That “Creepy Obsession with Virginity”

Whoops! This might get a little adult-themed. Parents–direct your kids away from the sustainable farm website–I’m going to talk about sex, again.

I didn’t see the Video Music Awards last night.  I don’t watch much TV, and I’m guessing I’ll be watching even less once everyone switches to HDTV and the big metal antenna on my roof doesn’t do much good anymore.

But in reading through the day’s news, I saw on MSN an article about a “flap” caused by comedian Russell Brand’s sarcastic remarks at the VMA about the Jonas Brothers’ “purity rings.”  These rings, for the uninitiated, are worn as a sign of a pledge to abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage.

Uh-huh.  Right.

Martha Brockenbrough had this to say about such jewelry:

The rings […] won’t do a darned thing to keep teens from actually having sex. They certainly make public something that should be private. And the fixation on virginity could easily cause more harm than good.

How, you ask, could a fixation on virginity cause harm? I think Brockenbrough makes some good points here–that a fixation on virginity prevents any real discussion of sexuality either between parents and their teenagers, and among teenagers in relationships, who are feeling the effects of their overwhelming hormones.

Parents see the ring, breathe a sigh of relief that their teen isn’t having sex (and keep a close eye on whichever finger they wear the ring to make sure it doesn’t suddenly disappear), and the kid goes without any real guidance.

As nice as it seems, this approach doesn’t work. Plenty of studies have shown that promoting abstinence fails, and that teens who try this route are less likely to use contraception, making them more likely to become pregnant or infected with preventable sexually transmitted diseases.

Another thing the fixation on purity does is to promote the fallacy there’s a simple dichotomy here–either you’re a virgin, or you’re a “slut,” as Jordin Sparks shot back after Brand’s comments. I would submit that one can be a virgin and yet be “impure” by the standards of those who think purity is of great desirability.

Virginity till marriage isn’t a solution, it’s a slogan. People should be free to make this choice, obviously. I’m not going to say they should be celebrated, because our sex lives are private. Neither side deserves cake and balloons.

But the idea of saving it for marriage is only so useful, and it’s the sort of thing that will no doubt lead to starter marriages between horny 18-year-olds who don’t have any idea what “till death do you part” really means.

And this gets to the heart of my argument against teaching abstinence until marriage. Left to their own devices, men and women in the U.S. are now marrying in their mid-to-late twenties. Research by the Kinsey Institute puts the average age of first intercourse at 16.9 for males and 17.4 for females.

There are a lot of years between those two figures–and those years can seem really long for a demographic that has a lotta libido.  If teens want to be “pure” and abstain from intercourse until marriage, there are probably very few parents who will object to that.  But it behooves those parents to educate their children about the facts of sexuality nonetheless (and schools should pick up the slack, where parents don’t or won’t educate).

Sexuality is a private matter, and this obsession with purity and virginity is just another form of extremism.

I would discourage parents of teens who parade their “lack of sexuality” around from making a big deal about it, because that big deal could very easily blow up in their, and their teens’, faces with a very “impure” STI or an unwanted pregnancy.  The result–not only damaged trust between the parent and their teen, but a serious self-esteem blow to the teen, who now may conceive of him- or herself as “damaged goods.”


3 responses to this post.

  1. I see we are on the same page here. I don’t know if it’s possible, but really a more rational attitude towards sex should be developed. why not just tell kids the basic facts about pregnancy and STD’s – so that they can make informed decisions? TV will help remind them of sex enough. Talking about it rationally is less likely to arouse than many tv-ads.

  2. This was a really interesting post – thanks.
    And really, teen sex is nothing new – it’s just that people used to be married by then!

  3. here through September Just Posts.

    Thank you for addressing this topic. I agree with your assessment that this publicly professed purity is another sententious stumbling block to open communication.

    Even after my mother discovered that I was sexually active (well below the average age of the Kinsey study), there were no discussions. My discovery of sexuality was far from ideal and I hope to do better by my daughter.

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