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the purity myth
July 29, 2014 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Female 'Purity' Is Bullshit
Men can't actually care whether or not women are "pure," because there is no way for "purity" to be verified. It's just not a real thing, and chasing some phantom virtue for your entire life is a great way to ensure that you waste your goddamn life... This entire "conversation" is just an effort to rig a system in which men get to determine female worthlessness no matter the input. There is nothing you can do to be pure.

...Our culture deliberately socializes women to be taken in. We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they're not sexually attractive, they're nothing. They're garbage. They might as well not exist. We reinforce, over and over, that their attractiveness has an expiration date, so the only thing they can do is desperately leverage that attractiveness while they can. If they resist that conditioning, we sexualize them against their will, and if they give in to that conditioning—or worse, if they are raped by a predator—we reveal the trap: Now you're a slut, and it's your fault. Now you're tainted.
Virginity Fetish: How Our Obsession With "Sexual Purity" Hurts Women
(an excerpt from Jessica Valenti's book "The Purity Myth")
There is a moral panic in America over young women's sexuality -- and it's entirely misplaced. Girls "going wild" aren't damaging a generation of women, the myth of sexual purity is. The lie of virginity -- the idea that such a thing even exists -- is ensuring that young women's perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It's time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they're sexually active.

A combination of forces -- our media- and society-driven virginity fetish, an increase in abstinence-only education, and the strategic political rollback of women's rights among the primary culprits -- has created a juggernaut of unrealistic sexual expectations for young women.
The Vulgar Face of Purity Culture:
Friends recently drew my attention to this piece, written by a mother to her sons' female friends on Facebook. She clearly loves her sons enormously, and wants to see them happy, healthy, and in fulfilling relationships. I applaud her for that.

Growing up, however, I had first-hand experience with the sort of modesty teaching Mrs. Hall doles out in her post. In my community, it was called "purity teaching," but in hindsight, I can only see the flaws in this approach...

What purity teaching did for me, and for many of the women I know who were raised in similar environments, was distill me down to my body. Sure, leaders paid lip service to concepts like, you know, women having brains and personalities. But the core of purity culture was that my mind didn't matter, my personality didn't matter, my dreams and desires and goals didn't matter -- if my shorts were too short. Or if I wore a bikini, if I kissed a boy, if I kissed a GIRL, if I shook my bootie when I danced, if I ever-ever-ever had sex for any reason whatsoever before I was married. Because my REAL value, my ultimate worth, came from my body. I learned that the assumed, innate "impurity" of my body would overshadow any other valuable trait I may possess; but my intelligence, wit, creativity, kindness... those could never supersede my too-short shorts or bare shoulders.
10 Bloggers Respond to Mrs. Hall's Letter with Thoughts on Slut-Shaming, Respect, and Selfies: "...my gut-reaction to the now viral letter that Mrs. Hall wrote to teenage girls posting "seductive" selfies on Instagram and thus tempting her precious sons... well... I'm having a hard time with the general concept. [...] Obviously, the Internet is abuzz with posts on the letter that Mrs. Hall shared -- some in support, some with further questions, some with advice, and a lot with a bone to pick."

How the Purity Myth Perpetuates Rape Culture: "I was thinking about the source of all the problematic ways in which our society views and responds to sexual assault–the victim-blaming, the simplistic construction of “real” victims and “legitimate” rape, the erasure of certain social groups of victims–and I realized that much of it comes down to antiquated views of female sexual purity. I don’t doubt that there’s much more to it, obviously, but this is a piece of the puzzle that isn’t discussed as often as it should be."

'Purity' culture: bad for women, worse for survivors of sexual assault: "Where does a woman's value lie? In her brain? Her heart? Her spirit? According to right-wing culture warriors, "between her legs". That's what underlies the emphasis on virginity as "purity", and the push for abstinence-only education. And it has very real consequences, most recently articulated by Elizabeth Smart. Smart, who was kidnapped and held for months while her captor repeatedly raped her, recently discussed how her religious background made her feel worthless after the first rape – how she understands why others wouldn't even try to escape, if, like her, they were taught that a sexually "impure" woman had nothing to offer. Smart's speech is largely being interpreted as a critique of abstinence-only education, but she's pointing to an entire culture that fetishizes purity."

4 Myths About Virginity:
1. It’s an Actual Thing: "Let’s start with the biggest myth of all – that virginity is something quantifiable. Let’s bust this myth once and for all (and you can trust me on this one): There is no medical or biological definition of virginity."
2. But Duhh, the Hymen!
3. It Has the Power to Change Your Genitals
4. It Changes Who You Are As a Person


previously:
*You Can't POP Your Cherry (HYMEN 101)
*17 Lies We Need to Stop Teaching Girls About Sex
posted by flex (135 comments total) 149 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read the first link with a huge mental "Huzzah!" and clicked on "more inside" only to realize that I have got a ton more to read.
Thanks!
posted by Seamus at 2:07 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


It makes me very sad that this actually still has to be said in 2014.
posted by Slothrup at 2:20 PM on July 29 [51 favorites]


Is American culture (finally, slowly, actually) coming around to the idea that women are people, or do I just hang out in the better corners of the web?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:21 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


Excellent post. I was about to link the previous hymen one, and then noticed it there at the bottom.

It makes me very sad that this actually still has to be said in 2014.

The more i learn, the more i realize that not all that much has changed from what my parents were being taught in catholic school in the 60s and 70s. All that's really changed is that people who disagree with it can congregate online. There's still huge swaths geography wise where nothing has really changed, and large vocal groups of people with which it's the same.

It's one of those things you have to think about in measured doses if you don't want to get too down on the state of the world.
posted by emptythought at 2:25 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I can't tell if the "Why Good Girls Have Become As Extinct As Unicorns," um, essay? is satire or not. It's offensive either way, but I can't tell if it's a really shitty joke or some guy's actual tale of woe.

(Not linking to it because page views.)
posted by mudpuppie at 2:26 PM on July 29


i was raised in the same religion, with the same lessons, as elizabeth smart - and she's absolutely right - they directly and indirectly say that it's better to be dead than raped, that only a really forgiving man will marry you after that, and it's hard to not take that to heart.
posted by nadawi at 2:27 PM on July 29 [19 favorites]


[Man:] "No! I just mean that I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture's patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women's bodies. Basically I'm obsessed with controlling women's lives because I can't control my own."

From the first link. That's the truth. Some of it, anyway.

I think the same people who find "value" in women's "purity" are very often the same sort of people who find value in "racial purity" and other nonsensical, bigoted concepts. Plus I think "pure" implies "naive", which implies "easy to control".
posted by maxwelton at 2:28 PM on July 29 [65 favorites]


All that's really changed is that people who disagree with it can congregate online.

As can those who agree. Worse, they may actually be geographically close to each other and able to keep their little corner of the world "proper and chaste'.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:31 PM on July 29


Plus I think "pure" implies "naive", which implies "easy to control".

Whoa. Yes. *mind blown* (or maybe just tired from staying up)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:40 PM on July 29 [13 favorites]


This isn't well-thought-out, because it's part of a bigger thing that I've been thinking about and haven't resolved in my own head. So, apologies.

I totally, wholeheartedly agree that girls (and women, but we're mostly talking about girls) should not be defined, judged, categorized by their 'purity.' Their self-worth, and others' opinions on their worth, should not be tied at all to the myth that virginity = noble virtue. At the same time, I think conveying that message can be, for lack of a better word, tricky.

I mean, yes, let's tell girls "If you do sex stuff with your boyfriend/girlfriend, that doesn't make you a slut -- it makes you human. This concept of 'sexual purity' is bullshit." Let's get that across. But at the same time, we also have to communicate that, "Okay, even though we've just devalued this idea of'purity' -- it's not the biggest marker of your morality anymore, and it's not that big of a thing -- it's still not okay for someone to take it away from you without your wanting to give it."

Maybe I'm just getting het up over semantics. The real issue is that girls should have absolute, 100% control over their bodies. Whatever they do or don't do should be their decision alone. [Let's of course hope that 'whatever' was a decision they came to with a proper education about what might come after the 'whatever.']

I wish we could do better at conveying that, instead of, well, getting het up over semantics. Which I just admitted to.

So, I dunno. I just want it to be easier for girls. Because it's damned if you do....
posted by mudpuppie at 2:47 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


i can totally see where you're coming from mudpuppie - i think the difference there is that it's not ok for someone to ever try to control your body, whether or not you've been sexual active by choice before. when sexual assault is wrapped around purity, people tend to see it as a bigger violation for a non-sexually active woman/girl to be raped than, say, a sex worker, when what we should be teaching is that it's just as awful no matter how much sexual experience the victim has.

i do agree that we need to be careful that devaluing the idea of purity doesn't get us into some sort of male driven free love bullshit where instead of dismantling maiden/mother/whore, we're just removing one of the prongs.
posted by nadawi at 2:56 PM on July 29 [22 favorites]


The more i learn, the more i realize that not all that much has changed from what my parents were being taught in catholic school in the 60s and 70s.

What my mother was taught in public school in about 1960: "Keep your legs together."

What my friend's kid was taught in a public school recently: "Keep your legs together."

