Author: has written 5301 posts for this blog.

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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50 Responses

  1. myst3kpyro
    myst3kpyro March 31, 2008 at 9:18 am |

    The picture at the top of the page is very, very disturbing to me.
    It seems to be saying, “Remember, girls, the only thing your future husband likes about you is your hymen. Without it, he will never enjoy having sex with you, and that’s the most important thing to worry about.”

  2. EoL
    EoL March 31, 2008 at 9:33 am |

    I feel the need to say, as an asexual, that this passage:
    People who have sex do not feel a constant need to tell abstinent people that their human dignity has been compromised, or that they’re dirty, or that they are secretly unhappy, or that they’re headed for total life ruin.

    is somewhat untrue. Secretly unhappy, total life ruin, sick, crazy, what about your future husband, what about your future children, what if a guy really wants to, maybe you’re gay, maybe you’re a late bloomer, maybe it’s your hormones and you have a disease, could it be a disease, you’re not normal, that’s your choice–heard it all. From non-abstinent people who feel the need to tell me that my sexual orientation is wrong.

    But for some reason, if I CHOSE not to have sex, that would be like, “Oh man, that’s so cool that you can be so strong and give that up for god!” Since I’m not choosing, because I don’t care about sex, it’s, “OH MY GOD, YOU FREAK! ALL PEOPLE WANT SEX!”

    Just thought that needed to be said.

  3. E-Visible Woman
    E-Visible Woman March 31, 2008 at 9:34 am |

    Fredell began to understand she was in “a culture that says sex is totally O.K.”

    Sex IS totally ok!

  4. mythago
    mythago March 31, 2008 at 9:54 am |

    EoL, ignorant assholes who don’t respect other people’s sexual choices are certainly among the sexually active. But not too many of them portray abstinence or celibacy as morally wrong, particularly in sexist, factually ignorant language, and get federal funding for doing so.

    Jill – I got the impression that quote was meant to illustrate the “wooo wooo catfight!” attitude towards the debate.

  5. Jem
    Jem March 31, 2008 at 9:55 am |

    What I find annoying is that they make out that the only options are all out promiscuity or total abstinence. Like once you’ve slept with one person, you have to do it with everyone else who comes along.

  6. roses
    roses March 31, 2008 at 10:03 am |

    I would add one – when you claim nobody in your hometown was having premarital sex, you come across as incredibly naive. Just because nobody was talking about it to you doesn’t mean nobody was doing it.

    Every woman, she said, should have this “incredibly moving experience” of being appreciated for who she really is.

    I have that in my sexual relationship, but thank you for your concern. I wonder – does she think once she gets married this guy is going to stop appreciating her for who she is and start only caring about the sex?

    The Web site warned what happens then to the sexually active; that oxytocin, in such cases, can cause “a palpable sense of loss, betrayed trust and unwelcome memories.

    Oh my God, breaking up can cause that. The most painful breakup I ever had was after a long distance relationship in which we’d never even touched. Just because she bounces back after all her breakups doesn’t mean everyone in a non-sexual relationship does. It is actually possible to bind tightly to another person without having sex with them. This is what I don’t get about these abstinence only types. They’re trying to simultaneously claim that you can have a fulfilling and healthy relationship without sex, and that sex is the most important component of a relationship and that without it you’ll feel so little for the other person that you won’t even be hurt if you get dumped. Which is it?

  7. louise
    louise March 31, 2008 at 10:15 am |

    But if you ARE abstaining, isn’t he already holding his OWN “bare stem”?

  8. Abstinence may be a feminist choice, but a feminist choices isn’t necessarily abstinence … especially, at Harvard « der Skorpion

    […] a feminist choices isn’t necessarily abstinence … especially, at Harvard Jill at Feministe wrote a great response to the push for abstinence from Harvard students recently. She addresses a […]

  9. talknormal
    talknormal March 31, 2008 at 10:19 am |

    I think my favorite might be:

    Its one stated purpose was to discourage premarital intercourse, but by declining to endorse gay marriage, the group left gays, just as Princeton did, with no option but to abstain forever. Since True Love Revolution did not condemn gay marriage, Murray hoped no one would feel “personally attacked.” “We just wanted it to be kind of humorous and lighthearted,” he said.

    WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?? “omg you gays want to have marriage too? ha! ha! that is so humorous and lighthearted! Wait, you feel attacked?”

    That might just be atrociously shoddy writing though, I honestly can’t discern what is going on with that passage.

  10. Shinobi
    Shinobi March 31, 2008 at 10:42 am |

    My little cousin (18, senior in HS) is “Pledged” to her older sister. (Who never dates and is probably still a virgin too.) On Easter one of our guests was giving her a really hard time about her decision to be abstinent or whatever, and it really pissed me off. I mean, first of all she’s 18 years old, she’s got plenty of time to change her mind if indeed she wants to. Secondly, I think everyone in our family is pretty relieved that she’s going to graduate HS without a kid in tow, since she developed early and has always been boy crazy. I think we’re all glad, that in some way her religiously motivated crazy chastity pledge has allowed her to have a successful High School career without other drama. And I think this guy was way out of line for getting confrontational with her about it, even though I essentially agree with him.

    My Cousing and I have been talking a lot lately though and I think she feels a lot of guilt for things like masturbating, and being interested in sex, which makes me sad. So hopefully she’ll move away from that soon, if only so she can feel happy with herselfI do think that it was a good thing for her during high school, I only hope that it is something she’ll be able to change her mind on later on without too much collateral damage.

    If anyone has any recommendations on books for pre college girls who don’t think they are smart enough to do anything (seriously she refuses to learn to drive) I’d love it if you’d e-mail them to me (

  11. sminbrooklyn
    sminbrooklyn March 31, 2008 at 10:47 am |

    i especially appreciated the reference to gandhi and nelson mandela! absurd.

  12. DAS
    DAS March 31, 2008 at 11:02 am |

    Second, what makes you think that the constant “Don’t think about sex!” message will actually make people not think about sex? It’s the old “pink elephant” game, isn’t it?

    According to some in more sex-positive (within marriage) but still “abstinence before marriage” traditions, this is not a bug but a feature — the idea is that if sex is something that is so much a focus, when you do become married, you have this whole torrent of sexuality that gets unleashed. The problem of course is that a couple’s sex life is to some degree a skill set you develop with your partner … and that all this build-up inevitably leads to some disappointing first times, I would imagine.

  13. annajcook
    annajcook March 31, 2008 at 11:20 am |

    4. You are not Ghandi or Nelson Mandela for choosing not to have sex.

    . . . reminded me of this 2001 op-ed by Sarah Vowell.

  14. SKM
    SKM March 31, 2008 at 11:29 am |

    Jill, thanks for telling me how it ended–I couldn’t stand to read the whole thing. Thanks for taking on so much shit! The ending, btw–yuck. I used to like the NYT mag, but it is just more and more righty propaganda these days…

    Oh, and Louise @7–you totally win; hilarious!

  15. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe March 31, 2008 at 11:37 am |

    Meh. This is just a support group for people who feel a certain way about sex. As long as they don’t try to spread misinformation or oppress others who feel differently, I don’t see the harm.

  16. jfpbookworm
    jfpbookworm March 31, 2008 at 11:56 am |

    There have been always been abstinence groups in the Ivy League. Traditionally they’re called premeds.

    Seriously, there are plenty of folks at colleges, especially highly competitive ones, that aren’t having sex. It’s just that they don’t turn it into a cause. I’m not sure why these people have; the impression I get is that it *is* still a religious thing, it’s just that for some reason (funding? PR?) they won’t say that it is.

  17. Kristin
    Kristin March 31, 2008 at 12:25 pm |

    Many things about this article cracked me up–like the appropriation of Anscombe to give the group at Princeton a veneer of intellectualism. Or the insinuation that support for gay marriage makes your group “humorous” and “light-hearted” (To be honest, I couldn’t decide whether or not to be offended or amused with the stupidity there.). Or the fact that these are all right wing religious activists who disingenuously present their conclusions as “secular,” as “philosophically sound,” as “scientifically based.” Even as “feminist.”

    I did find the appropriation of feminism particularly disturbing though:

    The more she studied and learned, the more Fredell came to realize that women suffer from having premarital sex, “due to a cultural double standard,” she said, “which devalues women for their sexual pasts and glorifies men for theirs.”

