DISCUSSION: “The Purity Myth” by Jessica Valenti

Discuss the aspect of Valenti’s work that you think is most compelling. Why? Feel free to incorporate “Cat Person” into your post if it feels relevant and/or helpful.

7 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: “The Purity Myth” by Jessica Valenti

  1. As I read this piece, I found myself resonating with a lot of the points that Valenti made. Although virginity is a social construct and doesn’t have an actual medical definition, there is so much emphasis placed on it by our society. This article got me thinking about the double standard that exists between men and women on the concept of virginity. When men lose their virginity, they are praised and seen as cool, as opposed to women who are marked as dirty or damaged. Valenti brought up similar themes to those we discussed in “Cat Person”, mainly the objectification of women. The idea that women are seen as a “commodity” is honestly such a repulsive and dated concept, and it shocks me that this still happens in our current society. I find the paternal dynamic between father and daughter to be a little bit creepy, specifically the fact that the father has the “key” to his daughter’s sexuality until she marries someone, and only then can she be passed on to her husband. In “Cat Person”, Margot is seen as a little doll that Robert can keep and manipulate, which is essentially the same situation that Valenti points to when she discusses the concepts of Purity Balls.

    Another point that Valenti makes that I found compelling was her analysis of abstinence-only sex education. I grew up in a school that gave us very detailed information about sex and contraceptive options, so it is hard for me to imagine a school system that promotes abstinence-only programs. In my opinion, this will only make matters worse. It is inevitable that teenagers are going to have sex, and by neglecting to give them the knowledge and tools to practice safe sex, schools are failing to do their job in preventing teenage pregnancy and STI’s. Denial and overlooking the fact that teenagers are going to have sex does no one any good, instead, it perpetuates the harmful cult of virginity.

  2. “The Purity Myth” just reminds me of how much work we still need to do when it comes to talking about women’s sexuality.

    I felt physically ill when I read Valenti’s reports on abstinence educators in school. I got particularly furious at some of the demonstrations they gave to convince teenagers that abstinence is necessary.

    Most, if not all of them shared this commentary that those who had sex before marriage were ‘dirtied’ or ‘used’, but 90% of the time, these comments were aimed at girls. I can only recall one pro-abstinence example being aimed at men (the one demonstration involving a cinder block to show why condoms aren’t effective). Having grown up in a school where sex education and presentations surrounding sex/relationships/abuse were mandatory, it legitimately frightens and disgusts me that this demeaning rhetoric is being touted as ‘correct’ in American schools.

    Speaking of abstinence – I’m glad Valenti and I agree that Purity Balls are literally the creepiest concept ever?

    The whole concept of fathers “passing their daughters’ purity to their daughters’ husband” is disturbing at best. It’s like these people can’t fathom a woman expressing her own sexual desire and interest- they think that she NEEDS a man to control it.

    The pseudo-incestuous dynamics really don’t help either. I mean, I have a great relationship with my own dad – but little girls being turned into miniature Miss Americas and going on ‘dates’ with their own fathers… that really doesn’t bring any pleasant images to mind.

  3. While I completely agree with the majority of what Valenti said in the excerpt, a lot of the arguments are ones I’ve heard of or read about before, like how abstinence only sex ed is a horrifying and degraditing curriculum that only leads to higher rates of pregnancy and STIs, and how women are often seen as property of their fathers and husbands. These are incredibly important ideas to talk about, I was just already on board with them before I read the piece. But I did think she had a lot of ideas that were incredibly interesting and compelling that I hadn’t heard much about until reading this. Specifically, I thought her writing (which is somewhere between muckraking and analysis?) about how adults in the virginity movement manage to sell the idea of abstinence and purity to young people who are clearly horny, confused, curious, and impulsive. It seems impossible to do, but Valenti helped me understand just how abstinence advocates (read sales people) manage to get it done.

    The idea of telling a young woman that she will feel empowered by abstinence feels kinda like an oxymoron since virginity until marriage inherently means stopping your impulses or curbing your own desire for the future benefit of someone else–in this case a future husband. It’s a means of preemptively transferring power, not reclaiming it. True sexual empowerment would be telling girls that they own their own bodies, and no one can dictate what happens to it except them. Have sex if you want. Don’t have sex if you don’t want to. Learn about your body and what you need to do to take care of it, whatever that means. Yet the idea that not “degrading” yourself in order to be able to attract a man is successfully equated with empowerment in this movement. Valenti did a great job of laying out that contradiction in her writing to help the reader see that this espousal of empowerment is simply a sham.

    I also was really intrigued by the idea of using sex to sell abstinence. It wasn’t something I had every thought about. The examples of the t-shirt and Jessica Simpson, who was simultaneously a infantilized virgin and a sex icon, was thought-provoking and a little enraging. Everything society shows girls is based on a way to make them sexier or to control them better. This manages to do both. The movement isn’t about safety or empowerment, its about using whatever means necessary–including what you are explicitly campaigning against–to put women and girls in a box of what is right and wrong, pure and whorish.

