the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
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I’m interested in hearing some opinions on feminism and virginity.

"Virgin shaming" is a common accusation leveled at feminists by social conservatives and the religious right. I’ve read countless books and articles about how feminism encourages sexual promiscuity and snubs sexual abstinent women, but much of this literature discusses feminism as a monolith and fails to recognize the distinction between criticizing compulsory abstinence and abstinence by choice. It’s particularly telling that there’s a dearth of citations referring back to feminist writings. Who are these feminists bad-mouthing virgins? Are they scholars or activists? Second-wavers or third-wavers?

Historically speaking, the more radical branches of second-wave feminism even advocated abstinence from heterosexual intercourse, because of the view that women as a systematically oppressed group could not adequately give consent within a patriarchal society. Granted, not everyone takes Andrea Dworkin or separatist feminism seriously, but it’s inaccurate to portray the entire feminist movement as pro-sex across the board. There were very visible and vocal feminists on the fringe who, as a means of political protest, flat-out refused to participate in intercourse. I have yet to encounter contemporary pro-abstinence literature that acknowledges this past.

I’ll grant that contemporary feminism continues to be highly critical of virginity as a patriarchal social construct, but the only time virgins themselves are disparaged is when they expect the rest of society to conform to their beliefs about sex. There is also a tendency to critique “choosing abstinence” as a form of false consciousness, but that’s still a far cry from “virgin shaming”. After exhausting Google scholar, I haven’t found a single piece of feminist writing that explicitly condemns women for choosing to abstain from sex. I have found two articles (one on Bitch and one on Feministing) which discuss whether it’s possible for an abstinent woman to be sex-positive. I think it is.

So is this accusation of “virgin shaming” based on misconceptions? Are there any examples of feminists — academic or otherwise — actively discouraging abstinence? And if not, then where do these accusations come from?

(If you reblog this, I’d appreciate it if you left a link to your post in the comments section of this one, so that non-Tumblr readers can follow the discussion)