Thursday, February 15, 2007

Virgin 2.0

We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them
We are the Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity

Ray Davies  "Village Green Preservation Society"
Elizabeth Kantor, who has been a great supporter of the The Thrill of the Chaste, choosing it as a Conservative Book Club selection,  takes exception to a statement I made in my interview for Beliefnet.

I said:
I think the way to get [respect for chastity] back, ironically, is not to put so much emphasis on virginity. Virginity has replaced chastity in our culture's language, in the sense that people refer to chastity as secondary virginity. I've actually had very good-natured arguments with fellow Christians about this, because people who teach abstinence in schools rely upon the term secondary virginity. But in my view, the term secondary virginity implies that you can only be chaste if you are a virgin.

So if you're not a virgin, you have to pretend to be one in order to be chaste. Not all of us can be virgins. For some of us, that train has already left the station. But we all can be chaste.
Kantor responds:
Spinning post-virginity chastity as 'second virginity' is, I agree, silly -- even, you can argue, verging on wishful thinking and reality denial, which is the absolutely last thing the defenders of traditional sexual morality need to inject into this discussion. (There's more than enough contrary-to-fact nonsense coming from the other side: "it's just a mass of cells," Heather Has Two Mommies, "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence," &c., &c.)

And it certainly makes more sense for women who've had scarring sexual experiences to look forward to a post-virginity chastity than to look backward toward the virginity that they've lost.

But I do think a return to a healthier understanding of sexuality in our society would necessarily mean more -- not less -- emphasis on virginity.

Notice how feminists hate both the cult of virginity and the idealization of motherhood with an equal passion. The Virgin Mary is offensive ("super-patriarchal") to the Amanda Marcottes of the world for two reasons. The ideal of sexual purity must be, in some mysterious way, demeaning to women. And celebrating motherhood must mean seeing women as "nothing but vessels."

Feminists think the doctrine of the Virgin Birth has contributed to the oppression of women. Yet another contrary-to-fact belief.

Ask yourself, in what culture has the Virgin Birth been believed, and celebrated in art, song, and story? That's right -- Western culture. And in what culture, of all the cultures in world history, have women enjoyed the most freedom and dignity? That's right. The answer is just the same.
While I agree with Kantor that it is important to acknowledge the dignity of virginity, I don't believe that the anti-feminist argument she uses, which is essentially political, is convincing on a personal level. Most people don't make choices based on their desire to tick off Amanda Marcotte.

More to the point, I think that writers such as Kantor and the Heritage Foundation's Patrick F. Fagan, who is the leading writer and researcher on abstinence-related issues, need to bulk up their arguments considerably if they wish to raise the status of virginity in American culture. Kantor's argument hinges on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth — a distinctly female prototype, and one all but overwhelmed by its religious significance — while Fagan's, in his February 14 National Review Online article "Virgins Make the Best Valentines," is based entirely upon statistics relating to female virginity.

Fagan's statistics are jarring, to be sure — he quotes a survey showing that for women 30 or older, those had one sexual partner in a lifetime) were by far most likely to be still in a stable relationship (80 percent). "Sleeping with just one extra partner dropped that probability to 54 percent," he writes. "Two extra partners brought it down to 44 percent."

However, as a woman, I can easily see how one could come away from that article asking, "Why is it so important to the Heritage Foundation to stop women from having sex before marriage? Why not men?"

The survey to which Fagan refers gives no answer, stating simply that only women were polled.

Coincidentally, a Dawn Patrol commenter who identifies herself as Kellie writes a response to my Beliefnet interview:
As much as I dislike resorting to "PC" writing, I believe on [chastity] it may be a worthwhile endeavor. There are so many people enraged (enraged for some crazy reason that I don't understand — what we think doesn't in any way impede their own actions. but I digress) with our way of thinking. Why not challenge those folks by stating up front that this is in no way accepting the standard of the past; a past in which men are to sow their oats while women are to stay pure and innocent. This (ours) is a new world —a new way of thinking in which men and women are to be equal in their quest to understand the depths of love by the control they exhibit over their bodies and the emphasis they put instead on the development of relationships. That, after all, is what makes us human and not animals.
I couldn't agree more.

Separating virginity from chastity, and implying that virginity alone is the ultimate goal for the unmarried, sets young people up for technical virginity. The efforts of Planned Parenthood and others to end abstinence-only education are fueled by such misconceptions (although those organizations' arguments are largely based upon inaccurate depictions of such programs). I know this because, as I write in my book, I lost my innocence many years before I lost my virginity.

I believe that virginity until marriage should be upheld as an ideal. But it is ideal only when virginity represents a perfect expression of the chastity that everyone, men and women, should practice — not when it is promoted primarily to one sex, and certainly not when virgins are presented as the only people who can live meaningful chaste lives.