    So, instead of critiquing the double standard, she… welcomes the dichotomy between virgin and whore? Embraces the virgin trope? Refuses to admit that it might be possible for women to…subvert the dichotomy and live on their own terms? I mean, really?

    She said she read in Mill that women are subordinated in relationships as a result of “socially constructed norms.” If men are commonly more promiscuous than women, it is only because the culture allows it, she said. Fredell was here to turn society around. “It’s extremely countercultural,” she said, for a woman to assert control over her own body. It is, in fact, a feminist notion. Conventional feminism, she explained, teaches that control of your body means the freedom to have sex without consequences — sex like a man. “I am an unconventional feminist,” Fredell said, in the sense that she asserts control by choosing not to have sex — by telling men, no, absolutely not.

    Oh, yes, it’s sooooo subversive to advocate against sex before marriage and to label all people who have sex before marriage as “promiscuous.” Such a revolution.

    Oh, one thing that no one has mentioned so far: She’s from Colorado Springs, the home of James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Maybe that has more to do with her activism than, um, the feminist justification she’s given it here.

  18. Oh
    Oh March 31, 2008 at 12:25 pm |

    Bitter Scribe–if you read the article, you’ll see that they *do* spread misinformation, and that they use oppressive language to denigrate the choices of people who are sexually active.

  19. Thom
    Thom March 31, 2008 at 1:07 pm |

    But for some reason, if I CHOSE not to have sex, that would be like, “Oh man, that’s so cool that you can be so strong and give that up for god!” Since I’m not choosing, because I don’t care about sex, it’s, “OH MY GOD, YOU FREAK! ALL PEOPLE WANT SEX!”

    Er…not quite. Believe me. Especially as a guy, there has always been pressure ot “go for it”. I tend to not mention it much, but when the issue has come up, I get pretty much the “come on man…you need to get laid” reaction. I rarely have been met with praise. Personally, I don’t see it’s anyone’s business, but some folks love to pry. But trust me, very few people treat you like you are cool for choosing not to have sex. Te people that due tend to be religious conservatives.

  20. Nico
    Nico March 31, 2008 at 1:29 pm |

    So… that picture. If I’m reading the metaphor right it represents a bouquet of hymens.

  21. nonskanse
    nonskanse March 31, 2008 at 1:40 pm |

    very few people treat you like you are cool for choosing not to have sex

    You aren’t cool because you’re choosing not to have sex. And people aren’t cool for choosing to have sex. If you are cool it is for many different reasons.
    As for the “you need to get laid” people, it is nearly human nature to give advice and pry where its not wanted.
    As for NYT… maybe the Bush administration paid them off to have more abstinence articles?

  22. Kristen from MA
    Kristen from MA March 31, 2008 at 2:28 pm |

    If the author were really making a feminist argument, wouldn’t the card read ‘Don’t leave your future spouse holding a bare stem?

  23. Danakitty
    Danakitty March 31, 2008 at 2:36 pm |

    When you SAY a woman is only valuable worthwhile because of her virginity, you ARE saying that a woman’s body is the only worth she has.

    It’s not abstinence that you’re preaching when you tell a WOMAN to remain a virgin. It’s women as lesser beings and fuck toys for when that man decides to choose you to be his subordinate.

  24. Thom
    Thom March 31, 2008 at 2:39 pm |

    You aren’t cool because you’re choosing not to have sex. And people aren’t cool for choosing to have sex. If you are cool it is for many different reasons.
    As for the “you need to get laid” people, it is nearly human nature to give advice and pry where its not wanted.

    Great, now I have to find a different “thing to make me cool”?! ;)

    I agree about the human nature thing. People think they are being helpful with such comments (or funny, I suppose). I don’t really care in the long run. On the bigger front of the main post…that is a really creepy picture. I avoid the abstinence community specifically because I hate how they objectify people.

  25. Lady S
    Lady S March 31, 2008 at 2:45 pm |

    I remember reading ages ago about how the ‘hookup culture’ was just about selfishness and I sort of agreed – in that it’s easier to have random sex than to emotionally commit (and I have found it so and have had random sex when not wanting a relationship).

