Amanda Marcotte’s problem with purity

In response to my July 20 article on birth control, I got a little guff for referring to abstinence opponents as “libertines,” a term which denotes unrestrained indulgence of sensual pleasures.

As if on cue, the reliably radical Amanda Marcotte, writing at the equally extreme RH Reality Check, proved my point on Tuesday with a piece not merely arguing against the effectiveness of purity balls and pledges, but condemning the very messages they send to young girls about sex (language warning):

I do worry that Breslaw’s post might result in people taking this to mean that we shouldn’t worry generally about the Christian right’s obsession with making sure women’s vaginas are always in possession of a man, be it husband or father, and never owned by women themselves. (After all, they don’t trust us with the immense responsibility that comes with owning a vagina. Women known to believe their vagina belongs to them also do things like believe they have a right to have sex on their own terms and even—gasp!—decline the chance to risk a baby every time we have sex. And, distressingly, some women even use vaginas to have sex with other women.)

You know we’re in for a wild ride when insanity like this is the opening act. As should be too obvious to need mentioning, the “Christian right” isn’t interested in “possession” of anyone’s reproductive organs – merely preventing the killing of the children created by their use. And Marcotte speaks as if conservatives place all the responsibility with girls and leave boys to their own desires. It’s apparently lost on her that, under the conservative sexual ethos, a guy has to earn a girl’s trust and prove his commitment to her before he gets any action.

Marcotte goes on to mock “purity balls” (dances where girls promise their fathers they’ll remain abstinent until marriage, a practice she admits is rare) and complain that purity rings (signaling a commitment to abstinence) are popular enough that even “supposedly classy” jewelers beyond the “Christian kitsch market” are selling them:

[T]here’s serious moral problems with pressuring young people who haven’t matured to the point where they really want sex yet to promise not to have it. It’s exploitative to extract promises from people who don’t have full information yet, and young teens and pre-teens really don’t have any idea of what they’re going to feel about sex when they actually have a chance to start dating. For most young people, taking a purity pledge just means going through unnecessary guilt and drama when they go ahead and have sex anyway.

Let me get this straight: we shouldn’t try to instill in kids the value of abstinence because they’re too young to fully understand sex? Really? Even taking into account that pro-choicers see the world differently from how we see it, it’s distressing to think things are so far gone that the backwardness of that logic needs to be explained.

The whole point of education is imparting vital knowledge and healthy habits to the young because they lack the life experience and mental development necessary to make responsible decisions – especially when it comes to instincts and temptations that weigh against their best long-term interests. We don’t think twice about taking sides when it comes to anything else – drugs, careers, driving, study habits, etc. – so what makes sex so different in the left’s eyes?

From a public health perspective, these pledges are a nightmare, because young people who take them approach sex from a shame-and-guilt perspective instead of from a pleasure-and-education perspective. A famous federal study in 2008 demonstrated that the pledges didn’t do anything to prevent young people from having sex, which is no surprise considering the manipulative tactics used to extract the pledges.

For what it’s worth, the Heritage Foundation’s 2008 assessment of 21 abstinence education studies found positive results for five out of six virginity pledge studies. Even so, I’m not particularly attached to pledges alone; truly effective sex education needs to include discussion of sex’s potential consequences, the limitations of birth control, and individuals’ ability to choose the safest path. To see the true effectiveness of such education, click here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.

Unfortunately, the pledgers were less likely to use protection when they did have sex, which is also unsurprising since they were given no resources to do so, and just told instead to just say no.

One can’t help but wonder what Marcotte means by “resources” – condom distribution? Instruction on use and procurement of birth control? But it means everything in determining whether this complaint is valid. If such programs were actually deceiving students about contraception, that would be one thing. But if a teen is told about the effectiveness rates of various birth control measures, understands the risks of sex, and still takes his or her chances, then who’s really at fault?

The heart of Marcotte’s mania can be found at the very end:

Even if it doesn’t convince people that all non-marital sex is wrong, it helps prop up the myth that there’s such thing as “too much” sex, and that it’s legitimate to judge a person’s moral worth by how much they like or have sex.

There you have it: in Amanda Marcotte’s world, the very possibility of too much sex is a “myth,” and those of us who buy into it are accused of judging people’s moral worth by their sexual habits (and this from someone who has no problem judging moral worth by such meaningless criteria as physical appearance). If that’s not deserving of the libertine label, then words have no meaning.

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