Things have definitely changed (and largely for the better) but not enough, and like the links say there is a real cost.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:57 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


mudpuppie: “(Not linking to it because page views.)”
Maybe Do Not Link is an alternative?
Using donotlink.com instead of linking to questionable websites directly will prevent your links from improving these websites' position in search engines.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:58 PM on July 29 [22 favorites]


Wow and ouch! So, could someone write a list of things I should read and watch (and still be entertained), that will help undo my programming? Or, are we in the shit for the next century? Just a starter list.
posted by Flex1970 at 2:59 PM on July 29


i do agree that we need to be careful that devaluing the idea of purity doesn't get us into some sort of male driven free love bullshit where instead of dismantling maiden/mother/whore, we're just removing one of the prongs.

Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:00 PM on July 29


There's a whole of heat and GRAR here and not very much light.

It simply sloppy rhetoric to say virginity is a myth. The last link which claims to dispel the myth "once and for all" says "There is no real definition of virginity except for, you know, the one in the dictionary, which defines it as “the state of never having had sexual intercourse.” But the problem with that definition is that it doesn’t mean anything."

That's what we call in litigation ipse dixit. To say that there is a no real definition of a word and then proceed to quote a definition of a word is silly. It might not mean something to the writer, but it certainly has a meaning and a lot of people understand the meaning. And you can find a woman who has never kissed or been touched by another person, and that person would be a virgin, and everyone would understand it. Now you can complain that person should not be treated specially because of that fact, but it certainly is a definable issue.

Sure, there's a lot to be said about our culture's poor attitudes to sexual promiscuity. And I find one of the most despicable things is the secondary victimization that befalls those who are victims of sexual assault in which they are treated as damages goods. There is something really compelling to talk about on our cultural views of sexual mores.

But this bunch of links go way too far in the other direction in claiming that the idea of virginity and purity doesn't even exist or that people must be motivated by sexist and ill motive in valuing it.

This strikes me as a case of not thinking critically enough about the real issues and instead raging in a shotgun approach to a whole topic while preaching to the choir.
posted by dios at 3:00 PM on July 29 [24 favorites]


I mean, yes, let's tell girls "If you do sex stuff with your boyfriend/girlfriend, that doesn't make you a slut -- it makes you human. This concept of 'sexual purity' is bullshit." Let's get that across. But at the same time, we also have to communicate that, "Okay, even though we've just devalued this idea of'purity' -- it's not the biggest marker of your morality anymore, and it's not that big of a thing -- it's still not okay for someone to take it away from you without your wanting to give it."

I don't see that as difficult at all. There is no relationship between "girl will have sex when she's ready" and "girl is sexually assaulted." One thing is her decision and so on, the other one is a crime.

It's like equating choosing to go parachuting and being suddenly pushed out of a plane.

If you see a woman's body as something *she* owns, then there is no confusion, regardless of what sexual activity she has or hasn't engaged in. The one has nothing to do with the other. Sex can only happen with consent; otherwise, it is rape.

Here's a good addition to the discussion: Instead of asking "Did she say no?" we should start asking "Did she want to have sex?"
posted by emjaybee at 3:00 PM on July 29 [23 favorites]


Excellent post.

All you have to do is look to recent events (Hobby Lobby, I am looking at you) to know that the purity myth is alive, well, and doing real harm to women.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:02 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Assuming everyone is healthy, careful and not into injuring each other, physically speaking having sex is about as transformative and profound as sneezing.

(mentally or spiritually it might mean more, but to your body, it's just another thing that happens)
posted by emjaybee at 3:14 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


A person who knows what they like sexually, who knows what their partner likes sexually, and who knows how to communicate about both is a precious thing and saves all involved a helluva lot of time and effort.

Do what you can to help others become this person rather than deliberately making them guess.
posted by delfin at 3:15 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


And you can find a woman who has never kissed or been touched by another person, and that person would be a virgin, and everyone would understand it. Now you can complain that person should not be treated specially because of that fact, but it certainly is a definable issue.

We were just talking about this the other night, me and my partner and a couple of friends of ours. We are all women, and most of us are bisexual. We were talking about "virginity" and the definition - and who defines it. We talked about whether or not we sort of go back in our own histories and redefine when we "really" lost our virginity: Was it when there was a penis involved? A penis in a vagina? Does any other sex act count? Does it have to include penetration? Like that. It was interesting. And makes me call your statement there on some bullshit, because it just doesn't seem as clearly definable as you pronounce.

Sure, there's a lot to be said about our culture's poor attitudes to sexual promiscuity

But this bunch of links go way too far in the other direction in claiming that the idea of virginity and purity doesn't even exist or that people must be motivated by sexist and ill motive in valuing it.

"Virginity" doesn't exist as a thing that can be shown, physically, to exist or not exist. And "purity"? Come on. What is that, exactly, and according to whom, and why them? I mean, you are making a huge number of assumptions there, and acting like they are concepts shared by and agreed upon by everyone.

What is "sexual promiscuity"? Is this another of those terms with an actual definition, one that everyone agrees on, like the speed of light?
posted by rtha at 3:19 PM on July 29 [42 favorites]


But at the same time, we also have to communicate that, "Okay, even though we've just devalued this idea of'purity' -- it's not the biggest marker of your morality anymore, and it's not that big of a thing -- it's still not okay for someone to take it away from you without your wanting to give it."

That's still giving the first time a weird importance that doesn't really help anyone. Nothing is being "taken away" when someone has sex for the first time except in a completely made up way that we don't use for anything else.

For example, I don't think that it's a great idea for young kids to get drunk, and no one should be pressured into drinking that doesn't want to. But a kid who is pressured into drinking for their first time and has a bad experience hasn't "lost" anything. They haven't wasted some precious resource that they should feel ashamed about not guarding well enough.

And it's not just semantics, people think about virginity and purity in a very specific made up way and it informs their actions and opinions. Treating sexual experience as some sort of permanent taint hurts a lot of people, and it's something we could easily avoid by treating it like nearly everything else in life.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:20 PM on July 29 [28 favorites]


"Virginity" doesn't exist as a thing that can be shown, physically, to exist or not exist. And "purity"?

They're proxies for "Is this kid mine or not?" Which is where all this bullshit stems from.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:22 PM on July 29 [14 favorites]


This strikes me as a case of not thinking critically enough about the real issues and instead raging in a shotgun approach to a whole topic while preaching to the choir.

I feel the same way about your use of mixed metaphors.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:23 PM on July 29 [23 favorites]


What my friend's kid was taught in a public school recently: "Keep your legs together."

I'm annoyed with this for all the basic reasons about denying education and basic human rights and shit, but since I am, like Bruce Banner, always angry (except about social justice and not whatever he's mad about), the thing that drives me crazy about this statement is the fundamental lack of knowledge of sexual positions. You don't even have to get creative to fuck somebody with your legs closed/knees together/whatever. It's, like, non-missionary positions 101.
posted by NoraReed at 3:23 PM on July 29 [27 favorites]


Plus I think "pure" implies "naive", which implies "easy to control".

There's another big element of this too, which a smart person pointed out to me a while ago.

A big part of this whole purity thing revolves around mens insecurity about their sexual prowess and performance. It kinda comes back to that "a mans biggest fear is that a woman will laugh at him" thing, in that someone naive and "pure" is a safer choice for their ego because they wont have anyone else to compare that man to sexually, and therefor since it's a new thing to them will be the Best Ever even if they suck at sex/"making love" in general.

This whole thing is like an onion. The more you think about it, and the more layers you peel away, the grosser and more full of maggots and rot it all is.
posted by emptythought at 3:26 PM on July 29 [36 favorites]


I kind of assumed Bruce Banner was angry about social justice in that movie. It would fit with what he was doing when they found him.
posted by poe at 3:26 PM on July 29 [15 favorites]


For example, I don't think that it's a great idea for young kids to get drunk, and no one should be pressured into drinking that doesn't want to. But a kid who is pressured into drinking for their first time and has a bad experience hasn't "lost" anything. They haven't wasted some precious resource that they should feel ashamed about not guarding well enough.

Be really careful here with where you go when you're making analogies of coerced/pressured teen sex with coerced/pressured teen drinking. It definitely made me wince, since it's like... i don't know... pretty different, and just makes me generally uncomfortable to relate.
posted by emptythought at 3:35 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


My brain was so fucked up by purity culture. My adolescence (indeed, into my 20s) was so fucked up by purity culture. I love being an adult, but there are times I wish I could get a do-over on being a teenager just so I could have normal, healthy sexual development instead of being miserable and repressed and smug and slut-shaming.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:37 PM on July 29 [20 favorites]


What is "sexual promiscuity"? Is this another of those terms with an actual definition, one that everyone agrees on, like the speed of light?

sexual promiscuity: "Someone's having more sex and with more attractive people than I do."
posted by delfin at 3:38 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


Wow and ouch! So, could someone write a list of things I should read and watch (and still be entertained), that will help undo my programming? Or, are we in the shit for the next century? Just a starter list.
posted by Flex1970 at 5:59 PM on July 29 [+] [!]


Fret not, weary time traveler! In 44 years you will be so informed that you will make this very post!
posted by Navelgazer at 3:43 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


rtha: all you did was repeat what the authors did. You ask me to define sexual promiscuity; I cannot do that. Nor do I. Nor do I necessarily make value judgments about that beyond some certain fringe cases which likely be non-controversial cases of hypersexuality under DSM-V. In other words, the type of thing you are likely angry about is not something I do or will defend.

