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The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
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The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  4,140 ratings  ·  438 reviews
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” i...more
Hardcover, 263 pages
Published April 1st 2009 (first published March 21st 2009)
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Litchick (aka Navessa Allen)

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...more
Elevate Difference
Let me begin this review by professing my support for Jessica Valenti's overarching purpose in The Purity Myth: to expose the trope of sexual purity as deeply entrenched in American culture and to demonstrate the harmfulness of this trope on young American women. I agree with her assessment of the state and nature of "purity" (indeed, race theorists and sexuality theorists have long since questioned the value of the concept of purity), and I applaud her commitment to the social, psychological, s...more
Christy Stewart
Reading the book was like being lifted of a burden because with every chapter I was SO relieved that what I felt helpless to argue about anymore was covered so succinctly and eloquently in this book. I don't tend to like to read nonfiction books I agree with (because what's the point? I might as well sit in the bathroom and talk into the mirror) but I've never been more pleased to agree with a book in my life, if someone asked me what I felt about feminism and/or sexuality I could hand them this...more
Very interesting read. The author puts forward the argument that defining women and labeling their morality by their sexual activity and choices is problematic. Valenti argues that overvaluing virginity is on the same continuum and spectrum as labeling women “sluts”. In the end, Valenti is not promoting promiscuousness. She is not promoting prudishness. She is not discouraging men from finding women attractive. What she is arguing is for an identification of women that is separate from their app...more
I want to start off my review by stating that I don't think this book is anti-abstinence. It is against the idea that being abstinence makes you a more moral woman than those of us who did not wait till marriage to have sex.

This book frustrates me because proves to me how despite all the progress women have made around the world, we are till bound by archaic principles when it comes to our sexuality. The examples that these abstinence-only places are teaching is not only insulting, but de-human...more
Update: March 3, 2014: I found the article I mention below that I couldn't find at the time of writing this review! Because I'm a rock star. Silly rabbit, I didn't go back to look at The Toast. Long story short - On Not Having a Story About Losing Your Virginity. Finally.

Original Review:
Abstinence-only sex education.

There have been a couple articles I've read lately on the interwebz about virginity that have really caught my attention, and now after reading this book, those articles have come ba...more
Crystal Starr Light
UPDATE: Bumping this up to 4 stars after reading Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters, because this book is a lot more balanced and speaks with more facts.

This isn't really a review, more of a mish-mash of my thoughts and feelings about this book. So be warned: it's messy and unorganized.

I found the book very insightful, brimmed with thought-provoking arguments and comprehensive research. I appreciated a book that looked at the Virginity Myth from all aspects--wha...more
Emily May
I'm not a fan of all of Valenti's work but she gets it right with this one. Valenti addresses many important issues in The Purity Myth and manages to effectively make the point that a woman's sexuality shouldn't matter. She doesn't resort to virgin-shaming, that's not what this book is about, but instead suggests that women should not be judged based on whether they are having sex, how often they are having sex or who they are having sex with. A very thought-provoking and interesting book.
Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}
Is America a dystopian society when it comes to its neglectful and abusive nature towards its women?

I ask this question honestly, not to shock or offend, but because I genuinely want to know. I'm not saying America is the worst country in the world for a woman to live, just that the 'virginity movement' comprising of powerful conservative, Republican and Christian groups, have a worrying number of ideals in common with Al-Qaeda.

As a Brit, I'm spoilt. I take my country for granted for its forwar...more
Valenti makes a number of good arguments in _The Purity Myth_: that it's dangerous and damaging to teach young women that their morality or lack thereof hinges on whether or not they have sex, rather than whether or not they are kind people living ethical lives; that obsession with sexual purity infantilizes women; that the virgin-whore dichotomy enables the abuse and marginalization of women, and pushes a view of masculinity that is toxic to both women and men. Valenti is right on the mark in c...more
Whoo! My first book on feminism! I heard about this book a couple of years ago and was intrigued, simply because I grew up in a world where purity was everything.


