The Purity Myth

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

Rating: 5 stars

I experienced an abstinence only health program when I was in high school, so this book really resonated with me.  My health teacher even used the gum metaphor. “Guys, would you want to chew someone else’s used gum?”  She literally reduced a sexually active woman to a chewed piece of gum!  Also, why do we belong to the previous person who chewed us in that metaphor?  I wish I had known enough and been confident enough back then to stand and scream,We are not gum!  We are people, just like men!  Our hymens are only a small part of who we are!”

Some of the information is out of date (I know, I’m very late to the party reading this in 2017).  However, this virginity obsessed mindset is unfortunately still relevant in society today.  Valenti approaches this issue with a critical eye and tears apart the myths that the abstinence only groups and the chastity culture spread.  She takes on the Girls Gone Wild show, the sexualization of young girls, and slut shaming once girls fall off the virginity pedestal into the “whore” group.  The obsession with virginity sees women as property and unable to make informed decisions about our own bodies, an attitude which influences our country’s legislation.  Also, she discusses the serious consequences this culture has on our response to rape and sexual violence.  If women don’t fit the stereotype of a perfect victim, a virgin, it’s not taken seriously as a crime.

Valenti also mentions the differences that women of color and women who don’t fit the “virgin” stereotype (mainly women who aren’t young, white, and straight) face.  They aren’t even given the benefit of assumed virginity until they fall off that pedestal.  They are assumed to be inherently “unclean,” which causes serious harm when they are the victims of sexual violence.  They have no chance to be seen as “proper” victims.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, as we are all living with the effects of a virginity obsessed culture.


6 thoughts on “The Purity Myth”

    1. It’s one of my new favorites. I’m going to do a post soon on my favorite feminist non-fiction books, but another one I’d highly recommend is Asking for It by Kate Harding. It covers some of the same themes here, especially the “perfect” victim myth

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to read that list!!! I have a lot of feminist nonfiction on my TBR and would love a general idea of which are the best titles to hone in on. I’m definitely in the market for some books on intersectional feminism.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. […] Steubenville’s main claim to fame besides Dean Martin is the infamous Steubenville Rape Case.  I still can’t believe how many people living there thought a girl would lie about being raped (despite photographic proof) just to harm the football team.  Yet it was a widespread belief.  Also, there was a conversation overheard in a restaurant about whether or not you could “rape a whore,” and that girl was clearly hoping for something when she hung out with those guys.  That is one thing I remember most about home that Vance doesn’t cover: the sexism that fed the rape culture (I also describe the abstinence only education we had in my post on The Purity Myth). […]


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