But to carry that flag--to claim that women should not be devalued for controlling their bodies and sexual freedom--does not require you to take silly positions like claiming that it is impossible to define virginity. It most certainly can be defined. Undertake a simple thought experiment. Again, take, say Frank Jackson's Mary, who has never been touched by another person--male or female--in any form. Mary would be a virgin under the definition of "the state of never having had sexual intercourse". Irrespective of how you define sexual intercourse, it at some level requires having contact. Ergo, it would be completely understandable to every person who is familiar with the term that Mary is a virgin. That's because the term virgin has a definition. And under any good faith understanding of that definition, Mary meets it. So to say that the term is meaningless or a myth is nothing but sloppy rhetoric.

As best I can understand, the point you want to make and what these authors want to make is that non-virgins should not be treated like something bad or, at least, not deserving the same level of praise. I don't bicker with that argument at all. Problems always arise when we categorize people and treat one group as better than another group. But that argument can be made without taking the position that virginity does not exist and anyone who does think so or values it does so for the vilest of sexist reasons. I can certainly envision a well-intentioned person who believes both men and women should have only one partner in their whole lives and who also believes that for the most benign, non-sexist reasons. I also can certainly acknowledge that a lot of ill-intentioned people have abused similar arguments to really bad ends. But those ill-intentioned people do not eliminate from reality the well-intentioned one. But that is what is being done here. When people argue their cases too broadly, and too absolutely--and especially in such strident tones--it comes across as a whole of heat and not a lot of light.
posted by dios at 3:49 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


I guess that guy doesn't know that a unicorn, in sexual parlance, is a single, bisexual woman who has sex with a straight couple.

They're hard to find, too, I guess.
posted by jeoc at 3:52 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


I thought the unicorn was the wife in that situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:54 PM on July 29


I've always heard it as the bisexual third, almost exclusively a woman, but I suppose the wife fits the metaphor as well.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:56 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


When people say "there's no such thing as virginity" they do not mean "literally every human being in the world has already had sexual intercourse." Because that would be a ridiculous thing to mean.

What they mean is more like this: "Look, the concept of virginity is supposed to be able to carry a huge amount of moral and social weight. It's supposed to give us a basis for judging women's virtue and desirability, it's supposed to provide a moral center for women's lives, it's supposed to encourage women who value it to be psychologically happier and healthier, and so on and so on and so on. Well, there's no coherent concept of virginity that can actually carry all the weight that people expect it to carry."

I guess we can dicker about whether "there's no such thing as virginity" is the right way to express that message. Me, I don't much care. The message is a good one, and attacking the way it's expressed seems counterproductive.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:58 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


So to say that the term is meaningless or a myth is nothing but sloppy rhetoric.

Sure, but just because "virgin" has a definition doesn't necessarily mean anything at all. You could say that blorinatrid is a male who has never been licked by a hippopotamus and if it makes it into the lexicon, it too is defined but the only meaning it has is what we've all agreed to, and if in some cultures it's shameful to not be a blorinatrid because blorinatridism is the only way that men can be considered holy because hippopotami are awesome is just as silly as saying that women who are virgins are somehow pure.
posted by xingcat at 4:00 PM on July 29 [14 favorites]


Plus I think "pure" implies "naive", which implies "easy to control".

I've always thought purity was about ownership. So in a common parlance of sexual intercourse, if a woman has only had sex with one man, he's the only man who's "had" her. Or that he "took" her virginity. And so the less men a woman has slept with, the less men a guy has "shared" her with.
posted by barchan at 4:01 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


Undertake a simple thought experiment. Again, take, say Frank Jackson's Mary, who has never been touched by another person--male or female--in any form. Mary would be a virgin under the definition of "the state of never having had sexual intercourse". Irrespective of how you define sexual intercourse, it at some level requires having contact. Ergo, it would be completely understandable to every person who is familiar with the term that Mary is a virgin. That's because the term virgin has a definition. And under any good faith understanding of that definition, Mary meets it. So to say that the term is meaningless or a myth is nothing but sloppy rhetoric.

Okay, Mary is a virgin on this particular Monday.

Mary goes out for dinner on Tuesday with a young man, and they hold hands and hug each other at the end of the night. On Wednesday, they kiss. Thursday, with tongue, and they feel each other up. Friday, they manipulate each other's genitals manually to orgasm in the back of a car. Saturday, they pleasure each other orally. Sunday, they spend the whole day experimenting with vibrating eggs, ropes, cuffs, paddles, feathers and possibly the rest of the chicken.

Where, exactly, is Mary's virginity lost (if it is) in this thought experiment?

The biggest mistake with virginity is not the act of defining it but in defining it as a simple binary, like a circuit breaker snapping from left to right emphatically when conditions are met.
posted by delfin at 4:03 PM on July 29 [22 favorites]


My understanding is that the phrase "there's no such thing as virginity" is saying two things:

1. There is no physical, discernible state of virginity. You can't examine someone and say "yes this person is a virgin/no they are not."

2. If you define "virginity" as "the state of never having had sexual intercourse," you then have to define "sexual intercourse." Are all lesbians virgins? Does it only count when a penis goes into a vagina? If that's the case, then sure virginity exists but it's not a particularly useful concept.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 4:04 PM on July 29 [21 favorites]


silly positions like claiming that it is impossible to define virginity

Cf technical virginity. The (or at least a) silly thing about virginity is that the baggage of the term and our weird (American) notions of what is sex and what isn't make technical virginity a thing that people think about at all.
posted by immlass at 4:06 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


So I gather the hill dios is trying to die on is the one where we construct a spectrum of potential virginity, in which there exists the following sets of people:
  1. The set of people who are definitely not virgins, as the result of having been involved in some act that removes their virginities. In simpler (or more straightforwardly oppressive) times, dios would just admit that she fetishises PIV and uses having engaged in PIV as the hallmark of non-virginity.
  2. A set of people who may or may not be virgins, as the result of having performed some other types of act that may or may not have stripped them of their virginity, and finally,
  3. A hypothetical set of people who are quantifiably virgins as a result of never having engaged in any activity that may or may not have stripped them of their virginity.
The thing that dios is definitely trying to avoid here is engaging with the underlying idea that the construct of virginity isn't a particularly useful or meaningful category, and should be discarded as such.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:06 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


yeah, sure, a fictional being from a thought experiment can be defined as completely virginal since no one has ever touched her in any way, sexual or not. i'm not really sure how that's useful in a conversation about actual people with actual life experience. virginity is rarely an on/off switch. for a great many of us, virginity was more a slider bar (and if we're lucky, we keep adding notches of fun stuff we haven't done but would like to). virginity is a useless concept because the only way it has a definition is by making value judgements about what is sex and what is foreplay and the importance of that distinction.
posted by nadawi at 4:06 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I also can certainly acknowledge that a lot of ill-intentioned people have abused similar arguments to really bad ends. But those ill-intentioned people do not eliminate from reality the well-intentioned one.

Presumably, the well-intentioned person is not out there making life shittier for other people.

Virginity is a myth because we made it up: We, us, people. We are the ones who decided it has meaning - and that meaning and its import varies a ton across cultures and time. Since it's so variable, why do we treat it as a monolith, and an important one at that? Why are women literally killed for not being it? It's not something that exists in the way that the Sierra mountains in California exist. We can, and should, unmake it.

Again, take, say Frank Jackson's Mary, who has never been touched by another person--male or female--in any form.

You can't mean this literally, because I assume Mary's parents touched her. At what level of "sexual" touching does Mary's virginity vanish, never to be seen again?
posted by rtha at 4:06 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I've never gotten how virginity / purity could be a big deal for women but not for men in a society where heterosexuality was compulsory.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:07 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


It most certainly can be defined.

This researcher disagrees with you.

I think an important aspect that just because we, as a culture, can point to somebody and say "That's a virgin" doesn't mean that we have a good definition. Look at debates among people about whether or not oral sex "counts". Ditto other folks in this thread talking about issues among LGBT folks about defining "virginity" for them, because the standard is usually PIV sex (and that fact is very telling). The author of the book above mentions age- it seems odd to call a 5 year old "a virgin". See also (unfortunate) debates about rape victims, or victims of child abuse, and whether or not they're "virgins".

It's messy, and not simple.

But to carry that flag--to claim that women should not be devalued for controlling their bodies and sexual freedom--does not require you to take silly positions like claiming that it is impossible to define virginity.

But it is worthwhile to point out that our understanding of virginity is rooted in the idea that women are property; again, check out the book linked for a good outlining of that fact. The Ur-example of losing ones virginity is PIV sex, i.e., sex that can get you pregnant. And controlling this is all about making sure that no other man has impregnated "your" woman.
posted by damayanti at 4:08 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that "purity" is a marketing buzzword used by parents trying to sell merchandise, and a holdover from -- and a reason for -- the days (which unfortunately still exist in many places) when the most in-demand brides were children.

There's nothing that isn't disgusting about it, really.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:09 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Yeah, by that definition, I'm still a virgin!
posted by rtha at 4:10 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


bile and syntax - in the lessons that elizabeth smart refers to, which i went through as well, i recently learned that while us women/girls were getting the lesson about defiling our "gift" that god made for our husbands, the men were getting the same activity (chewing gum, licking cupcakes, destroying wrapping paper, etc) but the lesson was to not defile another man's gift. they were not taught that their "gift" was sacred, but rather that they needed to not "use up" another woman because they wouldn't want their wives "used up." it's really very grotesque and sickening.
posted by nadawi at 4:11 PM on July 29 [13 favorites]


We were just talking about this the other night, me and my partner and a couple of friends of ours. We are all women, and most of us are bisexual. We were talking about "virginity" and the definition - and who defines it. We talked about whether or not we sort of go back in our own histories and redefine when we "really" lost our virginity: Was it when there was a penis involved? A penis in a vagina? Does any other sex act count? Does it have to include penetration? Like that. It was interesting.