    This then seems to be the inverse of that – that you cannot believe that you will only ever love once and you can’t love unless it is for life. It seems to be an extremely damaging view that love will devastate you unless carefully circumscribed.

    It should be a sign of a healthy person that you can love, lose, recover and love again.

    At least Lena Chen in that article came across as honest – sex feels good. I like it. I don’t need to love to enjoy sex. Whereas saying you can’t commit unless it is for life is also selfishness but hides itself as righteousness.

  26. bmc90
    bmc90 March 31, 2008 at 3:46 pm |

    Funny thing. I was very tight with about 6 other women in college. Some never had sex, some had a lot of sex, including one night stands. 5/6 of us are married. One divorce. None of us had to attend meetings or had out flyers to justify our decisions, nor did anyone give others a hard time about our choices. It’s called none of your damn business, folks, and this generation seems to have lost its way in that regard. Even with a good friend, unless she wants to talk about her sex life or lack of it with me, it’s none of my damned business. The idea of pushing out to the public EITHER that you sleep with whoever you feel like or that you never would have premarital sex gives me the creeps. Guess that makes me true early Gen X, not Y. I never had to join a club to justify not using drugs either. What happened to hanging out with people who share your interests and habits and leaving others the hell alone? Bleh. Glad not to be in college now.

  27. Isabella
    Isabella March 31, 2008 at 4:02 pm |

    Fredell’s reference to John Stuart Mill was interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve read Mill, but I don’t remember him having much to say about sex other than arguing that it was a problem that women were expected to be virgins until marriage, at which time they entered into essentially a contract in which they were expected to have sex with their husbands (not doing so being a grounds for divorce in his time).

  28. Jasmine
    Jasmine March 31, 2008 at 5:51 pm |

    I wonder if there is a version of this card that ends with “don’t leave your wife holding a bare stem” It’s obvious the abstinence movement unfairly puts all the onus on women and girls ARGGH!

  29. LadyTess
    LadyTess March 31, 2008 at 6:00 pm |

    It should be a sign of a healthy person that you can love, lose, recover and love again.

    Hear, hear!!

    Wish I could find people to just have sex with. Lately all I get are people who want to have fullblown relationships. Personally, depending on who you are and where you are, I think finding what you want is very hard to do. Especially when it comes to your sexuality.

    The image is revolting.

  30. evil fizz
    evil fizz March 31, 2008 at 6:19 pm |

    I have often thought that there’s a contingent of the pro-abstinence crowd that genuinely doesn’t understand how sex is a motivation for others. Not to say that they’re prudes, just that it’s got far less primacy in their lives. If you suggest that all sexual urges can be addressed by going for a run, you’re really, really naive.

  31. ahunt
    ahunt March 31, 2008 at 6:25 pm |

    Chastity is “alluring?” Anyone else wanna parse this?

    As in “virginity” is alluring? Why, exactly? I have my own thoughts on this, (really creepy ones) but I’d truly love to hear from from folks, and particularly the guys…on this question.

  32. Thomas, TSID
    Thomas, TSID March 31, 2008 at 6:44 pm |

    One could look a long time for a more perfect illustration of the attachment of the abstinence movement to a commodity model or sex. Sex, a thing, a res, to use the Latin; had by a woman; given, taken, stolen or sold by a man; once gone, absent.

    The problems are readily apparent.

    The overripe flower metaphor reduces itself to absurdity. Women who have a lot of sex are not reduced to stems; even these abstinence activists would not maintain that, they would concede that a married woman may have lots of sex with one partner. Rather, they maintain that multiple partners do the “stripping.” But that’s only true if one accepts their claim about what it is that a woman loses: which is circular. In fact, one can perfectly well envision sex in which each participant shares without losing anything of value.

    The commodity model is both inherently hetero- and penetro-centric. If two women have sex, who is giving up a petal and who is getting it? Their model doesn’t leave space for queer sex alongside the man/woman PIV; that’s in a separate category, presumably titled “abominations.”

