I was really displeased with Slate’s inaccurate portrayal of the Rethinking Virginity Conference, so I contacted Jessica Grose and she published the official “Lena Chen Is Not An Abstinence Pusher” rebuttal to Double X, the women’s blog. I remain less than pleased that the original article is still up with the subheading “‘sex positive’ young women reconsider abstinence”, so I’m going to rant a little bit about what I was most offended by, since I’ve now had a couple days to cool down.
I’m still really miffed that there’s so much about my personal life — which makes up most of the article! I spoke to Grose on the phone for 20 minutes and then she went to the conference; I definitely didn’t think the former was going to constitute most of the article. As such, some of the information is just not true and some is plain odd. For example, I didn’t actually adopt my bulldog Hamlet as the article claims (my partner did two years before we met), and my Hustler article was listed as evidence of my racy past, but the piece was on academic freedom and had nothing to do with sex. Had I been asked about either of these things, I could have clarified, but it seems like most of this was information pulled from my old blog without any context.
Most disappointing is that Slate just completely ignored all the great queer perspectives we had at the conference and made it seem like this event was exclusively about straight sex. The whole point of “rethinking virginity” is realizing that the concept of virginity perpetuates the idea that there is only one kind of “real” sex, that being vaginal penetrative intercourse. Overemphasizing virginity narrows the spectrum of acceptable sexual behavior and invalidates the experiences of queer people and others who don’t engage in intercourse as the primary sexual act. It’s so deeply disappointing that Slate, a supposedly progressive publication, ignored that the Harvard College Queer Students & Allies hosted the conference and ignored the consistent emphasis on promoting a spectrum of sexuality.
And tellingly, Slate also ignored the speakers that did not fit into the mold of what a sex positive young woman should look like. That mold apparently includes people like Emily Gould, Meghan McCain, and me, but as far as I know, the other two don’t even identify as sex-positive. Why not include an example of someone who’s queer and sex-positive? There are so many individuals that could be referenced. But I’m not sure the thought even crossed Grose’s mind. In my experience, there’s a tendency, even among liberals, to think that queer sexuality is this whole separate realm that has nothing to do with straight sex. Not only is that ignorant, that’s straight privilege, and a lot of people — plenty of my friends included — are guilty of it. Even progressive media is guilty of it. (For a queer safe-sex/sex-pos perspective, check out Oscar Raymundo’s Confessions Of A Boy Toy.)
As any long-time readers of this blog know, I have very clear and consistent views about sexual freedom and personal responsibility, both of which are crucial to sex-positive feminism. If you attended Rethinking Virginity or read some of the post-conference press, it’s really obvious that the panelists were hardly scolding anyone. Did some of them express strong disapproval of non-monogamous, unprotected sex? Absolutely. But look, let’s not kid ourselves. Who actually thinks it’s a good idea for large groups of people to fuck other groups of people without protection and then swap partners and go on? If that makes me a scold, then I’m just going to change my name to Katie Roiphe and call it a day.
As for talking about abstinence, I think it’s a shame that someone can’t bring it up without be accused of becoming conservative. Sex-positive abstinence is not only smart from a public health perspective (since kids need comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education), but it’s absolutely crucial to include those who share our views about personal freedom, but who might not actually have sex. We need to stop talking derisively about virgins like they don’t exist. You’re not just anti-feminist but an asshole if you write off someone because they haven’t had sex.
Feedback? Thoughts? Am I really a scold? Tell me in the comments.