I ran into an old boyfriend (of 20 years ago) online recently and we've been catching up. For....reasons, we didn't ever do p-I-v sex while we were dating - and he didn't with the next subsequent 4 girlfriends either. And thus, I learned he considered himself to have been a virgin until 3 years AFTER we'd broken up.

I think my response was, "if you were a virgin, then what the fuck would you call what WE were doing twice a week for five months?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 PM on July 29


Why are all of dios's virgins women? One does wonder.


the underlying idea that the construct of virginity isn't a particularly useful or meaningful category, and should be discarded as such.


This is my feeling. Rather than create stupid thought experiments about untouched young women, we should realize that whatever definition is used - the concept of virginity in our society carries way too much weight and is a toxic and useless designation.

I was exactly the same person the second after I had a penis in my vagina as I was the second before. My value as a person did not change in any way. Previously to that, and after, I have had other experiences that were much more life-changing.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:13 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


About the first article. Huzzah to her attacking that stupid article.

But on the other hand, purity doesn't exist? At all?

Sexual experiences have no effect on a person at all? And anyone who claims that it does is "perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women's bodies?" Really? Or is this supposed to be some sort of hyperbolic other-side-of-the-pendulum that evens things out somehow?
posted by brenton at 4:15 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


No, sexual purity does not exist. Sex does not make one impure. It does not tarnish you. Striking back against the notion of sexual purity in no way states that sexual experiences have no effect on people.

To believe that virginity exists as something that can be "lost" for women places all of their value as a sexual object for men.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:18 PM on July 29 [36 favorites]


nadawi, I get how this works (I live in this world, I am a woman). I just never felt it stood up to any kind of logical analysis because the basis is so explicitly sexist.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:19 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


i realized the myth of virginity when everyone assured me that being molested didn't count against my virginity (although, i was still made to repent for it and pray that god would give me a husband who could overlook it). like, how can it be a real thing if my abuser did everything i was told signaled the end of virginity - how could my lack of consent change the physical act of what happened? i started to realize that it meant that for all intents and purposes virginity is in our heads and based upon how we define it (which is how you get to silly things like technical virginity and born again virgins) and not actually tied to the physical acts in a direct way.
posted by nadawi at 4:20 PM on July 29 [13 favorites]


bile and syntax - oh yeah, wasn't saying you didn't get it - was just furthering your point, that, yeah, even in the groups that heavily prioritize male and female virginity, they are still enforcing it through the pure woman trope, which shows its inherent sexism.
posted by nadawi at 4:21 PM on July 29


...Our culture deliberately socializes women to be taken in. We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they're not sexually attractive, they're nothing. They're garbage. They might as well not exist. We reinforce, over and over, that their attractiveness has an expiration date, so the only thing they can do is desperately leverage that attractiveness while they can. If they resist that conditioning, we sexualize them against their will, and if they give in to that conditioning—or worse, if they are raped by a predator—we reveal the trap: Now you're a slut, and it's your fault. Now you're tainted.

And when you point this out to people, many act (at best) like it's the regrettable but ineluctable cost of ensuring human survival. Like, the idea is that if society wasn't largely built around controlling women's bodies, humanity would literally die out.
posted by clockzero at 4:23 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


Why are all of dios's virgins women? One does wonder.

Because that is what the authors discuss if you read the links. And if you read my post, I said "I can certainly envision a well-intentioned person who believes both men and women should have only one partner in their whole lives and who also believes that for the most benign, non-sexist reasons."

Don't try to claim I am a sexist. That's bullshit on your part and I expect an apology. Shame on you.

As to those that were making good faith efforts to engage me, I am sorry, but I need to depart from this thread. When people pull bullshit like Squeak Attack just did, it is so toxic it makes my blood boil. I will depart with this simple thought: I was very clear that I agree with the idea that societal value judgments about virginity are problematic and should be criticized. My only point has been that in making that argument, it is not necessary to stridently deny a concept which seems to have an agreed upon social definition. It is a really easy argument to make that society's negative attitudes about sex are very problematic. When you start from the title making the claim that virginity is a myth (and then have to have "what you really mean" explained) it is not a good way to make your case. And couched with strident terms, it comes across as too much heat and not enough light. I have read a lot and represented victims of sexual assault and secondary victimization cases, and I am very attuned into and sympathetic to the problem of those negative societal judgments about damaged goods. So I am likely on the side of what these writers want to argue. But my point is that they are not making the case they should be making. We could go on and on about this, but as I said, I need to take a break because of Squeak Attack's offensive suggestion.
posted by dios at 4:23 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Where, exactly, is Mary's virginity lost (if it is) in this thought experiment?


When did the ball go over the fence?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:26 PM on July 29


dios, I think it would be better to interpret 'virginity is a myth' as 'virginity has no objective existence'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:27 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


a concept which seems to have an agreed upon social construct.

this is the part that isn't true, though - there isn't an agreed upon social construct. it's not just us queer people who have a fuzzy slider for virginity - lots and lots of straight people also didn't have an on/off virginity. is a guy who gets pegged by a woman a virgin? what if he's pegged by 30 women? what if he only goes down on a woman? what if she only allows penetration by sex toy. human sexuality has so much variance that there isn't an agreed upon point where someone becomes not a virgin even if a lot of people pretend that they think that point is piv sex.
posted by nadawi at 4:28 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


dios, regardless of why you're leaving the thread, all you did was repeat yourself and did not engage in any of the good faith engagements with your argument (which are much more substantial than simple "heat"-making).

it is not necessary to stridently deny a concept which seems to have an agreed upon social definition

But, it doesn't.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:28 PM on July 29 [20 favorites]


[Underage drinkers] haven't wasted some precious resource that they should feel ashamed about not guarding well enough.

Well, maybe a few brain cells.

I don't think I have anything substantive or helpful to add to the topic of this FPP besides my sympathies to those people who were screwed up by "purity" culture. I was raised in a pretty fundamentalist Christian tradition, but I was raised a man in that tradition, and one so obviously ill-equipped for romance that (if memory serves) I hardly received even the young men's equivalent to that indoctrination.

It helped, I think, that my supposed male role models in that tradition all proved to be hypocrites where sexual purity was concerned. They may have talked a good game, but as the designated free tech support guy for pretty much every congregation I attended I saw their bookmark bars and their browser histories... and it was quite an education.

Since it was led by inaction rather than considered thought my process of apostasy was slow and haphazard, but judgments of sexual (im)purity were among the easiest to shed. I had far more difficulty with homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion.
posted by The Confessor at 4:29 PM on July 29


To believe that virginity exists as something that can be "lost" for women places all of their value as a sexual object for men.

Absolutely. I am trying to think of any other activity that humans engage in regularly, where one's status is irrevocably changed because of engaging in that activity a single time. Every other activity I can think of, there is a learning phase where everyone understands you are a beginning, and you keep your "beginner" status for a while, whether it's swimming, or cooking, or driving a car. But sex is different. Somehow a woman's status is inalterably changed just because on one single occasion a man put his penis in her vagina. If that isn't the most man-centric, patriarchal notion out there, I don't know what is.
posted by ambrosia at 4:30 PM on July 29 [32 favorites]


Just because something is a myth/not real doesn't mean it has no effect on society or our individual lives. Lots of fictional constructs affect us on a regular basis, from religious figures to, as previously mentioned, Bruce Banner.

And dear good, dios, talk about whiny man-flouncing. Please keep in mind that these are issues that affect women's lives on a daily basis, that are used to devalue us, shame us and justify abusing us, and you're throwing a mantrum because someone called you a sexist like that's the worst thing that could possibly happen. If I threw a fit and demanded an apology every time someone suggested that my value hinged on my sexuality, I'd still be standing in my high school, yelling about long-ago slights. Have some goddamn perspective.
posted by NoraReed at 4:38 PM on July 29 [50 favorites]


There was a question on the green recently asking for advice by a woman whose 15-year-old daughter was having consensual sex with a loving, long-term boyfriend. Most of the advice was in the vein of "keep the lines of communication open" and "make sure she has access to BC and safer sex info and items." But there was at least one person chiming in with stuff about how having sex had "pushed the eject button" on her childhood prematurely, and that she was going to be missing a bunch of important childhood experiences because of sex.

The language wasn't gendered, but it was definitely carrying the messages about purity. It was sort of a neat rhetorical trick - it isn't that sex makes women dirty, but you lose childhood! Once you have sex, all your "childhood" disappears! Once it is gone, you can't get your special "childhood" back, so you have to be careful to protect it!
Also, you're a slut. FYI.
posted by jeoc at 4:45 PM on July 29 [29 favorites]


There's always the Mojo Nixon rule: "If there's jism, it's sex."
posted by delfin at 4:45 PM on July 29


There's always the Mojo Nixon rule: "If there's jism, it's sex."

