Review: The Purity Myth

Title:  The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Woman

Author:  Jessica Valenti

Published:  April 1, 2009

Page Count:  300

Genres:  Nonfiction, Feminism, Womens’ Issues

My Rating:  5/5

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” infomercials — place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

I really don’t know how to review this book without sounding preachy.  What I’d like to do is type huge passages directly from the book for your own reading, but I don’t have the energy to do so (neither do I think many people would read the large amount of passages that I’d like to highlight).  What I will say is that The Purity Myth is an important book.  It’s a book that every young woman should read.  It’s a book that I think most people should read, in general.  And it’s a book that I absolutely agree with.

Let me say this straight out – Jessica Valenti is not saying that virginity or purity are bad things, in an of themselves.  In fact, she makes it abundantly clear that she fully supports and encourages women to abstain from sex if that’s their choice – well, it’s more like she thinks that we shouldn’t care WHAT women do with their sex lives.  The point of The Purity Myth is that a woman’s sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with her value as a human being or her morals.  Yet, in the United States there is an incredible amount of weight placed on a woman’s sexuality – from Purity Balls to slut-shaming to abstinence-only education, in the U.S. we care very deeply about the choices woman make about their own sexuality.  And Valenti’s point is that it should not be this way.  It is completely irrelevant to a woman’s personhood the sexual choices she makes, and to place value on sexuality as we do is damaging and extremely hurtful to women.

The Purity Myth is a great book for adolescents and young women because of Valenti’s no-nonsense, casual way of writing.  She writes as if she’s talking to you, not preaching or sounding overly stuffy, she’s telling it like it is.  And most young women appreciate that kind of relateability.  Unfortunately, I think the book will be lost on some older men and woman because of the tone she takes in the book.  Some of her best arguments and facts are in the footnotes, and a lot of what’s expanded on is opinion and personal experience.  This is not to say that her opinions and personal experiences aren’t supported by research and data – they definitely are.  But I think that the way she writes may turn off some readers to such a degree that they won’t be interested in reading about the research and data.  However, I personally am a fan of Valenti’s style so I think it works for her, and it works for the book.  But if I’m being impartial, I can see the downside to writing in the style that she does.

I highly recommend reading this book.  I learned a lot about abstinence-only education, rape laws in some states, and how the Virginity Movement has been subtly pushing their agenda for years.  The Purity Myth is not only highly informative, but it’s very accessible and fun to read.  And like I said, it’s an important read.

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18 thoughts on “Review: The Purity Myth”

  1. Wow. I HAVE got to read this. This is true in my culture also, and it’s something that deeply upsets me. Thank you for the fabulous review, Heather.

  2. Heather –

    What an excellent review. It sounds as though reading this was a very meaningful experience and a book that I would enjoy as well. I believe that society defines too often how women and young girls view their bodies and their sexuality.

    I’m curious enough to read this book because I know of an overwhelming number of students (middle school age) who are sexually active. I believe that we need to somehow show/teach balance. Virginity should not be a bartering piece, or something that defines you. But the promiscuity of kids is also a red flag for me. Ultimately, something is lacking in the education and communication of sex.

    1. Oh, for sure something is lacking in the education/communication of sex. The Purity Myth talks about this as well. In my personal opinion, I think young kids being sexually active has a lot to do with their complete lack of sex ed (abstinence-only ed, for goodness sakes!) and parents’ inability to be open an honest with their kids. When something is completely taboo in a society, kids are going to be naturally curious. And kids are born naturally curious about sex, so there ya go.

  3. Wonderful review. I think abstinence-only education is a huge mistake. I went through some of that, and let me tell you, it did not work for me, and it did not work for 95% of those that were in it with me. It is a different world today. People are not marrying at 18 and 24 like they used to. They are starting careers and dating more people to make sure they don’t jump into a marriage. I think it is important to teach abstinence as an OPTION. Not as the only way there is. Because young people are going to have sex whether you like it or not, whether you believe they are or not, 9 times out of 10 they are. And it would be a hell of a lot better for someone to be using protection (and using it correctly) than to get pregnant or get someone pregnant at such a young age.

  4. It’s so funny how this book landed in my posession. At the library looking to stock up on summer reads, somehow I saw the cover from across the room and immediately became curious. Upon further inspection of the inside cover, I immediately felt a revelation, kind of like one of those when you realize the Disney “D” is a “D” for the first time! Anyway, I’ve just started reading the book and am even more optimistic about its content after reading your review. 😀

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