This post originally ran in August 2010, but is timely in light of Caitlin Flanagan's new clueless writings on young women and sex. Share your biggest abstinence myths here.
This post was written by Sara, 2010 intern extraordinaire!
In a recent article lamenting the impersonal nature of modern youth sexuality (read: hook-up culture), Caitlin Flanagan of the "Atlantic Monthly" argued that the girls hurt so badly by this phenomenon have finally formed a resistance movement--and it comes in the form of the teen vampire fiction series "Twilight." The logic is as follows: "Twilight" celebrates abstinent monogamy; young women celebrate "Twilight." Therefore, when tween girls pay $12 a pop for a Taylor Lautner three-ring binder, what they are really doing is protesting hook-up culture as a whole (or, in the words of Flanagan, staging "one of the last, great stands for human dignity.")
While some of you may think it's a little too far of a jump to interpret the popularity of "Twilight" as an adolescent girl's backlash against hook-up culture, there can be no doubt about the pretty significant uprising of abstinence and celibacy activism over the past few years. Take for example the abstinence societies like the Love and Fidelity Network or Harvard's famed True Love Revolution that have popped up on hundreds of college campuses. Or the recent CNN article about the a college junior who was finally able to "quit" the hooking up that made her feel "empty" inside. Hell, even Lady Gaga's pledged celibacy.
But let's not forget the backlash to this backlash: the popularity of events like CAKE parties, Georgetown University's Sex Positive Week and Barnard College's Sexhibition, and Harvard's Female Orgasm Seminar has been on the rise too.
It seems the abstainers and their opposition are staging a war; unsurprisingly, my generation, the one burdened with the label of "hook-up culture," has become the battlefield. The discussion of our sexuality has become decidedly politicized. We are often pushed to subscribe to one movement or another, either rebelling against the "impersonal" and "emotionally destructive" hook-up culture by choosing abstinence, or resisting "Victorian-era repression" by embracing our sex-positive inner sluts. What I'm left wondering is, when did our sexuality become framed in the terms of nation-wide cultural protest? How did the discussion around modern sexuality move so far beyond the individuals actually involved?
I recently came across Nerve's article "Sex Tips from Abstinence Pledgers," a part of their regular "Sex Tips From..." series (also check out Zamboni drivers and Doctor Who fans). What I love about this article is the incredible individuality displayed in each of the subject's sexual decisions. "Delaying sex meant that I was more ready to relax and enjoy it than I would have been because I was better educated and more comfortable with myself," remarks Heather, age 26. "Constantly denying sex has made me extremely confident in my sexuality. I own it now," shares Brian, age 23. Anna Broadway, age 31, offered the following: "It's so easy to think of [sexuality] as just being about intercourse, but there's so much more to being a man or a woman than that! Sexual self-control can really open your eyes to all that sexuality entails." While each subject does identify as abstinent, not one of them tries to be the poster child for the entire movement.
All in all, I have a hard time believing that the sexual practices of my generation are universally impersonal. Rather, it's the way modern youth sexuality is discussed that is impersonal; all the talk of universal morals, categorical power dynamics, and blanket sexual consequences leaves very little room for individual relationships with sexuality.