Oh, I guess lesbians don't have sex then? Or if a woman climaxes and the man doesn't, it wasn't sex?

dios, I apologize for being snarky. I was irked at your saying, "This strikes me as a case of not thinking critically enough about the real issues and instead raging in a shotgun approach to a whole topic while preaching to the choir" which seemed like a tone argument and also like you hadn't read the articles very well.

"Virginity doesn't exist" is shorthand for, "Virginity as a concept was invented as an attempt to control (female) sexuality. It’s just an idea. And ideas can change." (From the 4 Myths link)
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:51 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


It helped, I think, that my supposed male role models in that tradition all proved to be hypocrites where sexual purity was concerned. They may have talked a good game, but as the designated free tech support guy for pretty much every congregation I attended I saw their bookmark bars and their browser histories... and it was quite an education.

I was also raised in that tradition, but my role models actually lived up to the standards they espoused (the sole exception was one I dearly hated, and when it was exposed to the church and they were driven out by the congregation, I interpreted that as basically God agreeing with my opinion). For whatever it's worth, from what I can tell based on old friends who escaped like I did, it actually makes the deprogramming phase a lot harder.

Also, I'll say this much in dios' defense: there is a pretty significant portion of the US population, culturally anathema to Metafilter, for whom all of those terms have extremely clear, precise definitions borne of their religious beliefs. That doesn't mean that they're not full of patriarchal bullshit, but they most certainly exist (or else we wouldn't need articles like this).
posted by Ryvar at 4:52 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


If these terms had "extremely clear, precise definitions borne of their religious beliefs", there wouldn't be so much ambiguity about which kinds of non-PIV sex "count" and which don't.

Also, please keep in mind while discussing these things that not all women have vaginas and not all men have penises.
posted by NoraReed at 4:56 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


"Virginity" is a myth because it is a term that insists on a binary distinction in a world of ambigious definitions. The sorites paradox does not prove that heaps are mythical, just that they are hard to define. Ill-defined heaps still have conceptual significance, usefulness and applicability.

However, the sorites paradox does prove that virginity is mythical, because if you cannot define the hard edges of that term, if there is no bright line that can be drawn, then the notion of virginity is fundamentally undermined. Virginity is not conceptually predicated on there being some virgins, some sort-of-virgins and some non-virgins, it derives its entire significance from the misconception that virginity/non-virginity is a binary distinction.
posted by howfar at 4:57 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


If these terms had "extremely clear, precise definitions borne of their religious beliefs", there wouldn't be so much ambiguity about which kinds of non-PIV sex "count" and which don't.

There was never any ambiguity about that at any point in my entire upbringing, for myself or anybody I knew. If a penis entered a body cavity, it was loss of virginity and immediate guaranteed lifelong "not according to God's plan" status for both participants. This was part of the health curriculum for 5th grade, in standardized textbooks used by all of the local private Christian schools (we kids all shared the same privatized bus system).

This doesn't make it anything less than wholly offensive in an external context, but I do agree with dios that you can't simply claim that there isn't a huge and mercifully-dying-out segment of the population for whom those terms absolutely have set, deeply atavistic definitions.
posted by Ryvar at 5:08 PM on July 29


So cisgender gay sex didn't count?
posted by NoraReed at 5:10 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Well, male handling of men's genitals and anything involving cis lesbians, I guess.
posted by NoraReed at 5:10 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


"There exist people who consider the term virgin meaningful and empirically determinable" doesn't remotely contradict the statement "virginity is a myth."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:11 PM on July 29 [11 favorites]


Of course it did! Anal or oral was loss of virginity regardless of gender. Sword-fighting (joked about but never admitted to by anyone) would not have been.
posted by Ryvar at 5:11 PM on July 29


mantrum

That is my new favorite word.

If a penis entered a body cavity, it was loss of virginity and immediate guaranteed lifelong "not according to God's plan" status for both participants.

But even with that, I can guarantee there was a gradation: penis in vadge would be more devirginating than penis in mouth, say. And would penis in ear devirginate anyone?
posted by Dip Flash at 5:11 PM on July 29


Of course it did! Anal or oral was loss of virginity regardless of gender. Sword-fighting (joked about but never admitted to by anyone) would not have been.

Weird. And the kids didn't come up with their own ideas about what "does" and "doesn't" count, in order to participate in the "okay" forms of outercourse? They stuck to it?

ALSO, FUN FACT: "penis fencing" is actually a legitimate term used by people who study bonobos for a thing bonobos do
posted by NoraReed at 5:16 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


And would penis in ear devirginate anyone?

Iggy Pop may have an opinion...
posted by bile and syntax at 5:16 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


You Can't Tip A Buick: You're right - it doesn't contradict it at all, and I'm not claiming that nor am I interested in acting as a cultural whipping boy when I agree with the general spirit of the article. I'm simply saying that, hey, my entire extended family and everyone I knew before leaving for college lived with a very explicit set of definitions for those things, is all, and given that there were standardized textbooks for both Bible and Health class used by every private Christian school I was aware of, I have to assume they constitute a large enough segment of the population to be worth manufacturing standardized textbooks for...

And would penis in ear devirginate anyone?

That was one of my favorite jokes at age 14. No lie.

Weird. And the kids didn't come up with their own ideas about what "does" and "doesn't" count, in order to participate in the "okay" forms of outercourse? They stuck to it?

Everyone I knew, at least, did - myself and most of my male friends were expert at cunnilingus long before graduating high school.

ALSO, FUN FACT: "penis fencing" is actually a legitimate term used by people who study bonobos for a thing bonobos do

Yep. I was a cognitive science student fresh out of that cultural enclave, and bonobos were hilarious.
posted by Ryvar at 5:18 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


PENIS FENCING

I remember we got a totally unsanctioned but great sex ed lecture in my drama class-- the counselor who was cool about that sort of thing came in and put a condom over his arm to show us that any dude who says he's too big for condoms is lying, among other things-- and it involved him saying that there are basically three orifices that could be used sexually and someone made a joke about other orifices and he said, deadpan, that nasal sex was rather uncommon.
posted by NoraReed at 5:22 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


"I know it when I see it."

Justice Stewart's infamous statement about porn applies just as well to virginity in this discussion. (Although, as mentioned above, there is no "seeing" it.)

So: "I [member of the establishment, a white, cis, het male, land owning and educated] will know it [morality thing that needs moralizing about] when I see it."

In order to accept that there is a common social definition of "virginity" one must first accept the premise that the establishment is appropriately positioned to determine a persons value based on "knowing it when they see it."

I personally reject that premise.
posted by susiswimmer at 5:22 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Historical notions of virginity have about as much to do with the purity nuts as traditional notions of marriage have with the modern institution.

It was only ever a thing because it clouded inheritance for patrilineal royalty. So for the folks who invented the concept, oral sex did not count, anal sex did not count, gay sex did not count, masturbation did not count, and sex with eunuchs didn't count.

It was also not considered terribly important for commoners who were not in the habit of conferring rulership of kingdoms based on the identity of a child's sperm donor.

Everything else "virginal" is land grabs by people interested in maximizing procreation (like the ancient Hebrews) or in using sexual feelings as tools for social control and manipulation.
posted by localroger at 5:23 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


If a penis entered a body cavity, it was loss of virginity

I'm not being facetious here. What if you were, for example, sucking poison from someone's flaccid penis in order to save their life? Would that count as virginity loss? What if it were a surgically constructed penis? What if it were the penis of a corpse? What if it you were eating the penis of a corpse because you were stuck on a mountain-top with a Uruguayan rugby team? These may be unlikely, but they're possibilities.

No matter how rigid one thinks one's lines are, there are always edge-cases and conceptual ambiguities. Such ambiguities render virginity meaningless and mythical.
posted by howfar at 5:24 PM on July 29


howfar: I'll preface by saying that I agree that virginity as a concept is both completely ill-defined and a tool for control that needs to be demolished.

However, were I to think back to how I viewed the matter as a teenager, all of your examples are pretty easily answered by simply examining whether the nature of the contact was at all sexual. Poison to save a life? No. Surgically constructed penis, for sexual purposes? Yes. Penis of a corpse? Yes and probable exorcism/being driven out of the congregation. Phallic consumption as last-resort food source? No, hardly sexual.

I can never tell if this is all actually pretty straightforward, or if it's just that their programming was really that effective.
posted by Ryvar at 5:32 PM on July 29


When I was a kid, the "purity" of the girl wasn't a thing. Neither was "sluts". In fact it never entered my teenage boy or young adult brain to "take" a girl's virginity. From my perspective, I'd want a partner with some experience. And maybe it was the time in which I grew up or where I grew up, but the whole "saving it for marriage" was never really a thing either. Well, there were the mormon kids but most people of my youth didn't seem so hung up about virginity and purity.

As I get older and I hear things about "purity balls" and that some girls wish to remain virgins but are OK with anal because their vagina has not been entered so they're still pure like the blessed virgin Mary. It just makes no sense to me.

Maybe it was the hippy teachers and family that taught me that women are equal to men and sex isn't dirty.
posted by birdherder at 5:32 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I am surprised that this conversation has come to dwell so deeply upon the concept of virginity, because to my memory (writing, again, as someone raised in a fundamentalist tradition) it was always considered secondary to, and indeed a distraction from, maintaining one's innocence. I'll leave quoting chapter-and-verse to someone else, but a big focus of New Testament doctrine of personal conduct is that a sin considered, a sin imagined, is as spiritually injurious as a sin carried out.

