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The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women Paperback – December 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Making a cult of virginity via media stereotyping and “abstinence-only” sex education damages young women, Valenti says, and rolls back women’s rights by emphasizing sexuality and deprecating personal character. Furthermore, the book’s most thought-provoking chapter points up an insidious connection between chastity and pornography: “the porning of America” is vital to those in the virginity movement, which needs increasingly available hard-core porn to justify its extreme regressivism. The dangerous belief that a woman’s primary value is sexual underlies the objectification and sexualization at the heart of the virginity movement’s agenda of controlling and defining women, Valenti maintains. When young women see their bodies and sexuality as commodities, that isn’t caused by porn culture but by “a larger societal message that . . . their sexuality is not their own.” So, is a “post-virgin world” possible? Full of piercing insight and wit (recalling her own sexual initiation, Valenti quips, “I fail to see how anything that lasts less than five minutes can have such an indelible ethical impact”), this is an important addition to women’s studies. --Whitney Scott --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jessica Valenti is the founder and Executive Editor of, and the author of Full Frontal Feminism and The Purity Myth. Her writing has appeared in many publications including The Guardian, and in 2007 she was named one of Elle magazine's 2007 IntELLEgentsia. She lives in Astoria, New York. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (December 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580053149
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580053143
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jessica Valenti - called the "poster girl for third-wave feminism" by Salon and one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in the world by The Guardian - is the author of three books: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters, He's a Stud, She's a Slut...and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, and The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women which is being made into a documentary by the Media Education Foundation. She is the editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which was named one of Publishers Weekly's Top 100 Books of 2009. Jessica is also the founder of, which Columbia Journalism Review calls "head and shoulders above almost any writing on women's issues in mainstream media."

Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian (UK), The American Prospect, Ms. magazine, Salon and Bitch magazine. She has won a Choice USA Generation award, was featured as one of ELLE magazine's "IntELLEgentsia", and was named one of the Left's Top 25 Journalists by The Daily Beast. She has appeared on The Colbert Report, Morning Joe and the Today show, among others, and was recently profiled in The New York Times Magazine under the headline "Fourth Wave Feminism."

Jessica is also a widely sought after speaker who gives dozens of speeches annually at universities and organizations in the U.S. and abroad. She received her Masters degree in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University, where she is a part-time lecturer. Jessica lives in Sunnyside, Queens with her husband, daughter, and their very cute cat and dog.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 130 people found the following review helpful By LindaT VINE VOICE on June 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As the daughter of an Evangelical Christian minister (I often tell people that I cut my teeth on a Scofield Reference Bible) I should be on the defensive about this book. But actually, I found it worthwhile to read.

I grew up believing that virginity was a good thing, but I noticed that most of the burden of being a "virgin" was put on the girl and not on the guy. While many preachers and Bible teachers gave some lip-service to young men to abstain until marriage, I got the impression that pre-marital sex didn't seem to "damage" them us much as it supposedly "damaged" a woman. And the older I got, the more I thought, "If I am not to be 'damaged goods,' then I certainly don't want to marry a 'goods damager.'" You don't even have to be a feminist to know that a woman is not a man's possession. and these chastity and purity rituals that some young women are going through (BTW -- these were not happening when I was a teenager) make my jaw drop.

It seems to me that young women are faulted both for having sex and not having it. If we are having it, we are trashy, and if we aren't having it we are treated like ignorant little girls who knew nothing. Or we get called gay. (Yes, people try to throw that at women and girls, too!)

I also agreed greatly with the author when she decried the difficulty women have in getting a rape conviction if the woman in question was not a virgin when she was raped. To me, that's the same mentality as not prosecuting someone for stealing merchandise that was already stolen!

Perhaps my biggest problem is with the book is that I am still uncomfortable with the abortion issue. It's not a cut/dried matter, and I think that both sides of the issue over simplify things.
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148 of 167 people found the following review helpful By K. Howard on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I suppose the fact that this book left me wanting more can be both a positive and negative thing. Overall, this book offers a fresh perspective on why the virginity/chastity/purity movement is harmful to young women. Jessica drives home the point that young women are more than whether or not they've had premarital sex and society/media has done a poor job of acknowledging that, as the stories we hear about women and sexuality often reinforce the virgin/whore dichotomy.

Too often young women are depicted as tainted, unlovable and dirty unless they adhere to a strict model of what the Christian Right deems acceptable sexuality. The book discusses at great length abstinence only sex education classes where girls are being taught that they are like a "used lollipop" if they have sex before marriage, and worse for young women (and men) the book offers evidence that some educators are flat out lying to students. (e.g. exaggerating the failure rates of condoms and discounting or even denying their effectiveness in preventing STDs)

One thing Jessica points out that I never really thought about before is that "...young women who are sexually exploited are often young women of color from low-income communities who are perceived as inherently loose, unredeemable and hopeless." If you think about it this is true, because you have to be a "certain" type of girl to be thought of as a victim of sexual crime in the media (young, pretty, usually white - definitely a virgin). Otherwise, the woman is thought to be complicit in her attack. (she's on the streets anyways, she likes it, she's a slut already...etc).
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Melody & Words on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover

Jessica Valenti argues in The Purity Myth that the United States is obsessed with virginity. She asserts that those associated with the abstinence movement are perpetuating the virgin/whore dichotomy, which sets up only two kinds of women: one to be admired and emulated and the other to be disgraced and shunned. Valenti opposes the idea that a sexually active woman is "tainted" or "impure" and thereby unworthy, and she protests against the movement's emphasis on chastity, marriage, and parenthood.

She comments, "In this mess of chastity expectations, objectification, and control of women, we have lost a very fundamental truth: Sex is amazing, and there's nothing wrong or dirty or shameful or sinful about it."

In particular, she takes to task:

The abstinence teacher who tells her students that they'll go to jail if they have premarital sex. The well-funded organization that tells girls on college campuses that they should be looking for a husband, not taking women's studies classes. The judge who rules against a rape survivor because she didn't meet whatever standard for a victim he had in mind. The legislator who pushes a bill to limit young women's access to abortion because he doesn't think they are smart enough to make their own decisions. These are the people who are making the world a worse place--and a more dangerous one, at that--for girls and women.


If you already believe that the abstinence movement is harming young women, you will like this book. If you don't, you're not likely to change your mind.

There were many parts of this book that I enjoyed. However, I came to it hoping for a clear-eyed, well-argued account of the effects of the movement toward abstinence and virginity.
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