  4. Valenti’s work incorporated several themes, topics of discussion, and trends that I was subtly aware of but couldn’t fully recognize and point out before reading her article. The main topics of discussion I got out of reading this article is the importance of how society has had a repeated and ongoing trend that morality, identity, and worthiness of a woman is always interlinked with her sexuality and solely her sexuality, at times. I learned that it isn’t right for the “goodness” of a woman to be determined by whether or not she is a virgin. The thing that disturbed me the most in the article and the thing I found most compelling was the amount of hypocrisy shown, specifically in terms of the sexualizing of women. For instance, Tara Conner was almost striped of her Miss USA title when photos of her leaked at clubs or drinking situations; however, Donald Trump declared accepting her apology and giving her another chance. The catch her is, that after all of this affair, Trump offered her to pose for Playboy- if this isn’t hypocrisy at its finest I don’t know what is. Sexualization was also shown through the “virginity movement”. Another example is when Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson declared their virginity but were constantly displayed as sex symbols all over media. This sexist ideal began to continue to unfold when Britney gained weight and got pregnant to later be known as “unattractive”. This idea of being “pure” seem to not only be about being a virgin a considerable amount was emphasized on looks and not being a “woman”. Another hypocritical point is when religious groups used “secondary virginity” to gain the “promiscuous” girls’ virginity pledges. The amount of hypocrisy I noticed in the article just comes to tell how much more work and progress we still need in order to banish this stereotypical image of women and their sexuality.

  5. The point that I felt myself react to most strongly from this reading was Valenti’s assertion that “virginity is pretty much all about women.” I disagree slightly with Valenti that loosing one’s virginity is a topic thought and talked about exclusively by women, but I think on the whole it is made to seem like a much bigger deal for girls than boys. While a lot what Valenti discussed seemed pretty far removed to my own experiences – I have literally never heard of a purity ball or the idea of fathers dating their daughters and what I learned in sex-ed was all biologically accurate– I could actually connect this idea to my own life and my peers.

    This point made me think about the language that my peers and I use surrounding virginity and what we discussed on Monday about how much grammar can matter.

    When I hear my female peers talk about loosing their virginity, it is very common for them to say things like “he took my virginity” or, “ I lost my virginity to him.” In the first example in particular, we see Valenti’s point that a woman’s virginity is something for a man to take. In this sentence, the man in the subject while a woman’s virginity is the object. When girls talk about loosing their virginity they don’t even make themselves the subject of their own sentence! In contrast, I hardly ever hear my male peers talk about loosing their virginity and if they do they would never use this phrasing.

    The language that my peers and I use surrounding virginity definitely speaks to Valenti’s point that virginity is “all about women.”

  6. There were many relevant parts of this article to me. Honorable mention to the part about Britney Spears, my idol. In particular, the part about girls being sexualized instead of women. This is something that is seen in culture all of the time. Women are always trying to look younger, with smoother skin, a more bright face, etc. Men on the other hand, don’t try to appear younger as much. And from Cat Person, this idea is further emphasized when Robert is attracted to Margot and oblivious to the fact that she is so young, because it is the sexualization and attraction to young girls that is so prominently seen in society.

    The other point that particularly intrigued me was the idea of women being objectified. Throughout this article, this idea took form, particularly with the father owning the daughter until she married. Then of course, the ownership would just be passed to he husband. I do not personally have any experiences of this in my own life, but it is clear from media and books that this idea is very clearly visible. The idea that women do not own themselves, but are something that a man has possession of. One particular part of the article highlighted how women needed financial support and how men needed domestic support. This just goes to show the gender norms in society and how men are seen to be the ones that need the women to own and the women needs the man to own her and protect her and to run her life. The article uses many examples (so many) of this to prove how farfetched these gender roles are and how they are all used to perpetuate the idea of virginity as something that women should value so highly, which is, as argued, also farfetched and outdated.

  7. What I find most compelling about the article is the fact that the author not only addresses the extreme areas of conflict within this subject, but the more commonplace ones as well. Although I have issues with gender roles in our society, especially in terms of a woman’s sexuality, I have never really thought about how much the word “virgin” impacts our perception of a woman’s sexuality. This word has always been used to describe women, the two words (“woman” and “virgin”) can even be used synonymously in certain cases. I appreciated the aspects of this article that discussed the fact that women who are sexually active, or just not virgins, are often perceived as “dirty.” Some even describe losing one’s virginity as being “deflowered,” implying that a woman was a pure, precious flower prior to having sex, but afterward, she is imperfect and undesirable.

    This article is very related to the backlash of the “Cat Person” article. The most prominent responses to the “Cat Person” article were the ones that chose to criticize the number of people that Margot had slept with. Instead of pointing out all of the unfortunate aspects of the story, such as the pressure that Margot felt to stay and have sex with Robert even when she didn’t want to, they chose to attack the number of people she had slept with. This shows that the person behind this response was essentially saying she did not deserve better than this encounter with Robert because she was so “loose” and “dirty,” as Valenti’s article discusses.

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