So when it comes to the concept of purity and virginity, here is what we were told. My vocabulary probably comes from Focus on the Family magazines and tracts, which I consumed religiously (yes, I see what I did there too; now move on.) in those days, but I don't recall the substance ever being contradicted by Sunday School or Youth Group leaders. posted by The Confessor at 5:37 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


that is definitely what the mormons were taught, The Confessor. i actually still have my book on dating (from first date to chosen mate) which shows the funnel of temptation - pretty much exactly follows your list, with each step being more impossible to step back from - with an extra dose of, 'women if you go down the funnel don't be surprised when an unworthy man "can't" stop.'
posted by nadawi at 5:42 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


TIL I'm a unicorn.
posted by _paegan_ at 5:45 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The Confessor: yeah, Focus on the Family in some ways defined the cultural values more than the Bible when I was a kid, too. Sorry you had to go through that.

The "clothes come off, you've lost the battle" was generally because nudity usually lead to penetrative sex regardless of the faith (in this case meaning imaginary moral willpower) of the participants.

My friends and I all thought we were the shit for having gone down on girls without getting laid, which due to its anti-patriarchal connotations remains one of the most hilarious and deeply fucked-up bits of the whole thing.
posted by Ryvar at 5:48 PM on July 29


Ryvar: Absolutely. I recognise that you're not attempting to defend this notion of virginity.

all of your examples are pretty easily answered by simply examining whether the nature of the contact was at all sexual.

I think this is interesting, because it seems, to me, to lead us into even more ambiguous territory. What was presented to you as a clear-cut binary distinction (penis in or out?) was, it appears, actually dependent upon the abstract, culturally constructed notion of "sexuality". And this is really the heart of virginity's conceptual problem, it depends on there being clear and unambiguous edges to sexuality and sexual conduct, when no such edges actually exist, even for those who believe that they do.

I would argue that the very nature of language and signification are such that attempts to construct binary oppositions like virgin/non-virgin are necessarily undermined. Our existing power-structures are, of course, entirely predicated upon drawing this kind of intellectually insupportable distinction. The reason that the critique of virginity as a myth is more than just "sloppy rhetoric" is that a key occupation of radical criticism should be highlighting such oppositions and exposing them to appropriate conceptual rigour.
posted by howfar at 6:02 PM on July 29


I can never tell if this is all actually pretty straightforward, or if it's just that their programming was really that effective.

100% programming. At my public Southern high school, full of conservative Christians, oral sex did not in any way count, in mainstream opinion, as a virginity-ending activity.
posted by jaguar at 6:04 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I am surprised that this conversation has come to dwell so deeply upon the concept of virginity, because to my memory (writing, again, as someone raised in a fundamentalist tradition) it was always considered secondary to, and indeed a distraction from, maintaining one's innocence.

I was raised with Focus on the Family too, and innocence was always the Big Deal in my family too, like keep even your thoughts pure kind of stuff.

It was always a contention with the less Fundamentalist/Evangelical kids in high school, who made flagrant use of the Anal Sex Loophole.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:06 PM on July 29


I feel like as a child of the 90s/barely milleniel the idea that oral sex is sex just seems ludicrous and silly.

I mean I realize I'm ludicrous and silly for thinking that and that it basically just ignores huge segments of the populations and the huge variety of sexual expression out there, but still on a visceral level I'm like oral sex is the 3-2 beer of sex. It's just so ingrained in me from growing up these hard and fast rules regarding virginity and the many, many loopholes one could more freely explore without either the guilt or judgment. But the lines are pretty arbitrarily drawn except in the sense you aren't risking pregnancy.
posted by whoaali at 6:12 PM on July 29


What was presented to you as a clear-cut binary distinction (penis in or out?) was, it appears, actually dependent upon the abstract, culturally constructed notion of "sexuality". And this is really the heart of virginity's conceptual problem, it depends on there being clear and unambiguous edges to sexuality and sexual conduct, when no such edges actually exist, even for those who believe that they do.

Those notions seem a lot less abstract when you *truly* believe in an omniscient judge of all your thoughts and actions who can read the inner turnings of your most secret motivations as easily as a book, which leads to fanatical self-policing efforts. See also The Confessor's comment "God is not fooled by Clinton-style prevarications." - which would invariably, in this sort of discussion among that sort of crowd, be followed by someone quoting Galatians 6:7...
posted by Ryvar at 6:15 PM on July 29


But the lines are pretty arbitrarily drawn except in the sense you aren't risking pregnancy.

So is sex with a condom less de-virginizing than without? What about with an IUD, or tubal ligation, or vasectomy? If there's no penetration but sperm finds its way into the vagina and a pregnancy happens, what then? Even "risk of pregnancy" is a rather arbitrary distinction.
posted by jaguar at 6:17 PM on July 29


Those notions seem a lot less abstract when you *truly* believe in an omniscient judge of all your thoughts and actions who can read the inner turnings of your most secret motivations as easily as a book

Absolutely. I don't doubt that people believe in the reality of virginity, but I do believe that it's an intellectually incoherent position. My position is that I do not believe that it is possible to offer a clear-cut, non-ambiguous definition of "sexual", and that anyone who claims they can is incorrect, not just on my terms, but necessarily on their own terms too.

As stated above, the reason I think ambiguity is fundamental to the general claim that "virginity is a myth" is not that I believe that ambiguity renders things meaningless (I don't), but because the notion of virginity, specifically, is dependent upon the denial of its own inherent ambiguities.
posted by howfar at 6:31 PM on July 29


I agree with you 100%, although as is frequently the case I'm left a little disappointed by this thread because I keep hoping I'll find something new to try on my family next time I see them - and for that purpose ambiguity doesn't cut it because of the whole Revealed Truth thing. Bleh. Thanks, though.
posted by Ryvar at 6:41 PM on July 29


I guess that guy doesn't know that a unicorn, in sexual parlance, is...

I didn't know that either.

At a sexuality forum where I used to hang out, the area for androgynes/non-binary gender variant people was nicknamed the Unicorn Forest because we were supposedly mythical and rare. Occasionally people would address us with "hey unicorns..."
posted by Foosnark at 6:42 PM on July 29


"That's because the term virgin has a definition. And under any good faith understanding of that definition, Mary meets it. So to say that the term is meaningless or a myth is nothing but sloppy rhetoric."

I think you're having two forms of difficulty here. First, you're not recognizing the colloquial; "doesn't have a definition" can be read as either the literal, "There exists no descriptive account of this word's usage" or "This term does not have a coherent or meaningful definition." A similar, related phenomena would be someone saying that there's no definition of marriage, by which they mean there's no one definition of marriage, but rather many. Secondly, the definition is implicitly binary for a non-binary term, something that I think you should be able to grasp — because of the lack of a clear edge for "not-virgin," "virgin" loses utility as a term.
posted by klangklangston at 6:44 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


And the only sadness I would feel toward the idea of sexual purity being deprecated is how much fun it is to lose it. I can't be the only person who saw the Web 0.5 purity tests as a checklist.
posted by klangklangston at 6:47 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]


"I agree with you 100%, although as is frequently the case I'm left a little disappointed by this thread because I keep hoping I'll find something new to try on my family next time I see them - and for that purpose ambiguity doesn't cut it because of the whole Revealed Truth thing. Bleh. Thanks, though."

I don't think that "virginity" is ever defined in the Bible; it rests on cultural assumptions. Even when it is used as a synonym for "never lain with a man," that "lain with a man" isn't defined. It's entirely implied and understood that it means sexual intercourse, but that's not a "revealed truth," that's an interpretation of man.

I will say that this thread is a giant example of something Jonathan Haidt harps on about liberals not valuing purity (except in food) as a moral precept.
posted by klangklangston at 6:51 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I am a woman. I have given birth to two children, a boy and a girl. I have had sex with many men, joyfully. Loudly, even. Passionately, with some of them. That is my nature as a human being.

Before that, I used a tampon. No man ever asked me, "did you use a tampon?" No. They just wanted to have sex with me. Virginity? Come on. I will fling my virginity to the Universe and ask if it cares. It doesn't. Only men care if I am a virgin. Women never care. I have never met a woman who cared if I were a virgin. My husband doesn't care. But then again he was never raised with any religion. Thank goodness, he is a free thinker, can you imagine, ladies, being married to a guy who was not raised in any religious order? It's pretty cool, actually. No judgment on anything, whatsoever, cleaning, cooking, clothes you wear, etc., just a guy who is all casual and loves you and appreciates you as you are.

Thank god the law doesn't prevent me from having sexy sex with anyone I choose despite the virginity purity laws of popular cults.

And someone who grew up in this culture agrees.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:05 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


And would penis in ear devirginate anyone?

Depends on whether you think aural sex counts as intercourse.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:05 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm an old-fashioned, secular 70's kid, but in my high school days in the late '80s nobody gave a hoot about virginity (except of course losing it). The subject of this OP is a completely new thing for 43-year-old me. I am suitably shocked!
posted by KokuRyu at 7:26 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Jaguar: that's really what I'm trying to say. No risk of pregnancy seems to be the only vague common denominator as to what is and is not *sex* but clearly that falls down too upon any closer inspection.
posted by whoaali at 7:54 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


And you can find a woman who has never kissed or been touched by another person,

This is utterly confusing to me. You literally can not find a woman who has never kissed or been touched by another person. That doesn't exist. There aren't any women who were incubated in vats and raised by robots. So what is this statement supposed to mean?