    Finally, the commodity model is rape-supportive. If sex is a thing then all the ways it changes hands are relatively alike; property crime is a question of right. And so rape, when viewed through this model, is a property crime, a kind of theft. But that’s wrong. Rape is more like kidnapping: an invasive, personal assault. The latter is much less susceptible to arguments of rightful taking and consent — do we ever see a rape thread where no troll shows up to argue some sort of contributory negligence or self-help (re)possession? Those arguments look oddly out of place in discussing kidnapping. They should look oddly out of place in discussion of rape; they look so familiar because the commodity model of sex, and its corrollary the commodity model of rape, are so maddeningly common.

  33. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 March 31, 2008 at 6:58 pm |

    Abstinence gets recognition to the tune of more than $140 million in federal funding every year.

    Are you sure that your facts are accurate on this? If so, I’m not mailing my check to the IRS this month.

  34. Megan
    Megan March 31, 2008 at 8:34 pm |

    In fact, one can perfectly well envision sex in which each participant shares without losing anything of value.

    Indeed. Good sex, done in a loving manner or at least with a certain warm understanding between two people (or more, who knows?), is a net gain. Sex and love are not zero-sum. And to quote Amy Bloom, love is not a pie. You can’t divide it up and share it out and get rid of it for good, because there’s always more when you give it away. Loaves and fishes, people. Loaves and fishes.

  35. cantdance
    cantdance March 31, 2008 at 9:31 pm |

    Great post! Too bad it NYT magazine places length limits on letters to the editor. I’d love to see this printed on its (entertaining yet pretentious) pages.

    As many commenters have noted here, I could see Fredell’s personal choice to not have sex as a feminist stance IF she DIDN’T use shame, and fake facts (okay lies) to try to sway others to do the same.

  36. piny
    piny March 31, 2008 at 9:41 pm |

    The picture at the top of the page is very, very disturbing to me.
    It seems to be saying, “Remember, girls, the only thing your future husband likes about you is your hymen. Without it, he will never enjoy having sex with you, and that’s the most important thing to worry about.”

    Right. Stripping away petals? With sex? So, how many times can you have sex with your wife before she’s no good anymore?

  37. evil fizz
    evil fizz March 31, 2008 at 10:02 pm |

    So, how many times can you have sex with your wife before she’s no good anymore?

    Doesn’t that depend on her oxytocin reservoirs?

  38. ahunt
    ahunt March 31, 2008 at 10:39 pm |

    What makes me nuts is the bizarre concept of “deflowering” as a “gift” women bestow on men.

    Please, someone, anyone…explain it to me?

    Here…let me bestow upon you the privilege of causing me…I dunno…drawing on my own experience here…discomfort/some pain, real embarrassment and zero satisfaction…but hey, it is my “gift” to you.

    In fact, it took a few 22 months for us to get it truly right…and then we got married.

    What the hell?

  39. linda
    linda April 1, 2008 at 1:21 am |

    NO NO NO!!!

    its bad enough that as a mormon i have fear these petal ripping stories told to my daughters, but at Harvard???? what happened to this former all male bastion that we fought for admittance only to have this sort of propaganda passed around. of course its only women who lose their petals, men can spread their petals all over harvard square and get away with it.

  40. louise
    louise April 1, 2008 at 9:27 am |

    So, how many times can you have sex with your wife before she’s no good anymore?

    Over 20 years together and 15+ married, we’ve lost count! ;) As I said yesterday to the husband, I’m never gonna figure out how to fake an orgasm if it keeps being so much fun and so good every year…

  41. bmc90
    bmc90 April 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm |

    I have to say I felt a little sorry for the Leo guy – fighting his totally normal urges in one of the more fluid social situations he will probably be in his entire life. And now that he has politicized his sexuality, he’d be Elliot Spitzered if he got caught going to third base! I guess these folks don’t get that it is perfectly possible to objectify one’s spouse sexually, too (or hasn’t anyone heard of Marla Maples in this crowd). Anyway, it’s a shame also that this entire debate seems to have been framed in such a Jerry Springer way – with the virgin character and the whore character reading from their scripts. I suspect that the experience of the many serial monogomists who I am sure are on campus with those two “stars” of the show is stifled by a sense of what I consider normal discretion about one’s personal life and that of one’s intimate partner. I’m not getting up in some public forum and talking about how awesome sex with my boyfriend is and that even if we don’t get married, it was a great experience to be in a relationship with him – and I can say that is true about my college boyfriend all these years down the road. The idea that our relationship ruined anything in either of our lives is just beyond absurd.

