Last updated: March 9, 2012 10:53 am
The Purity Myth
Abstaining from abstinence education
FREDERICTON (CUP) — Women, imagine a ripe cherry being violently smashed to bits with a mallet. Some abstinence-only educators want young women to liken the violent image to the breaking of the hymen during sex — a vaginal membrane often erroneously believed to signify virginity — in a scene from the documentary The Purity Myth.
So, imagine a mallet to your hymen. Did you wince?
That’s exactly the reaction these educators want from young women; the hope is if they thought about having sex before, they’ll think twice about it after that gory display.
However, that’s not exactly the case. The documentary, which is based on Jessica Valenti’s book that exposes the failures of abstinence-only education and aims to dispel the argument that a woman’s value is based on her virginity, claims that abstinence-only education actually provokes the opposite effect.
It doesn’t work. And worse, the film says 80 per cent of abstinence-only education contains false information. As a result, teens are engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour. They’re not armed with the knowledge that they can contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from unprotected oral and anal sex, but what they are told is that vaginal intercourse before marriage is off limits.
You can see the confusion here.
The Purity Myth screening at UNB, funded by the University Women’s Centre and the UNBSU women’s liaison, exposes the fanaticism of “a moral panic over sexuality” in the United States and the rhetoric that’s spewed in schools at the cost of taxpayers — $1.3 billion since 1996 — despite 82 per cent of Americans supporting proper sexual education programs.
And then, there are the purity balls.
These archaic, downright creepy ceremonies involve young girls — sometimes as young as six or seven years old — and their fathers. The girls get dolled up in ball gowns with fancy up-dos and makeup and pledge their virginity to their fathers until marriage; their fathers dress in tuxedos and pledge to protect their daughters’ virginity until she’s married.
It was unsettling, to say the least. These girls are being identified as sex objects as young as six; they don’t even know what sex is.
“Women are still led to believe that our moral compass lies somewhere between our legs — literally,” said Jessica Valenti, producer of the film.
“There’s this antiquated notion that fathers own their daughters’ sexuality.”
What was particularly disturbing was the segment on pop star Jessica Simpson. Evidently, she pledged her virginity to her father in a purity ball. Then she married Nick Lachey and had free reign to ravish him, much to her dad’s delight.
“We’re celebrating the fact that she can do it till she’s blue in the face,” said Joe Simpson, smiling, after his daughter’s marriage.
The film touches on other subjects surrounding the idea of virginity like “legislating chastity” via the Republican effort to defund abortion and the Plan B emergency contraceptive, and vaginal rejuvenation surgery, which has become the fastest growing form of plastic surgery in the U.S.
While it would’ve been interesting to see the documentary extended to include commentary from young women and men who’ve experienced abstinence-only education, the film was effective in relaying its overall message: women must be regarded as having more depth to them than what’s between their legs. They have brains, compassion and power.
The discussion following the film raised some shocking anecdotal information about sex education in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, or rather the disappointing lack thereof. One woman said she recalled that the guidance counselor who was supposed to teach sex education at her school chose not to because he felt it conflicted with his religion. Megan Glenwright, women’s liaison for the UNBSU, said she recalled having very minimal sex education and not being able to keep track of the pregnant girls at her high school.
It’s clear that a dialogue needs to begin in this province about the importance of sex education, especially with the recent outbreak of syphilis in New Brunswick, which continues to worsen. Each woman has a right to remain a virgin, of course, but it shouldn’t be at the risk of ignorance about sex.