This is not an attempt to harp on dios or be snarky, I know he's stepped out. I'm genuinely confused.
posted by medusa at 7:59 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


> > it is not necessary to stridently deny a concept which seems to have an agreed upon social definition

> But, it doesn't.


Yeah, similarly to what other people in this thread have said, I've gotten into really intractable arguments about whether a gay man who's only had oral sex is "a virgin." If you ask people to explain their reasoning, it becomes clear that the issue is parsing what counts as sex, and that seems to me to be couched much more in emotional than logical or definitional terms: i.e., whether a particular sex act seems more meaningful (either for that person or for most people) or more casual. And these things change substantially over time: oral sex used to be considered very intimate and now it is much more casual, for instance.

Even beyond oral sex, what about non-penetrative sex, or even sex acts that don't involve touching? How far away do you have to be from your sexual partner before it doesn't "count"? What if you're watching each other in the same room and almost touching? What if you're ten feet apart? What if you're both on webcams?
posted by en forme de poire at 8:00 PM on July 29


I grew up with some of this stuff, but as a male I escaped most of the really bad effects. Focus on the Family was a really big deal, though, and virginity was tacitly understood in PIV terms.

Then one year all of us high-schoolers had a summer-long sunday-school series on sexuality and purity, and the teacher was considered pretty liberal for teaching the guys and girls at the same time, and with the same message; purity was important no matter what your gender and we were all equally responsible for saying No because you never knew which person in the relationship might be more tempted on any given occasion. (Of course it was taken for granted that a "relationship" was one guy and one girl.) Sexual feelings were inevitable, but we were expected to control them, and couples were expected to be honest with each other about such things and help each other stay pure.

"Pure" meant no touching (even holding hands was considered iffy) and no kissing (except MAYBE if you were engaged.) All this supposedly meant that once you got married, sex would be this wonderful, passionate, special joy, but only if you were both pure when you said your vows. ("virginity" didn't really enter into the discussion, other than via implication that purity was better and more important.)

This was pretty far out for the culture, yet still pretty messed up in so many ways.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 8:02 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I have learned a lot from this thread. I really had no idea of the details of fundie christian sexual mores, especially for women. And now I am musing on the cultural relationships between virginity, purity, and is it women enforcing on each other the gold star lesbian concept (which I have had way more conversations about than I ever wanted to).
posted by Dreidl at 8:20 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


There's a quote rolling around Tumblr that says something like, "If you find a woman dirty after you've touched her, then you should look at your own hands."
posted by FunkyHelix at 9:12 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


But at the same time, we also have to communicate that, "Okay, even though we've just devalued this idea of'purity' -- it's not the biggest marker of your morality anymore, and it's not that big of a thing -- it's still not okay for someone to take it away from you without your wanting to give it."

Ok, here's the thing. If the idea becomes "it's not ok to take away your purity" than once a woman has sex, she is no longer pure, and thus is "un-rapable" under the standards of purity. The problem with the idea that there is a purity to be lost, instead of the idea that women deserve control over our own bodies and aren't presumed to be available sexually to anyone else ever, under any circumstances, without our consent.

This idea that there are "unrapable" women largely serves men with power who want sex without taking into account the other person. A chunk of racist sexism black women have to endure is the assumption that they are somehow more sexual than white women, and that having sex with (and children by) them doesn't count; during open slavery in the US, men sold their own children and considered themselves godly. Now the idea is used to make some women disposable and unimportant, and to protect the lives and reputations of men, often white men. There is, as I've sad many times before, a reason that serial rapists and serial killers target prostitutes.

I think that there are places for the purity/disgust dichotomy; I know it informs a certain amount of my morality - largely centered around aesthetics and food. The history of defining womens' bodies as "pure" or "unpure"; as "virgin" or "mother" or "whore" is about removing agency from the person inside of the woman's body, though. It's not really about purity; it's about control - the purity language is a smoke-screen.

I don't belong to a religion which has a concept of purity so far as I can discover - we are the religion where our ritual tools can be used to pound in tent spikes - but I've interacted with many, and all of the ones I know of have ways to lose then regain purity. E.G. purity was a temporary state, and usually one which implied a certain connection with god(s). Often salt or sage is involved; I use camphor and salt for my non-religious, purity-making needs.

Virginity, in terms of the greater concept of purity, is really, really strange because it isn't a state or thing to be re-entered into after something gross happened; it's literally priming women to react to our own bodies as if they are gross, with no return-to-holiness ability. It doesn't fit, in my experience, with concepts of purity in other cultures that have such concepts.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:14 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I was irked at your saying, "This strikes me as a case of not thinking critically enough about the real issues and instead raging in a shotgun approach to a whole topic while preaching to the choir" which seemed like a tone argument and also like you hadn't read the articles very well.

(CTRL+F, "Strident")

But those ill-intentioned people do not eliminate from reality the well-intentioned one. But that is what is being done here. When people argue their cases too broadly, and too absolutely--and especially in such strident tones--it comes across as a whole of heat and not a lot of light.

Mhm
posted by aydeejones at 11:40 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


"Maybe I'm an old-fashioned, secular 70's kid, but in my high school days in the late '80s nobody gave a hoot about virginity (except of course losing it). The subject of this OP is a completely new thing for 43-year-old me. I am suitably shocked!"

Things like that really are heterogenous though. In my school system in Ann Arbor, we got a dispassionate, accurate account of sex ed, and while there were some weird religious families (including someone who was a cool, fun theater kid that turned out to be a charismatic Catholic and was speaking in tongues on weekends) I'd probably have said something similar to you.

But my cousins got hit hard with the purity shit, which fit my aunt and uncle's relationship model where he was an unrepentant horndog who bought her things when he cheated. She laid the whole "white dress" thing down pretty hard on one of my cousins (the girl), who did the right thing and spent her teenage years as a pimply goth in ill-fitting, unforgiving velvet.

If you think back, you can probably remember people like this, especially if you lived in the 'burbs.

Something that I do think is also happening is that a lot of these communities of reactionary Christism used to be really isolated, so if you didn't share their values you didn't ever really have to interact with them. But as the internet has spread, that means that their kids have a lot more exposure to the world and reactionaries gonna react, you know? So they're trying to push back through bluster like puffed-up roosters and at the same time, they're more exposed for people to either have their values affirmed or challenged.

Even beyond oral sex, what about non-penetrative sex, or even sex acts that don't involve touching? How far away do you have to be from your sexual partner before it doesn't "count"? What if you're watching each other in the same room and almost touching? What if you're ten feet apart? What if you're both on webcams?

That is a good answer to Dios — cybersex has no touching. Are cybervirgins virgins? How about, say, vinyl suit frotteurists? It can't just be having a second party stimulate your genitals to climax, because that includes oral sex, fingerbanging and several French arts. Is it mutual genital contact?

College didn't prepare me for much, but I did learn sexual taxonomy. Pretty much the Linnaeus of fucking.*

*liked teeth and teats, blood feud with a buffoon
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 PM on July 29


And the only sadness I would feel toward the idea of sexual purity being deprecated is how much fun it is to lose it. I can't be the only person who saw the Web 0.5 purity tests as a checklist.

Yes, in my upbringing it was a goal for nearly everyone to lose it by high school graduation, but there was no prodding or shame about it in my circles, like people asking "How 'bout now" didn't happen and most of my friends in high school were middle school horn-dogs who got it over with then. Nor was there shame about masturbation, which was interesting after the middle school "terrifyingly embarrassed nobody admits or talks about it ever" phase
posted by aydeejones at 11:48 PM on July 29


And by "lose it" I do mean PIV, it's ingrained that virginity involves some penetration by an object, no matter who is involved, sexual orientation, etc. We certainly had a few gay friends who were coming out and we all assumed PIA "counted" too, but it wasn't a particularly hardcore-Christian demographic and there was no rationalizing going on about anything else. "Everything else" was actually what people really bragged about, PIV was just fuckin'
posted by aydeejones at 11:51 PM on July 29


What are we going to do when the major religions of the world realize that if they just focus on Vagina Patrolling they can actually get along pretty well and combine forces?
posted by Legomancer at 5:47 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


I feel like the arguing over whether or not virginity has a clear definition is kind of pointless. Murder doesn't have a simple easy definition (which is part of the reason the legal system basically has a big complicated set of crimes that boil down to a spectrum that goes from kind of murder to definitely 100% murder), but it's still a useful concept to be able to include in your own ethical framework. Whereas virginity and purity don't really line up to things that are actually important outside of the concepts themselves, and people treat the made-up parts of the concepts as more important than the actual real life things they are related to.

