The difficulty of preserving one’s virginity is precisely what makes abstinence a counter-cultural phenomenon: Not everyone can handle the heat. Popular culture takes the following two truths into account: First, everyone wants to “do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” Second, not everyone has the resolve or endurance to resist the call of the wild. Popular culture justifies the common experience of all people because it is easier than embracing a practice like abstinence, one that tests the strength of each person’s body and mind.
To remain a virgin requires the ability to temporarily disobey the raging hormones about which we were all warned in middle school. However, the most difficult aspect of abstinence is maintaining mental toughness in situations that could potentially drive a stake between you and the boyfriend for whom you care deeply.
Virginity is on the line when giggling seems easier than turning him down, only to experience the anger that is sure to follow. Virginity is on the line every time having sex seems like a small price to pay for a seeming solution to all of the “guy problems” that have wrecked havoc on your life ever since the first time you noticed boys on the playground and decided to join them as the Pink Ranger.
The woman who succeeds in resisting this temptation is she whose sex appeal transcends her sexual aptitude. Such women boast the intelligence necessary to make healthy life decisions, the charm to win the attention of men without promise of physical compensation, the maturity to acknowledge the difference between love and lust, and the confidence to demand the former in situations where they are pressured to compromise themselves for the latter. The mysterious allure of virginity is not rooted in an image of innocence and purity, but rather in the notion of strength: the ability to withstand temptation even in the face of societal norms and expectations.
I sometimes reflect on past relationships that seemed to feature scenes directly from those videos we used to watch in sex-ed, relationships in which dialogue consisted of, “I love you for your intellect and personality, but only if we have sex,” repeated one thousand times until break-up. Looking back, it’s hard to remember why such dialogue had to repeat itself so many times before the relationship ended. That is the result of inundation in a culture accepting of the objectification of women; indeed, a culture where abstinence has no voice. A woman whose self-perception was entirely free from the curse of objectification would not stand to be spoken to in such a way. She would hardly dismiss such treatment as a manifestation of actual love.
Look no further than magazine covers soliciting advice on how to dress for a man, how to get him to propose, and sex moves that will make his head spin for evidence of a cultural obsession with the objectification of women. According to popular culture, a woman needs a boyfriend to feel fulfilled; she needs someone to tell her she’s “turning him on” to feel sexy. True sexiness, however, increases with a confident assertion that she does not need affirmation or affection from men in order to be a strong woman.
Abstinence is not for the faint of heart; it effectively separates men from boys, weeding out those who succumb weakly to temptation from those who are worthy of a woman’s attention. Unfortunately, too often, our society falsely suggests that sexual experience is a “must-have,” encouraging men to boast (often fictitiously) of weekend hook-ups, glorifying a culture of empty promiscuity. Yet, this is not for a lack of understanding men: uncouth and socially inept though many Harvard men may be, I can attest to the existence of many upstanding, good-looking, and chaste Harvard gents. Men underestimate the impressiveness of self-control, strength, and rebelliousness in the face of popular opinion and the degree to which abstinence makes them desirable to women. Confidence, not compelling hook-up stories, is the key to sexiness.
Abstinence does not deprive one of sex appeal, romance, or excitement. I actively enjoy every minute spent waiting for marriage. I will never have to sit through lecture with a raging case of herpes. I will never have to agonize over how long to wait before having sex with my boyfriend. I will never become unnecessarily attached to the wrong guy or wrong situation. And I will never feel obligated to wash my sheets more than once every two weeks.
Janie M. Fredell ’09 is a government concentrator in Eliot House. She is a member of the True Love Revolution.