  42. mike
    mike April 1, 2008 at 10:08 pm |

    Two quick notes on the chastity clubs.

    First, they privilege self-control and discipline over supposed biological imperatives when it is anti-sex (and therefore pleasing to them) and then denigrate free will when it is pro-sex (and therefore scary to them). Hypocrisy! To wit: the chastity club argument believes that self-control and discipline are awesome when they overcome the human sex drive; but then they fear the oxytocin in their brains is going to bind them to sex partners beyond free will’s capacity to overcome it.

    Second, at least as presented in the essay, the chastity clubs are filled with Catholics obviously searching around for a ex post facto rational justification for an essentially religious commitment.

    But hey, if it works for them.

  43. Danakitty
    Danakitty April 2, 2008 at 12:49 am |

    Anyone else wondering if people who are this fanatical about chastity clubs may not feel the same sexual urges others do? I mean… she could just be comparing her own sexual urges to others, and thinking that everyone else is over-sexualized, when in reality, she just doesn’t feel the same way?

    And then maybe she’s trying to use religion and “purity” to reinforce her reason for staying a virgin, when the real reason is that she just isn’t that into sex?

    I mean, look back to when the author brings up her co-club member (Leo was it?) to Fredell, and she freaks out, like his urges are totally unnatural.

    Of course, I could be overanalyzing it, but it does sound to me like she probably just isn’t into sex.

  44. exholt
    exholt April 2, 2008 at 1:42 am |

    And then maybe she’s trying to use religion and “purity” to reinforce her reason for staying a virgin, when the real reason is that she just isn’t that into sex?

    That’s one possibility among many.

    Another possibility is that some people have other pressures/priorities in their lives that may preclude having sex. In my case, having to maintain a certain GPA to maintain my scholarship as that was the only way I could attend college was more than enough to discourage any thoughts of dating, much less sex….especially when a few wealthier older cousins dropped out or were almost expelled for poor academic performance due to prioritizing partying, dating, and sex over their undergrad studies.

  45. Mel
    Mel April 2, 2008 at 1:59 am |

    I spent four years in Colorado Springs, and I’ve been dating an ex-Fundamentalist who grew up there for a bit over that, and HAHAHA SHE THINKS NO TEENAGERS HAVE SEX THERE.

    My boyfriend was a technical virgin until he got engaged (didn’t quite wait for marriage), but he apparently made out with half the girls in his church youth group. And the springs has plenty of not-so-pious college students and rebellious teenagers and technical-virgin Fundamentalists who stop just short of intercourse but otherwise have very little purity.

    The Springs isn’t more virginal than the rest of the country–it just likes to think it is.

    (Personally, I’m creeped out by people who find virginity alluring–it seems vaguely pedophilic or sadistic, depending on which aspect is attractive.)

    That article is…not even attempting to be balanced. And what’s with describing Chen’s eating habits? HEDONISM IS BAD! SHE ENJOYS FOOD OH NOES!

  46. C.S. Lewiston
    C.S. Lewiston April 27, 2008 at 1:24 pm |

    “I haven’t had my human dignity deeply compromised in a long time. And I need it, bad!”

    “I hear you, dude! I sure could use some personal unhappiness and social harm right now!”

    Seriously, will certain people ever *grow up* about sex? (Not holding my breath).

  47. Sexless but Sexy–the new Virgin/Whore? Fuck No. « S.N.O.B

    […] great deal of these new-fangled chastity cheerleaders are doing. Because as Jessica Valenti said on Feminste blog: ”You are not Gandhi or Nelson Mandela for choosing not to have […]

  48. Teenage French oysters perish from too much sex « The Oyster’s Garter

    […] that “true spawning waits“? Did you not know that each release of gametes is like a precious rose, and with every billion sperm or eggs you cast into the water column, a delicate petal is plucked? […]

  49. sohbet chat
    sohbet chat September 29, 2008 at 10:10 am |

    good, thanks

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