Middle Ground: Finding Agreement in Between the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy

Crossposted at Amplify!

This evening I listened to Jessica Valenti talking on the Laura Ingram show about her new book, The Purity Myth (which I have finished and fully recommend – but that’s another post!)

Jessica, again, did an amazing job of defending her book and the point of view of people who advocate for comprehensive sex education, but I was still just incredibly frustrated by the things that the radio show host Laura, and her callers were being allowed to say. Jessica did her best to challenge it, but a few times Laura simply jumped ahead to another caller (specifically after one man referred to women who’ve had sex as “candy on the street” which is, essentially, trash) or brought up another comment to keep Jessica from responding (like asking her if she was “a fan” of Plan B when Jessica was preparing to respond to a man who made a very judgemental and factually incorrect comment.)

The most offensive comment, in my opinion, is when one of Ingram’s callers (a teacher no less!) called in and told Ingram and Valenti that he lived by a particular piece of “advice” that his father gave him as a child, and again as an adult: to avoid “candy” he found in the street. As a child, his father meant for him to take this literally, as a young man the “candy” was, of course, a metaphor for sexually active women. The man went on to say he ignored that advice “to his own demise” and then to complain about pregnancy rates at the school he works for – as if the abstinence only movement was a solution to that issue. (If he truly cared about decreasing pregnancy, he’d want girls to know about contraception!)

Jessica, thankfully, got to address this one saying:

“This is a high school teacher who is comparing young women who have sex to trash in the street? […] Thats certainly not [the kind of education] I want for my kids.”*

Ingram’s retort?

“Well, I think his father said that. […] His father was probably concerned with, well, be concerned with your heath and you know, STDs…”

That’s the best Ingram could come up with: his father said it. I have news for her, that doesn’t make it any less offensive. There are ways of protecting against STDs (having up to date tests, communicating with your partner, condoms) other than abstinence. If anything this metaphor just further proves Valenti’s point, because, even of this man’s father was ‘only’ referring to women with STDs (rather than all sexually active young women) as “used candy,” he is still making a value judgement about these women based solely on their sexuality… thus reducing whole and complex individuals to sex alone.

The one thing that I feel Valenti didn’t get much chance to address was the depression angle. Ingram brought up the statistic, claiming that young women who have sex before marriage have higher tendencies for depression pretty late in the game – and hardly gave Valenti a decent chance to respond. If anything this statistic is testimony for comprehensive sex education.

It is the virgin/whore dichotomy – the idea that a woman can either be pure or be promiscuous, there is no healthy middle ground – specifically, that leads many of these young women to depression. It makes sense: if you’re a young woman, even a young woman in a reciprocal healthy relationship, who chooses to have sex you are automatically judged by those who advocate abstinence… they claim abstinence only education isn’t shaming, but to the girls who choose sex it is, there’s no way around that fact!

I mean, who wouldn’t be inclined towards depression after being compared to a “used up, saliva covered sucker” or a “trash on the street”?

We can’t just sit back and take it though. I really believe that Jessica has the right idea, she’s getting out there and opening the conversation as a mature, strong, intelligent and lovely woman who happens to be sexually active. I believe the saying, “the best revenge is living well” can be applied here… the best way to fight this dichotomy is living well and being open about our sexuality.

Whether you’ve had sex or not you can fight this horrible dichotomy simply by using your voice, expressing who you are (sexuality and all) and not putting up with value judgment based on virginity anymore. If we can make strides in breaking down the idea that all women who have premarital sex are “girls gone wild” then, who knows, people like Ingram may even realize we have more in common than we think! (If they can have their “dream world” then I can certainly have mine :P)


* I apologize for the slightly off transcription, Ingram was interrupting Jessica Valenti a lot so I essentially tried to paraphrase what Jessica said in between interruptions. If you want to listen its around 19:00 on the clip!

 

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