By Shazia Kamal, August 23, 2010
It appears that fear of other people and social “damage control” are the leading motivations for many young adults who are removing questionable posts and pictures of party nights from the internet. However, a conversation about shifting attitudes of self- exposure stimulates a deeper layer of thought, pointing to a re-emergence of the practice of abstinence. This layer was explored in depth by a group at Harvard College in May 2010, at a conference entitled “Rethinking Virginity.”
The sexual revolution of the 1960’s and ‘70’s essentially replaced the idea of abstinence in sexuality with the notion of absolute sexual freedom. This replacement was done through a campaign that portrayed abstinence as a restraint on individuality and tied to an old-world understanding of religion that was also being questioned at that time. Embedded in that framework was the concept of choice, highlighted with the emergence of “the pill.” In truth, that choice was masked by an attitude that pointed to only one route: an unbound expression of sexuality. To do or think otherwise meant an unyielding attachment to oppressive ideologies.
Today, there are strong indications that the definition of “oppressive” has shifted or evolved. There is always an oppressive regime in place somewhere, whether governmental or social, and then there is a movement to counter that. We must take a moment to think about what oppressive mechanisms are operating in this contemporary society. One suggestion is the culture of instant gratification via consumerism. This is now a society built on the pillars of immediacy and urgency. The technological “powers that be” have demonstrated the ability to cater to the psychological urge of NOW. In fact, NOW is so important that people, despite having the freedom of choice, are settling for something less than their ideals because they are enslaved by NOW.
Against this invisible dictatorship of instant gratification has begun the counter-culture movements to bring abstinence back to the mainstream. One example is a new dating website strictly for virgins, YouandMearePure.com, where the creators proclaim, “We offer a comfortable place where abstinence is nothing to be ashamed of and can be discussed safely and with freedom.” The website’s style of marketing relies upon the existence of a negative stigma around abstinence (“shame”), which it is therefore strategically countering with positive connotations (“safety,” “freedom”). Where at one time virginity and chastity were ideals to be cherished and followed unwaveringly, we have somehow reached the point where guarding these virtues has become a social taboo. Now society has circled back to restoring a value to abstinence and its empowerment potential.
Shazia Kamal is a community activist in interested in social justice issues living in Los Angeles, California.