Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth is about the abstinence movement championed by fundamentalist Christians. She justly questions the way this movement fetishizes feminine virginity. This fetishization of virginity constructs a social reality where virgins are seen as pure and good and non-virgins are seen as corrupt and bad. It reduces women's value to their sexuality alone, completely discarding the whole of their behavior in favor of a single item by which to measure their morality.

Valenti also questions the wisdom of abstinence-only sex education, which is clearly ineffective and dangerous. Statistics show that abstinence-only education programs do not reduce the likelihood of sexual activity but do reduce the likelihood of condom or other contraception use. Too often abstinence-only education efforts are riddled with mistaken information, at best, but more likely outright lies.

One of the more disturbing components of the abstinence movement is the purity pledge. A purity pledge is undertaken when a young woman, a girl really, pledges to her father that she will remain a virgin until she is married. The father pledges in turn to "cover" his daughter, providing a moral "shield" to protect his daughter, her virginity above all, from the immorality of the world. These pledges, which often take place at "purity balls" are eerily reminiscent of wedding ceremonies. These ceremonies seem to me, and Valenti's father, to have an almost incestuous overtone.

Valenti's book is an interesting contrast to Kathryn Joyce's Quiverfull. Both books are about the ideals of patriarchal Christianity. Unlike Joyce, Valenti makes no attempt to be respectful to the other side. The Purity Myth is, at times, a feminist rant, albeit quite justified. I agree with all of Valenti's criticisms of the Christian obsession with sexual purity, and I am strongly opposed to abstinence-only education. I liked this book, but found it less enjoyable than Quiverfull.


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