Your virginity/purity was your worth. Not if you were funny, not if you were kind, not if you had great ideas...even if you had all those things, if you were not a virgin before marriage then you were ruined. So anyway, I've casually been on the lookout for this book for awhile. This past week my fiance and I went to Portl...more
Another work of nonfiction with several quote-worthy passages. In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti argues that America's obsession with virginity hurts young women. She focuses on the idea that if we teach girls to value themselves in terms of their bodies, they will fail to cultivate true virtues: intelligence, assiduousness, and compassion.

The desirable virgin is sexy but not sexual. She's young, white, and skinny. She's a cheerleader, a baby sitter; she's accessible and eager to please (remem...more
Deborah Markus
“No man’s getting into my bed unless he puts a ring on my finger.”

A neighbor of mine was in the habit of saying this. It made me uncomfortable because, first of all, nobody had asked. I mean, seriously, she would throw this into a pause in the conversation the way some people might make idle observations on the weather.

Second, when she put it that way, it didn’t sound like, “I don’t know about the rest of you gals, but I have standards,” which I’m sure is how she meant it. It sounded uncomforta...more
Ms. Online
Laura M. Carpenter

Review of The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity Is Hurting Young Women
By Jessica Valenti
Seal Press

For decades, Right-Wing think tanks and conservative Christian organizations have promoted what Jessica Valenti calls the “purity myth”: the belief that virginity separates moral/good women from their immoral/bad sisters. In its blatant attempt to re-establish traditional gender roles, the purity movement backs restrictions on birth control and abortio...more
Feb 25, 2009 Meen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meen by:
I saw this book on an ad on this page:

which is making me throw up a little in my mouth every time I think about it. At some point we have to start calling some aspects of religion what they are, just plain abuse.
Here's the thing that bugs me, really bugs me. You ready for it? This idea that women and sex are two completely unrelated in any way, shape or form ideas. I mean, I thought that whole close your eyes and think of England thing was gone. I've read letters collected by women's groups in the late 1800s and early 1900s. You know, actually you most likely don't know. But in some of these letters, young women didn't even know they were in labor! I have nothing againist virginity or being chaste. If t...more
I agreed with a lot of Valenti's positions and her critique of various interrelated issues such as rape culture, pro-abstinence education, media hypersexualization of women and hypermasculinity as related to how our culture treats women's sexuality, but I found the writing and organization to be uneven (wobbling between blog-like snark and academic semistructures), and the tone, frankly, was often annoying. Valenti advocates in her last chapter for people to build dialogue and keep an open mind,...more
I gave it 2 stars, as some of it was interesting, but the good did not stop me feeling the bad about it.

I will quote the awsome response from author Nina Power, her view is very much the same as mine:

"Stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover. Valenti ‘truly believes’ that feminism is necessary for women ‘to live happy fulfilled lives’. Slipping down as easily as a friendly-bacteria yoghurt drink, Valenti’s version of femi...more
Charlotte Dungan
This was recommended in a book discussion about sexuality. I read it because I thought it would give a different perspective than the one I was most familiar with, and that's true, but the presentation was so rude and condescending to the opposing viewpoint that it totally obscured the message she was trying to convey.*. She doesn't even have anything useful or positive to say until almost 200 pages in. If this is the way feminists paint themselves, their movement is surely doomed, even if their...more
Rabbit { ☠ Pass the hard apple cider  ☠}
This book pissed me off at some parts, not at the writer, but at the subject matter and the injustice of it all. Definitly highly recommend this.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Valenti's overall thesis is one I'm totally onboard with, but by midway through the book gets a bit repetitive. I'm also not in love with her tone, which vacillates between academic and blogger. I feel some of her points are diminished by striking some tonally weird notes. Also I wish she'd found a way to lace in the more memoir-esque aspects better. It's like, research paper, blog, personal story, research paper.

