Dear Jessica Valenti,
Abstinence, as a choice in sexuality, is a commonly misunderstood concept. It is looked upon from only a few angles when in actuality there are so many different angles to see. Each story is its own angle. Each story is different and each story breaks through the boundaries and stereotypes placed up around it. Abstinence in its true form is a choice, a story, and a way of life. Each and every choice is personal, so I can only share with you mine. However, I hope that through this you can see that abstinence is just another choice, in a long list of choices, that girls must choose from when finding their own sexuality. I hope that you will understand that abstinence is not always forced upon us; it is a choice, a similar choice to being sexually active.
In your book Full Frontal Feminism you discuss the messages the world sends young women about sexuality. You say that they all promote “the same idea- that young women can’t make their own decision about sex.” (Full Frontal Feminism 20) The world may send these messages, but not all women listen. There is no better way to say this than the way you did. “Feminism tells you it’s okay to make decisions about your sexuality for yourself. Because when it comes down to it, what’s more powerful and important than being able to do what you want with your body without fear of being shamed or punished?” (Full Frontal Feminism 30) Whether we realize it or not, sexuality is a choice. I don’t believe that there is a “right” or a “wrong” choice when it comes to sexuality, as long as you believe in your choice. It is an individual and personal decision about how to express ones-self.
The choice of sexuality is not simply about religion or any one factor. There are a great number of factors that contribute. A psychological study was done on “Influences on adolescents’ decision to postpone onset of sexual intercourse.” In this study, which was really quite fascinating, researchers looked at eleven factors, including: residence area, school performance, religious feelings, and body pride. The study compared these factors to the number of teens who were sexually active and those who were not. The conclusion of this study states that, “The present analysis shows that influences on adolescent sexual behavior are complex and that contextual factors such as family structure, and area of residency, as well as personal characteristics such as school performance and religiosity play an important role.” I believe that beyond all of these factors, which can push a girl in one direction or another, she still has a choice to make.
Because of the way abstinence is portrayed in our society, many people believe (you may be included in this group) that it is forced upon young girls. Part of this belief stems from the fact that there were “more than 1400 purity balls where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers at a prom like event in 2006.” (The Purity Myth, 10) However, not all purity pledges come about in this form. The ones that do come from purity balls more often than not are not a meaningful personal choice. They are more like a public announcement made to “fit in” and to please one’s father. I agree that this is an angle of abstinence, however, you cannot let one view shape an entire opinion.
I am a virgin. But more than that, I will be a virgin until I get married. And to clarify my earlier comment I have never once pledged my virginity to anyone but myself. I believe that abstinence is a choice of sexuality. I believe that it is just as empowering as choosing to be sexually active. I also believe that in no way has abstinence been forced upon me.
Let me start by saying that yes, I am religious. I know that I have been influenced by my church and by society. It is impossible to grow up anywhere and not experience this. However, perspective is key. When I say I am religious, I mean that I attend church once a week, I am part of a Christian organization on my college campus, and I am a member of a bible study that meets every Monday. Growing up in the church I was repeatedly told that the bible says “no sex before marriage.” Recently I decided to look into that. As it turns out, that is not exactly true. The words “no sex before marriage,” they aren’t in the bible. The bible makes clear that “sexual immorality” is a sin. The deal breaker, the bible doesn’t clearly define sexual immorality, it’s up to your own interpretation. The passage that is most commonly used to support the ideal of no sex before marriage is 1st Corinthians 7:2, “but since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” 1st Corinthians 7:8-9 continues by saying “now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” These passages can be taken so many different ways, but one thing is for sure, they are not telling you that you cannot have sex before marriage. That is only one interpretation. My personal interpretation is that sex before marriage is only a sin when it takes away from your relationship with God. But I also believe that in that case sex can be a sin inside of marriage as well. To state it clearer, I don’t believe that sex before marriage is always wrong. Yet after discovering this (it was quite a shock), my decision remains the same. I am not a virgin simply because that is what my church told me to do.
I would also like to say that in no way has my family pressured me towards my decision. Both of my parents have openly shared that they were not virgins when they married 22 years ago, nor were they virgins when they met. In the process of writing this letter I interviewed my little sister. I asked Lauren (who is almost sixteen) if she believed that sexuality is a choice, her answer was yes. Next I asked her if she chose the sexual choice of abstinence. This was her answer, “no, I am currently a virgin but I have nothing against premarital sex. I wouldn’t just go around sleeping with any guy, but I don’t believe that sex needs to wait for marriage.” Although my sister and I grew up in the same house, and we went to the same church we have different views. If abstinence were forced upon us we would have the same views. Abstinence can be a valid sexual choice in everyway.
In your book The Purity Myth you make reference to being labeled a “slut.” However, this labeling goes both ways. Many girls are bullied for being termed the “slut” I however fit on the opposite side of the scale. I was bullied for being “innocent and naïve.” The preferred term for that, I believe is prude. Peer pressure is a nasty thing. I think we could both agree that the world would be better off with out it. Even though I was being teased I never once changed my mind. And I must say that it is really quite simple to go about changing your status as a virgin. I could have done it, but I didn’t.
In researching for this letter, ie, reading your books, I have come across things that have made me question that my decision was completely my decision. Or rather that it was the best decision for me. I can see all of the arguments and I can see how some of the factors have affected my life. But when I step back, my decision is the same. Nothing has changed.
To me sex is special. I am not saving myself so that I can give myself to my husband. I am not saving myself because it is what the bible tells me to do. I am saving myself, because if sex is truly all it is built up to be, wouldn’t it be all that more special if the first time I made love was to the person I just promised to love for all of eternity and he me? Yes, I believe in God. Yes, I was raised in the church. But I am also a hopeless romantic. I believe that love is magical. For me, there is no other way. Love is magic and my love one day will shine brighter than all the days before it. On that day I will know if I am right, and not a day before. You and I, we are the same. We each made a choice. Our choices just happen to be different. Just like each and every choice made in this world is different. I will never know what it is like to make your choice, and you will never know what my choice is like. But the differences shouldn’t stop us from understanding the other. We both made our choice- and we have stuck to it. Isn’t that what’s important? The freedom to make our own unique choice no matter what that choice is, and that it is accepted?
Love, Forever and Always,
Barker, Kenneth L., and Donald W. Burdick. “First Corinthians.” Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
Lammers, C., M. Ireland, M. Resnick, and R. Blum. “Influences on Adolescents’ Decision to Postpone Onset of Sexual Intercourse: a Survival Analysis of Virginity among Youths Aged 13 to 18 Years.” Journal of Adolescent Health 26.1 (2000): 42-48. Print.
Reese, Lauren. “Sexuality.” E-mail interview. 6 Dec. 2011.
Valenti, Jessica. “Feminists Do It Better.” Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2007. 19-40. Print.
Valenti, Jessica. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2010. Print.