Book Review: The Purity Myth

The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials — place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.




This past weekend I visited a theme park with some friends. While I was strolling through said theme park, I overheard the conversation of two high school aged girls. It went something like this:

Girl A: “Did you hear that Kathy slept with Rick?”
Girl B: “That loser she’s been seeing?”
Girl A: “Yup.”
Girl B: “God, that girl is such a slut.”
Girl A: “I know, last year I heard she slept with Todd too.”
Girl B: “Who’s Todd?”
Girl A: “That college guy she was dating.”

That’s right, in the context of these few sentences, Kathy is a slut for sleeping with her boyfriends. Unable to stop myself, I began to butt in. Because I apparently I’m that person. Going off the limited information I’d been given, and playing the role of the meddling stranger who has no business being in this conversation, I said:

“And why do you care who she sleeps with? Because you’ve been brainwashed by the media to believe that a woman’s worth is dictated by her virginity? Or maybe you’re jealous that Kathy doesn’t give a shit about society’s rules and lives by *gasp* her own moral compass, one that has nothing to do with antiquated religious scripts or the outdated beliefs of the patriarchy that has done nothing but shove this ridiculous moral codex down the throats of the women they’ve been oppressing since…”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence, because a pair of hands appeared on my shoulders and began to gently pull me away. My fiancé has been living with me for nigh on seven years and understands that if given the opportunity to gain a stable footing on my soapbox, it becomes incredibly difficult to dislodge me from it. So, like the intelligent man he is, he quickly apologized to the blushing (likely with a mixture of embarrassment and rage) teenagers, and steered me away.

“Not that I don’t admire your gusto, but is this really the time or the place?” he whispered in my ear.

It was then that I came back to myself and realized that the friends we’d gone to the park with were all looking at me strangely. The men (two dudes I served in the military with and have known for seven years) wore uncomfortable but slightly amused expressions. Their girlfriends (WHO I HAD JUST MET NOT AN HOUR BEFORE) seemed like they were questioning their boyfriend’s taste in female friends. I doubt I’ll ever see them again.

The moral of the story is this: if I’d had this hot little book in my hands, I could have done something different. Instead of coming off like an overly aggressive feminist who suffers from some sort of severe social handicap, I could have pressed this book into the hands of those young women and whispered:

“It will set you free.”

If you’re a woman under twenty five, you should read this. If you’re a woman over twenty five, you should read this. If you’re a man who considers himself a feminist (aka, recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men), you should read this.


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