Also not quite sure who the audience is for this book. As someone who reads femini...more
Daniel Stafford
Imagine if you will that you are a young, white woman applying for a job. Now, imagine that the person interviewing you asks if you are married. You, as a young, pretty, white woman answers no. The interviewer then mumbles and writes a notation on his paper and asks, to your astonishment, if whether or not you're still a virgin, and that you must answer honestly. So, you as this young, pretty, white woman answers back to him that you have had in your lifetime two men that you had had sex with. T...more
If you're a regular reader of the feminist blogosphere, give it a pass. It's nothing you haven't read before, and Valenti is such a clunky prose-stylist, it's kind of a chore to read. She loves her one-sentence paragraphs and italics.

Also, she writes as though she is preaching to the choir, without explaining why she is sex positive, why abstinence-only education is harmful in any kind of detail, how other countries are doing it better--and her examination of the issues is so simplistic it also...more
aPriL loves HalLowEen
Valenti pulls together in one book all of the insane purity fads and institutional policies and social mores and laws and religious bullying and pseudo-science surrounding the issue of American female sexuality. If your daughters are scared of their bodies and resort to weird, neurotic behaviors or religious extremism, you might want to read this book. Unfortunately, the parents who most need to read this book I don't think will see the logic but will see it as an attack on their faith or as fem...more
Jan 02, 2012 Holly rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: masochists
Recommended to Holly by: the goddamned internet
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
I was so excited to read this book that I went to the trouble of buying it from the localest online used bookstore I could find. I even had it expressed shipped because it was only 2$ more.

And oh man was it ever bad. The only reason I finished this is because the one life skill I got out of fifteen years of competitive figure skating was the ability to willpower through the most unpleasant tasks imaginable. Actually, I didn't even finish it. I skipped the last chapter when I realized there wasn...more
Apr 07, 2011 Kathleen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, and their mom
Young women have their morality defined solely by their sexuality. A "good girl" keeps her legs crossed; a "bad girl" doesn't. There is nothing in that definition about not stealing another girl's Game Boy Color, volunteering at a local homeless shelter, or considering the effect her actions have on others. In other words, there is nothing related to morality in that definition, which seems obvious to me but less so to the entirety of American culture. Which, as we know from her website Feminist...more
Dena Landon
An excellent, excellent argument for re-shaping society to measure a woman's worth on something other than her sexuality. This is not, I must add, an argument for irresponsible sex, what it is a good breakdown of the myths behind a false concept of 'purity.' Valenti analyzes the message of many purity movements and organizations, abstinence-only education, and the concept of a woman as a passive being. In short, she argues that we are not giving young women the tools they need to be moral actors...more
I'm a huge feminist and supporter of comprehensive sex education, as well as a huge fan of Jessica Valenti, so when I give this book three stars, I'm giving three stars to the book and not the writer or the subject matter. I wish I'd read this book years ago, when it first came out - it would have hastened my understanding of feminism and the culture surrounding our existence in our society, and I probably would have ranked it higher. As it stands, I have a rather solid basis in feminist theory...more
This is a really fascinating, frightening and most of all, important book to read. Some of it you may be aware of, some of it you may not. One statistic that was shocking to me: the 1,400 Purity Balls (Where a young woman or girl pledges her virginity to her father in a prom-like setting) that are held each year are federally funded. Or that a Utah woman was jailed for murder after she refused to have a c-section and one of her twins emerged stillborn.

I have read Female Chauvinist Pigs, another...more
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Jessica Valenti is the founder and editor of the popular blog and online community,

She is the author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters, He's a Stud, She's a Slut...and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, and The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women. In 2011, the Purity Myth was made into a d...more
More about Jessica Valenti...
Full Frontal Feminism He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists

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“Now, should we treat women as independent agents, responsible for themselves? Of course. But being responsible has nothing to do with being raped. Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them. 353 likes
“The desirable virgin is sexy but not sexual. She's young, white, and skinny. She's a cheerleader, a babysitter; she's accessible and eager to please (remember those ethics of passivity!). She's never a woman of color. SHe's never a low-income girl or a fat girl. She's never disabled. "Virgin" is a designation for those who meet a certain standard of what women, especially young women, are supposed to look like. As for how these young women are supposed to act? A blank slate is best.” 157 likes
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