Virginity is not all that

20 02 2009

On Thursday, February 19th the Tufts Daily had an article called “Young woman in San Diego sells virginity to pay her way through graduate school”. 22-year old Natalie Dylan put her virginity on sale online in order to pay for her grad school tuition.

The article quotes a Tufts senior Amanda Harris in saying “What I think is particularly sad about this is that I know girls at Tufts who are escorts and things like that to pay their college tuition, and why is it only getting press attention when it’s one person selling her virginity?”

This touches on the extremely high premium that the United States places on virginity. From education to the media to the government, the United States is obsessed with virginity. In a way it is fetishized. Girls and women are overvalued for their virginity and their sexuality, and purity balls and chastity vows are just more ways to control and police female sexuality. All the fixation on virginity makes girls become sexual objects such early on, even before they know what sex actually is!

Institutions have also constructed the image of the ideal virgin, what a virgin should look and be like: she should be a “good” girl: clean, pure, innocent, not sexual but sexy. If she is sexy she should perform it for public consumption. She is also heterosexual, white, thin, and upper class. Thus virginity becomes racialized as well as defined by class – women of color are negatively hypersexualized in American culture, and low income poorer women are never positioned as virgins. All this combines to suggest that non-wealthy white women are dirty.

Those of us who are “un-pure”, not virgins, get that somehow held against us. For instance, in rape cases prior sexual conduct is not supposed to factor in, but often it does. Women who come forward will often get asked about their previous sexual behavior because of course once a woman has been “de-flowered” she cannot be “re-flowered” and therefore she cannot be raped.

This country’s obsession with virginity is unhealthy and damaging to girls and women. We get such mixed messages, ranging from abstinence only sex education in school to Girls Gone Wild videos that base a female’s worth on her sexuality. Sex is simultaneously overvalued and devalued – it’s what sells and every time there’s a sex scandal involving a politician or some high profile person it’s all over the media, but at the same time young people are just taught not to have sex.

I’m excited and will be looking out for Jessica Valenti’s (of Feministing) new book called The Purity Myth which will be released soon.



2 responses

29 04 2009
Lady vanessa

the mixed messages we get about sex and sexuality make me think of a Pink Floyd lyric: “by the cold and religious we were taken in hand, shown how to feel good then told to feel bad.”

14 07 2009
The Gender Blender Blog

[…] I’ve blogged about our society’s ongoing obsession with virginity before (here and here) and how it is unhealthy and harms women but it remains pervasive and demands a critical […]

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