The more [sexual] experiences teens have, the more likely they are to be depressed and commit suicide…this is particularly true of girls.
The above is a quote from Wendy Shalit, author of Girls Gone Mild (an abstinence and modesty book).
The modesty and abstinence movements are geared towards making young women feel guilty about having sex.They want young women to “lock up their carnal treasure” until marriage and give it as a “gift” to their husband. Why? Because obviously we are men’s property and we owe them a gift when we marry them. [Sarcasm]
I know all about the abstinence movement. I “saved myself for marriage” at one point and I even preached this ideology to young women. After “committing my purity” to God, I didn’t date, kiss or even consider anything sexual for years.
After I left the church, I started questioning the whole abstinence thing–seriously wondering why the hell I was saving myself for marriage. It just didn’t make sense, especially since every man I knew had already “lost their virginity.” What was the point of me being a virgin if they weren’t?
In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti explains that the entire abstinence movement is focused on bringing back traditional gender roles and making women feel badly for having sex. Sex isn’t pleasurable when you feel guilty for having it. Sex isn’t pleasurable when you feel like it’s only for procreation, either. Sex also isn’t pleasurable when you think that you’re a “bad girl” for having it, thinking about it, “giving in” to it, as if you’re too weak to say no.
What Valenti argues in her book is that the abstinence movement depends on making sex feel dirty and those who have sex feel immoral. This might scare some youth into not having sex, but what happens when those people get married? They still feel immoral and dirty. Those feelings don’t go away just because you’re “officially” able to seal the deal for most people, especially women.
I’ve talked openly about sex to a lot of women friends of mine–ranging in age from 19 to 40–and I was surprised to hear how many of them don’t experience orgasms ever. A woman’s pleasure can depend on a lot of things, but quite often, it’s mental [Side Note: I’m not a doctor but I have talked to doctors about a woman’s orgasm.]. If a woman doesn’t feel relaxed or comfortable or turned on (for various reasons which don’t necessarily depend on her partner) she can’t come. Many of the women I know who’ve admitted they don’t orgasm have a strong religious background. Could this be part of the reason? Could they feel tense just because they feel sex is dirty or they’re a whore for having sex outside of marriage?
Valenti says, “Sex for pleasure, for fun, or even for building relationships is completely absent from our national conversation. Yet taking the joy out of sexuality is a surefire way to ensure not that young women won’t have sex, but rather that they’ll have it without pleasure.”
My friends who are religious have told me that they sometimes wish they hadn’t had sex because they feel it’s wrong to do before marriage. Regardless, they’re having sex and like Valenti said, they’re having it without pleasure. What’s wrong with this picture? The problem is you’re not immoral if you have sex, for fun or otherwise, but we all lean toward thinking that way and some of us absolutely fear we’re whores or going to hell for having sex. Like my friend Chris says (and I’m paraphrasing), Even the rhetoric in sex talk emphasizes that you’re bad or immoral for having sex. We say things like, ‘You’re a naughty girl.’ Or, ‘You bad boy.‘ which plays off those stereotypes of the virgin/whore models.
Chris is right. In our conversations with each other (in bed or otherwise) we associate dirtiness with sex. Sex is dirty. Sex is harmful. Sex can kill you.
But can it?
I’m going to call bullshit on the purity/abstinence movement. Sex isn’t dirty and a woman isn’t a whore for having sex (with or without pleasure). Purity and abstinence are nothing more than a call to bring back the 1950’s traditional gender roles that tell women to get back in the kitchen and get knocked up as soon as they get married. There are few other options for women in the false world Shalit is trying to create. If you’re not married to a man and pregnant, you’re probably a whore.