Many people in this thread have said that growing up they thought of virginity in terms of something they wanted to lose, and even that is a weird unnecessary way of thinking about sex. If you really want to experience sex, it should be because you want to experience physical intimacy itself and all that it actually entails, not because you want to get rid of your "haven't had sex yet" label. I've seen a lot of questions on AskMe about people who are virgins into adulthood and feel that they are fundamentally different than people who are not virgins, and inevitably there is someone who offers the advice of paying for a prostitute to "get it over with" or whatever. To me it makes no sense to make a big distinction between someone who has had zero experience with sex and someone who has had only a small amount of experience. It's like if someone was concerned that they retained their "never traveled outside of the US" label and people suggested driving over the border to Canada for an hour and then driving right back to get it over with. It completely misses the point of why people do it, what they get from it, and what they learn in the process. We give virginity and purity way too much power as concepts and it clouds the actual issues that are useful to think about regarding sex.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:21 AM on July 30 [13 favorites]


I know a couple of women whose parents gave them this advice almost verbatim:

Why buy a cow when you can get milk for free?
posted by bukvich at 9:23 AM on July 30


I have a friend whose mother used to do the whole cow/milk/free thing about her live in boyfriend. I think it stopped after she finally replied, "Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage?"
posted by foxfirefey at 9:32 AM on July 30 [24 favorites]


We give virginity and purity way too much power as concepts and it clouds the actual issues that are useful to think about regarding sex.

I agree with this, but the flip side is that we accord sexual experience, the opposite of virginity, as bestowing all sorts of virtue and life experience and wisdom. And whatever you do in bed, however often, and with whom, that also does not make one smarter, or better, or better informed, or superior in any way.

Doesn't "purity" view sex as more than a physical act, as something spiritual, something important? This thread spits on that notion. But if women AND men aren't to be defined by their bodies or what they do with them, those who believe sex is special and best reserved for the one you love, and perhaps marriage - who think that sex prior to or outside of marriage makes less special this thing they want to share with and only with the person they connect with on the deepest of levels - so long as they're not judging you, ought to be accorded the same respect as those who insist that there's no such thing as "virginity."
posted by kgasmart at 2:29 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I agree with this, but the flip side is that we accord sexual experience, the opposite of virginity, as bestowing all sorts of virtue and life experience and wisdom.

No, the flip side is not regarding sexual experience as being all that important in the overall scheme of things, Most people find food neither repulsive nor spiritual, just pleasant and fun and important to but not the only thing in a healthy life. Why is sex different?

If you want to regard sex as being all that special, whether from the purity standpoint or because your life's dream is to become a porn star, you should be prepared to be regarded as a little weird, like the person who sorts by food above all else.
posted by localroger at 3:36 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Doesn't "purity" view sex as more than a physical act, as something spiritual, something important?

Look, the opposite of purity is impurity, How can you not get how corrosive that notion is? If you're in this topic defending the concept of purity in regards to sex, have you ever really thought deeply about the word impurity?

There's nothing spiritual about labeling a natural, physical act as impure, or claiming that the act makes people, mostly women, diminished in value or tainted in some essential way.

I'm all for individuals exercising their choice to be extremely selective about sexual partners as long as they don't need to claim that people who are selective in different ways are unclean, immoral, filthy, dirty, or profaned.

I'm also all for people limiting their sexual partners if they don't also then insist that their way is correct and use all the religious, political, and social power they can muster to enforce their lifestyle choices on others.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:49 PM on July 30 [13 favorites]


"And whatever you do in bed, however often, and with whom, that also does not make one smarter, or better, or better informed, or superior in any way."

Are you sure you're doing it right?
posted by klangklangston at 4:36 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Doesn't "purity" view sex as more than a physical act, as something spiritual, something important? This thread spits on that notion.

No it doesn't and no it doesn't.

The notion of sexual purity implies that sex is fundamentally corrupting, that it is important for all the wrong reasons. Important like the devil is important. The notion of purity denigrates sexuality.

On the second point, acknowledging that sex is an ordinary human activity doesn't spit on its beauty, rather to the contrary, I think.

The food comparison is an apt one. I cook for many reasons and in many ways. Sometimes my cooking is base, carnal and selfish. Sometimes I fry a pound of bacon and have it with bread and butter and ketchup and I like it. On the other hand, sometimes I cook for beauty and artistry, and spend hours in the kitchen, simply for the satisfaction of doing something as well as I can.

But I also cook for, and with, those I love. Then, sometimes, cooking can be, in its limited and contingent way, an expression of everything that we mean to each other. It contains a little of all that is good and joyful and right. The act of cooking itself is not special, and I do not need to abstain from other types of cookery in order to have this experience. I just need to cook with, and in, love.

Acknowledging that ordinary activities are ordinary doesn't rob them of their importance, it just avoids their fetishisation. I think doing so enables us to appreciate them and their significance more fully.
posted by howfar at 5:42 PM on July 30 [24 favorites]


howfar said what I meant to say better than I said it.
posted by localroger at 6:10 PM on July 30


im not letting my kids eat before marriage
posted by klangklangston at 6:42 PM on July 30 [8 favorites]


I don't think anyone brought this up, and I'm genuinely curious to hear from former purity culture folks. What about masturbation? I mean, its clearly a sexual experience. How, and to whom does one lose thier virginity in that case?
posted by herda05 at 1:45 AM on July 31


I am not a former purity culture folk, but I believe masturbation is seen as a sin since it is seeking physical pleasure without a spiritual component (the spiritual component in sex being procreation). Usually, the story of Onan is cited, as god was mad at him for "spilling his seed"; usually they seem to ignore that god was mad because Onan was refusing to impregnate his brother's wife after his brother died.

As for women, whose "seed" as it were spills monthly whether we masturbate or not, I believe "women don't like sex" covers the fact we certainly never masturbate.

Doesn't "purity" view sex as more than a physical act, as something spiritual, something important?

Based on the "chewed piece of gum," "uncovered meat", "candy bar other people took a bite out of", etc... analogies for women's "impure" bodies, I'd be inclined to go with a big bowl of no.

I think there are contexts in which that might be the case - Sex is a Mitzvah on the Sabbath, after all - but "purity" as it is used in this context is a far cry from purity anywhere else I've run into it. It's an on/off switch for women's bodies; when we have it we're valuable, and when we don't we're not - and we don't get to decide whether or not we have it; that's for old men who might want to inspect our vulva and vagina.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:11 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


"As for women, whose "seed" as it were spills monthly whether we masturbate or not, I believe "women don't like sex" covers the fact we certainly never masturbate."

Which is a weird Victorian-era switch, as prior to that it was the man's responsibility to be chaste and women were assumed to generally be the sexual aggressors.
posted by klangklangston at 10:05 AM on July 31


I don't think anyone brought this up, and I'm genuinely curious to hear from former purity culture folks. What about masturbation? I mean, its clearly a sexual experience. How, and to whom does one lose thier virginity in that case?

I am not a former purity culture folk, but I believe masturbation is seen as a sin since it is seeking physical pleasure without a spiritual component (the spiritual component in sex being procreation). Usually, the story of Onan is cited, as god was mad at him for "spilling his seed"; usually they seem to ignore that god was mad because Onan was refusing to impregnate his brother's wife after his brother died.

This is something that actually varies greatly church-to-church/Christian-school-to-Christian-school.

The church my family attends actually took, relative to all the other kids in the regional private school bus system, an extremely relaxed view on this topic -holding that Onan's actual sin was rebellion against God's clearly-expressed wishes with regard to impregnating his late brother's wife, not the nature of the act itself.

Masturbation was therefore a-okay and expected, provided you were able to do so without committing the sin of lust against a particular individual - I'm assuming that a certain amount of failure on that point (much like with lying) was expected as a matter of course.

Note that this was far from a majority opinion (my general sense of the New York State Capital District regional breakdown was 60/40 never-okay/sometimes-okay), and each community generally had a slightly different answer or emphasis on the finer points.
posted by Ryvar at 12:43 PM on July 31


Doesn't "purity" view sex as more than a physical act, as something spiritual, something important?

Based on the "chewed piece of gum," "uncovered meat", "candy bar other people took a bite out of", etc... analogies for women's "impure" bodies, I'd be inclined to go with a big bowl of no.

Caveat: In my experience... it's absolutely both. The physical act of sex outside of marriage was essentially viewed as having forever tainted the souls of both participants, in that they could never share "God's gift of sex within marriage" with the inner knowledge that it was reserved for their "Chosen Partner", and them alone.
posted by Ryvar at 12:49 PM on July 31


I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn't
Ten-year-old girls want to believe in fairy tales. Take this pledge and God will love you so much and be so proud of you, they told me. If you wait to have sex until marriage, God will bring you a wonderful Christian husband and you'll get married and live happily ever after, they said. Waiting didn't give me a happily ever after. Instead, it controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.

I don't go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex. Every single day is a battle to remember that my body belongs to me and not to the church of my childhood. I have to constantly remind myself that a pledge I took when I was only 10 doesn't define who I am today. When I have sex with my husband, I make sure it's because I have a sexual need and not because I feel I'm required to fulfill his desires.

I'm now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality. If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn't go to hell for it. We would have gotten married at a more appropriate age and I would have kept my sexuality to myself.
posted by flex at 10:25 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Have been catching up with a friend who now is a teacher at a school for European-expats kids somewhere in Southeast Asia, at the junior high level; the homeroom teachers are supposed to do "health and sex-ed" types of teaching as well.

And he said that when he saw that the boys' and girls' texts were different, and the girls' texts had that kind of chewed-bubble-gum kind of slut-shaming in them, that's when he snapped and called the kids together and asked, "okay, y'all aren't buying this, are you?....you're not? good, I figured that - so if you promise not to tell the principal I said the books are bullshit, I promise to give you the real truth."

The kids looooooooove him now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:53 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Jesus, the comments on that thread, flex. Thanks for the link, though.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:29 PM on August 6


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