Virginity Added to List of Sexual Disorders in DSM-5

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No, I’m kidding. Don’t believe everything you read online. The 5th edition of the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” due out in 2013, will include no such entry. But riding back from NY on the train recently, I had a glimpse of what such a future might look like: on the walls of many of the train platforms, there were ads in plain black and red print blaring, “Still a Virgin? For Help Call 888-743-4335.” Some Googling revealed that it was a promo for an upcoming movie called “The Virginity Hit,” co-produced by Will Ferrell. According to the movie’s site, the R-rated movie is “a comedy about three pals documenting the progress of their socially-awkward friend, who tries desperately to lose his virginity.”

It may be true that the “Virginity Hotline” (see here for details about what happens when you call it) and the movie are just for laughs. But they are laughs that require the audience to buy into the idea that there is something pitiable and almost shameful about being a virgin, especially a male virgin. When I first saw the ads, I was relatively sure they were a joke, but what made me pause was the chord of familiarity they struck in me – I had heard this message many times before, especially on campus. The message generally takes the following form: “The only reasons you could have for being a virgin are 1) outdated religious hangups or 2) your incompetence – you tried but no one would take you.” It’s by no means a universal sentiment at Princeton, but I’ve encountered it often enough, especially through my involvement with the Anscombe Society, to be thoroughly tired of it and amazed at how stubbornly people hew to this belief. To see this message reinforced by these movie ads brought the alternate reality of this entry’s title another disturbing step closer.

It’s too soon to come to a final verdict about the intentions behind “Virginity Hit” and the effects it will have on social perceptions of sexuality, since the movie hasn’t been released yet. Perhaps the movie’s directors and actors will have found something different or even insightful to say about virginity by the end of the movie. However, you’ll forgive me for not being terribly optimistic.

Brave New World and the Commodification of Sex

by Shivani Radhakrishnan


5333-brave-new-world-thumb-100x152-5331-thumb-150x228-5332.jpgIn an effort to catch up on some summer reading (and to fill gaps in my own reading), I started Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a few days ago. I was surprised to find just how pro-family the book is, particularly as the commodification of sex is presented as an especially dystopian aspect of the “brave new world” that Huxley describes. 


Huxley’s state eagerly rewards pursuing sex without commitment–characters like Lenina find it unthinkable that someone would require exclusivity or permanence before sex. But the heroes of the work are Bernard Marx and the Savage, two characters who find Lenina’s view of sexuality disturbing. Marx, for instance, wishes she wouldn’t consider herself just “another piece of meat.” The Savage, too, finds Lenina’s view inhumane–he consistently constrasts her lack of sexual restraint with the love of Shakespearean characters.

Huxley’s cautioning of a sexuality removed from permanent and exclusive commitments in marriage is articulate and insightful. 
Brave New World is certainly worth a read (or a re-read) when you get a chance.

The Perfect Affair: Lessons from Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary (Part I)

Despite being a total prude, I will readily admit to seeing the appeal of a steamy (literary) extramarital affair. Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that I think cheating is permissible or that I plan to have an affair; rather, I simply acknowledge that something about an illicit affair is conducive to a good love story. (And based on all of trash literature, it seems that a sizable niche agrees with me.) What’s more, I believe that by examining the appeal of an affair, it’s possible to discover how to better conduct our own lives.

In the typical story, a rule-abiding protagonist is trapped in a loveless marriage or relationship, and finds an escape from it in some forbidden love. This situation clearly attests to the passion which drives the affair, for the conscientious protagonist would not engage in such an ill-advised venture without an overwhelming emotion motivating it. Alternatively, if the affair itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, it can be a testament to the horror of the relationship the protagonist is trying to escape. Although we never envy the protagonist’s hopeless situation, (Anna Karenina, anyone?) the affair’s appeal accentuates our desire for sincere passion, and our aversion to settling for boring, passionless relationships.

Although counterintuitive, I believe that extreme prudishness provides the best chance at finding a passionate and lasting relationship whilst avoiding the horrors either of passionless entrapment or of an illicit affair. Here, by extreme prudishness, I do not mean fear of sex, unwillingness to discuss sex, or any other form of “ladylike” behavior. Instead, I propose a form of restraint which, instead of aimed at sexiness, is designed to oppose the physical and emotional cultivation of romance.

This does not entail any specific rules such as “no premarital kissing” or “thou shalt not declare thy love before the 7th date.” It would, however, oppose these things when done for the sake of cultivating romance. So if I suspect that a particular action, for instance kissing, would dramatically increase my fondness for someone, I should try to avoid such behavior.

(To be continued…)
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Twilight’s Abstinence Advertising

*SPOILER ALERT*: At the risk of stripping all legitimacy from this blog, I am discussing Twilight in this post. Since I allude to the plot, you shouldn’t read this post if you plan on reading Twilight.

Despite the many flaws of the Twilight series, it clearly has some quality which has caused millions of women (myself included) to consume it voraciously. The writing may be mediocre, the adverb smolderingly may be severely overused, but Edward Cullen is just so appealing. And although Stephanie Meyer mentions Edward’s physical perfection an excessive number of times, his primary appeal actually lies in the depth and sincerity of his love for Bella. This love is proven throughout the story by Edward’s restraint: he doesn’t kill Bella, despite his strong physical desire to do so. (Wait, isn’t that sort of like people who abstain from having sex, even when they really want it? Oh yeah…) In this way, Twilight seems like an obvious advertisement for how romantic abstinence can be.

At the same time, there are a number of ways in which Twilight’s message undermines the advantages of abstinence. One of my favorite things about abstinence (and yes, there are many) is the freedom it provides from unnecessary emotional turmoil. By exercising physical restraint, it is easier to maintain more perspective, and thus to better analyze how well you and your partner actually suit one another. The same principle applies to how you speak to your partner. In this arena, Bella and Edward are clearly going all the way. Saying things like You are my life now, and I will destroy myself if you leave me, must have a similar binding effect to great physical intimacy (at least third base) and is equally unwise for 17-year-olds. This is compounded by the fact that Twilight reminds its readers of how wonderful it is to be in love, inadvertently urging them to seek love everywhere they go. (That cute boy who sits next to me in chem class? I might die without him!)

Another issue with the abstinence advertising in Twilight is that the lessons it provides just don’t seem that applicable. Sex has a higher survival rate than having all of your blood sucked out, and it’s unlikely that a given reader is dating a vampire. By promoting temptation and restraint as the key ingredients to a great romance, Stephanie Meyer encourages her readers to cultivate their own desires; when the consequences of succumbing to those desires don’t seem so terrible, real life is likely to lose the constraint which makes Twilight itself such a great story.

Salman Rushdie & Commitment

“The avalanche of sex in which Gibreel Farishta was trapped managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ.” – The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

 

In reading Rushdie (a long-time favorite of mine), I was struck by his poignant observation: Farishta’s casual sexual encounters with a number of women were detrimental to his actual ability to care about a single woman. That is, he began to dissociate sex from it’s proper place-  in a committed relationship. By separating a sexual act from it’s object, the weight and meaning of sex are reduced. Granted, Rushdie’s own love life is far from committed, but that’s a separate issue.