Monday, March 19, 2012

Valenti's The Purity Myth

A while ago I read Jessica Valenti's book The Purity Myth.  It's a good book!  It's really informative about some societal trends in hating on women's sexuality, which is even more relevant today than it was when it was published, given all the recent attacks on women's reproductive rights.  Buuuut, it has some major flaws.  One of the things it addresses is defining what sex actually is, which is an important thing to talk about since sex is so different for so many people-- most people thing penis-in-vagina is sex, period, but when both partners have penises or both partners have vaginas, or they aren't interested in penetrative sex of any kind, but they're still having sexual experiences together, and possibly even getting more sexual or exploring more kinks that straight up penis in vagina, you've got to think that more things that penis in vagina should count as sex.  So, like many other authors do in many other works, Valenti discusses definitions for sex.

From The Purity Myth, page 20-21, on what sex is: "My closest friend, Kate, a lesbian, has the best answer to date (a rule I've followed since she shared it with me): It isn't sex unless you've had an orgasm.  That's a pleasure-based, non-heteronormative was of marking intimacy if I've ever heard one.  Of course, this way of defining sex isn't likely to be popular among the straight-male sex, given that some would probably end up not counting for many of their partners.
But any way you cut it, virginity is just to subjective to pretend we can define it."

I totally agree that virginity is too subjective to just easily define (because otherwise, there are a gay men and lesbians who've had multiple partners, but who are still virgins), but I still think that defining it by orgasms is problematic and kind of insulting.  It's still framing things through a normative view, in which sex is about the finish rather than the overall experience, and it's framing it in a way that shuts out a lot of women who really like sex but who can't come from penetrative, or oral, or who are still trying to do social programming that makes them too tense to come when they have another person in the room.  These are real issues that you run into if you spend time on blogs or boards where women talk about sex, and framing things from an orgasmic point of view shuts out a very large swath of women who either don't value orgasms that much, or who don't experience them, but who still consider themselves to be having sex.  It ties into what I see as one of the larger problems of sex positivity-- that a lot of sex positive people end up being negative about those who aren't interested in sex, or kink, or multiple partners, possibly because a rejection of those things can feel like negative judgement.  But really, if you're sex positive, you should focus on other people getting joy out of sex, and having sex in the way they like-- whether it's a poly lifestyle with bdsm tones, or someone who waits for a monogamous marriage to do things beyond kiss.  As long as they're being true to themselves, and have thought about the issues and aren't trying to force anyone else into their lifestyle, neither is better than the other.  And for a lot of people, that idea that neither is better than the other also holds true for orgasms during sex.

1 comment:

Ossa said...

Nice Article Very Informative and very useful.