Writers argue that this generation is rejecting hookup culture and eyeing abstinence. Some young women disagree
This week, everyone is talking about young women’s sex lives. Sure, that’s pretty much always the case — but this week saw the birth of an interesting debate about whether young sex-positive women are shunning the drunken one-night stands of yesteryear and reconsidering (whispers) abstinence.
It started up two weeks ago with a conference at Harvard called “Rethinking Virginity.” Women bloggers from all corners of the Web gathered (in person!) to brainstorm about new and enlightened ways to think about female sexuality. The idea was to do away with the shaming and judgement. Slate’s Jessica Grose attended the conference and felt that reality fell far short of that aim. Earlier this week on Double X, she wrote:
The conference-goers didn’t exhibit much tolerance for unusual or hedonistic behavior. I asked the panel called ‘The Feminist Response to Slut-Shaming & Sexual Scare Tactics’ what they thought of adults having nonmonogamous unprotected sex, and the response was uniformly, well, shaming. ‘They’re doing something damaging, and careless, and it’s not a choice I personally approve of,’ said one panelist.
To her mind, this is part of a broader cultural trend led by “a handful of women bloggers” who, after being ripped to shreds for divulging “their youthful indiscretions” online, are “sobering up quickly.” She says “it’s as if young women are going through the cycle of rebellion and regret much faster than other generations — because it’s all being publicly chronicled as it unfolds.” The visibility provided by the Internet has given the pendulum one big push in the opposite direction. Now, she says, some of the very women who epitomized the hookup generation are pointing out the merits of not having sex.
Grose used Harvard junior Lena Chen, who organized the “Rethinking Virginity” event, as her main example. A couple years back, the 22-year-old gained infamy for writing explicitly about her sex life. Then her ex-boyfriend leaked naked photos of her and she followed by electing to post an image of herself after a facial (not the kind you get at a spa). The backlash from fellow students led to panic attacks for Chen and, ultimately, caused her to become a much more guarded writer. Grose points out that Chen also got a live-in boyfriend and a dog. In other words: The wild mare has been tamed!
Only, in response to the Slate article, Chen took to her blog to explain that “this is just NOT AT ALL what happened.” She took a break from blogging about her sex life, “because I realized that I go to school with some incredibly fucked-up people who have absolutely no qualms about making my existence at Harvard miserable.” Chen doesn’t consider herself to be domesticated or reformed; she just isn’t broadcasting every detail of her personal life to the world anymore. As for the “Rethinking Virginity” conference, she explains that the quoted panelist “was speaking specifically about the public health consequences and not wagging her finger at promiscuity.”
Slate wasn’t the only publication to get in on the no-sex talk this week. The New York Post declared that women were saying to hell with casual sex and going the celibacy route (celibacy, in the case of one interview subject, meaning a two-week-long self-imposed dry spell). A handful of temporarily celibate celebrities are given as examples: Ashley Dupre, Lady Gaga and Courtney Love. I can also credit the piece with introducing me to the term “celibacy cleanse,” which kind of makes it sound like abstaining from sex is a spa treatment for the vagina and the soul.
Even Caitlin Flanagan joined in this week with a piece for the Atlantic — although, predictably enough, she sees girls and young women as still being firmly in the grips of hookup culture. They aren’t contemplating a real alternative, she says, but rather escaping reality with entertainment — like “Twilight” and “High School Musical” — that relies on “the Boyfriend Story.” As they prepare for and endure sexual “acts and experiences that are frightening, embarrassing, uncomfortable at best, painful at worst,” they cling desperately to these fictional happily-ever-after love stories (as though that is a phenomenon unique to today’s teen girls).
What’s often lost in the never-ending stream of stories about the latest trend in female sexual culture is the nuance and diversity of individual experience; young women are treated as symbols of the culture at large and spokespeople for their entire generation. Not only does that tend to cheat others of their unique voice, but women like Chen inevitably end up feeling terribly misrepresented and misunderstood.
More Related Stories
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- Conservatives A-OK with closeted Boy Scouts
- Horrifying new trend: Posting rapes to Facebook
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11