto & yet most parents don’t have the first clue how to have a conversation about sex with their teenagers?  Is it any wonder that teen pregnancy is still rampant in this country especially in light of the fact that a great deal of “sex ed” in this country is still abstinence-only education (I use the term education lightly b/c real sex education involves actually conveying factual information, something that abstinence-only education by its very nature cannot do; I know this from personal experience).

This is the twenty-first century & yet we women are still very much defined by our sexuality.  On one hand the right-wing conservatives value us only as pure virgins who “save ourselves” for marriage, who go so far as to say that a woman who has sex before marriage has “devalued herself.”  Even as a teenager I couldn’t help but see through this argument.  Hello, you’ll probably deny it but you’re telling me that my only worth is in relation to my body.  I’m sorry but I can’t & won’t ascribe to that method of thinking.  If that makes me a whore in your book, I’ll gladly wear that label.  Ha!

On the other hand we have a great deal of the media telling us as women that our only value is in being sexy & desirable to men.  Again our value is based on our bodies & our sexuality.  And again I’m not buying it.  I for one know that I am so much more than my sexuality (while I also know that my sexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of contrary to what the purity movement would say.)

[In case anyone thinks I’m promoting the “hook-up” culture, let me be clear & say that I am not.  I personally am of the belief that sex is something very special that should only be shared between two consenting caring individuals.  But I’m also not saying that marriage is the only scenario under which sex should happen.  That’s just not practical (or even logical in my mind).]

This book also discusses the ridiculous way in which our society deals with rape.  It’s shameful to admit that as a society we still spend a great deal of time blaming the victim, but we do.  Regarding what other crime do you hear people say things like “Well, she was asking for it?”  Or “What was she doing out late at night on that street?”  The hardest thing for me to admit with this argument is that I used to say such things.  I really did.  And I hate myself for buying into such ridiculous notions that men are animals that cannot be stopped.  The older I am & the more I observe society the more I just cannot believe such an idiotic lie.  Men are not naturally uncontrollable sexual beasts any more than women are naturally sexually reticent.  Both are lies created to control women & enforce “traditional” gender stereotypes which in the end are damaging to both men & women.

In many people’s eyes I am probably a feminist.  But I don’t really think of myself that way.  I just think of myself as a humanist.  I want all people everywhere to be respected & treated well not because they are men or women but because they are HUMAN BEINGS.  I’m certainly not a radical feminist who tries to assert that men & women are completely equal.  They aren’t in some ways.  Duh.  Women are not as strong as men physically.  But men can’t have babies.  And without both genders the human race could not perpetuate itself.  (On particularly cynical days when I am thoroughly disgusted with the human race I sometimes wonder if that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but thankfully those days are pretty rare.)  But I do believe that women should receive equal pay for equal work & that the onus for rape prevention should be on teaching men that such behavior is unacceptable.  And I do believe that the purity myth is hurting women as much as the hyper-sexualization culture is also hurting women.  The end result of both is that women are seen as objects: objects without their own opinions, desires (sexual or otherwise), or dreams.  And I for one refuse to believe that my value as a human being is based solely or even principally on my sexuality.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I’d love to hear your opinions on this matter.  That goes for guys & girls!

4 Comments

  1. You are brave for speaking your mind and anyone who criticises you needs a reality check. How can a first world nation and a global power as big as the US still only teach about abstinence in some areas? Sex is everywhere, let’s not pretend! Well done you for speaking up.

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  2. I completely agree with you about everything you touched on in this article! It’s sad that people still have this mindset. Not only toward women but also toward the gay community. And let’s not even touch the ridiculous level of racism that still exists in today’s society! I see this type of thinking on a weekly basis (if not more often), mostly at my workplace, and it is appalling. Though maybe not surprising, if you know where I work, haha!

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  3. I do know where you work, Sam. And that is so sad that you see such things! You’re right, the gay community is treated even worse as well as biracial couples. We have so much to work on & I think the first step has got to be just TALKING about things instead of acting like there isn’t a problem when we all know there is. Thanks for your support, Sarah & Sam!

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  4. Pingback: Rape, Sexual Abuse, & Fundamentalist Christianity: An Unlikely Trinity . . . Or Is It? | athicketofmusings

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