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So in Part I we've established that virginity is not really a thing; the virginity myth is a social construction to reinforce patriarchal gender roles. There is no way to physically determine virginity, there is no single act through which everyone can lose their virginity, and you can't say anything about a person's worth or character based on virginity.
But people still think that. People are obsessive over purity; especially female purity. This is seen in almost all patriarchal societies in the world in various disturbing ways; from purity balls in the US to punishing women for 'adultery' (rape) in the Middle East to honour killings in parts of Asia. We are obsessed with this idea that not having sex - whatever your definition of sex may be - somehow keeps a woman 'pure' - she's innocent and beautiful and wholesome and trustworthy or she's a vicious maneating bitch, just based on whether or not she's had vaginal intercourse.
To a normal rational person this doesn't make a lot of sense. Anyone who has survived grade school will tell you that sometimes it's the virgin who can reduce you to tears in a heartbeat and the slut who is there for you. To people who don't live in this alternative univerise of cherry picking biblical morality and patriarchy doing any good for anyone, sex doesn't define a woman - or anyone, really - and it shouldn't. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of fuckwits in this world, morons who don't believe in valuing women as individuals, much less sexual beings, dickheads who think that you can judge a person based on what objects have been in which body orifice.
What is the cult of purity?
The cult of purity in our culture draws on the Madonna-whore complex, which dictates that 'good' women are chaste and sexless, and that denying your sexuality is somehow a good thing. Sexuality is defined as a predominantly male thing, with sexual desire being 'natural' in a man but 'evil' in a woman. It's this idea that abstinence is an achievement, and that failing to remain abstinent results in you becoming a 'fallen woman'. It's all very archaic and sex negative and only maintains its grip on society through a toxic blend of lies deceits and untruths, which is ironic considering this is a cult of purity.
The most extreme examples of the cult of purity are in America, but America being the massive cultural influence that it is the ideas behind the cult of purity can be seen in almost all Western societies; through rape culture, through slut shaming, and in the simultaneous glorification and stigmatisation of virginity.
Many proponents of the cult of purity will argue that they think that this 'aspirin between your knees' approach to sexuality should apply to both men and women, but that's a total pile of crap. Time and time again we see proof that the Christian right don't care about male purity, at all, and that abstinence and adultery and all that other 'sin' just isn't a big deal for the white hetero male darlings of society. Trying to preach uncompromising denial of sexuality to any gender is a bad idea, but this obsession with female purity is a disturbing by-product of patriarchy constantly trying to reduce women to their sexual histories, and removing her sexuality so that her sexual function is purely biological, or to service the needs of men.
Examples of the cult of purity:
Purity balls are formal events conducted across America in which girls pledge to be virgins until marriage and then their dads pledge to 'guard their daughter's chastity'. Through the extremely creepy rhetoric of these occasions the father is reaffirmed as the protector of all the 'moral' judgements of his household and to be their daughters' 'authority and protection of purity'.
CAN SOMEONE SAY EWWWW?
The daughters of this gay parade are anywhere between FOUR YEARS OLD or college age, but the recommended age is the age of menarche. Indoctrinating abstinence is bad for anyone, but I think they picked the three worst groups of girls. Ever. And there's a reason for that; get them when they're young, vulnerable, or just at a time when they are old enough to make their own decisions but young enough for you to convince them otherwise. At four years old most children don't even know what sex is, so it is grossly irresponsible to swear them off something they cannot even begin to comprehend; this is done in the same way everything is done to children; through fear and manipulation of obedience. At menarche girls are pubescent, raging with hormones, and incredibly young and naive; it's pretty much child abuse to feed them lies about their evolution into sexual beings and to with-hold information about sexuality and contraception under the pretense of keeping them 'pure'. But it's so easy, to turn the disgust of you know, the blood and vagina aspect of menstruation into redefining all of sexuality as something disgusting. And college age? Seriously? It's just creepy when a father has control over any part of his college aged daughter, much less her, you know...lady bits.
The purpose of the purity ball is to bring a creepily romantic element into the father daughter relationship, in which the father takes the daughter out for a nice night with fancy dinner and pretty dresses and tells her that she's beautiful and loved...which is all well and good, I suppose, but it feeds on this myth that only desperate women sell their souls for sex, and that this 'neediness' (i.e. healthy sexual attraction) can be fulfilled by shallow materialism.
