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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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