Abstinence "education" is basically this semi-religious conservative indoctrination that preaches that sex will kill you if you do it without a wedding ring. This mix of dangerous lies and dogmatic bullshit is taught in schools across the globe in place of, you know, actual information about how to be safe and horny. Abstinence education doesn't remove the 'horny' from human sexuality; but it does remove the 'safe'.
The idea behind abstinence education is idealistic to the point of ridiculous; if you preach that there is some kind of connection between not getting frisky and being a good person all unmarried clitorises and penises will magically commit suicide and will only pull a resurection when one walks down the aisle of a (preferably anti-gay) church. The reality is is that young people have always been sexual beings and will always be sexual beings, and the responsible, adult, moral thing to do is to make sure they navigate this dangerous, exciting element of the dangerous, exciting process of growing up and emerge relatively unscathed. And you do that with condoms, not Bibles. Sorry.
Abstinence based education glorifies 'waiting', 'holding on', and that true love is this fairytale story of perfect sexual compatibility with 'The One'. And although abstinence is whacked over the heads of people of all genders, men are marketed to girls as these these sex-addicted corrupters who have the potential to be your loving protector and breadwinner if you're a 'good girl' - and then girls are set the challenge of 'getting a man' without 'getting laid'. How's that for a nice steaming serve of offensive sexual stereotypes?
Virginity pledges are notorious for being...pretty useless. 6 out of 10 people who make these True Love Waits and Silver Ring Thing pledges admit to breaking them before marriage, and of the 40% who still consider themselves 'abstinent', 55% have engaged in oral sex (which we have previously established is still sex). Young people who take abstinence pledges have the highest rates of unwanted pregnancies and sexually tansmitted diseases because they have a little silver ring of, um, willful ignorance. Virginity pledges encourage a dangerous trend of risky sexual behaviour in a desperate attempt to remain 'pure'; it should also be noted that virginity pledges and their pretty little jewellery pieces are marketed almost exclusively to women. Virginity pledges see the cult of purity embodied by jewellery and creepy pledges to people who really should have no say in what goes on behind closed doors in the here and now - your parents, your parents, your politicised schizophrenic delusions and your future, possibly nonexistent partner. The True Love Waits movement has had three different virginity pledges, all of which emphasis the 'purity' of sexual abstinence, and people proudly boast of 'keeping my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God's perfect plan for my life'. This reinforices a primary message of the cult of purity; that sex is dirty and people who are sexually active are this immoral other, and the only way for a woman to have the moral highground over her peers is to be a virgin (who may or may not have given head).
The effects of the cult of purity on our society
It must be noted that the cult of purity hasn't got an enormous impact on Australian society, although abstinence is preached very widely in religious communities and schools. The cult of purity really effects us when badly trained, poorly-informed sex educators tell us that abstinence is the norm, that abstinence for whatever reason - even religiously enforced, morally questionable, sexist, patriarchal reasons - is a good thing, and talk about sex and contraception as part of some abstract adult life instead of being relevant to the here and now, where hands start to go places and hormones start surging. The cult of purity contributes to the guilt, shame and stigma surrounding sexuality, particularly female sexuality, which in turn leads to unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality, misconceptions about what sex is and what is and isn't okay, and ultimately widespread engagement in risky sexual behaviour, because normal, healthy expressions of sexuality aren't 'pure'.
The cult of purity is trying to indoctrinate us into thinking that there is something wrong with sexuality, something wrong with being sexual beings, and that 'purity' will give us legitimacy and moral highground and a shot at some nonexistent fairytale happily ever after. The cult of purity is a creepy, dangerous religious sect which encourages really questionable father daughter relationships, encourages a misogynistic and hypocritically judgemental way of viewing women and female sexual behaviour, and reduces women to these shallow, materialistic creatures who can fill their libidos up on ballgowns and glamour. The cult of purity teaches us that sexuality is disgusting and complicated and freakishly dangerous, something only pursued by the morally debased or the criminally insane; and that the 'easy' and 'right' answer is to just turn it off, like a switch. But we're not robots; we're not machines, in which sexuality can be turned on and off at will. The cult of purity impacts our society by perpetuating harmful ideas about sexuality that ultimately leads to sex being a silent taboo; and that is the worst thing that anything can be.
This is Part II of a three part series on sexuality & society. Click here to see Part I and stay tuned for Part III (coming soon). Stay tuned and stay beautiful!
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