Sex and the Ivy

The Harvard Crimson: “The Abstinence Mystique”

Filed under: Abstinence, Harvard — Elle October 27, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

My op-ed in tomorrow’s edition of The Harvard Crimson discusses how the campus organization, True Love Revolution, lacks a consistent mission and misapplies feminism in defending abstinence and the “traditional family”.

I had a lot of fun writing this piece, in part because it was an opportunity to debunk a common misinterpretation of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs as a treatise on the consequences of feminism. Levy, who identifies as a feminist herself, does not blame second-wave feminism for vulgar music videos and crude lad mags emblematic of modern “raunch culture”. Rather, she argues that women who express their sexuality in a manner obviously conforming to the male gaze (straight women kissing in night clubs, for example) are falsely invoking feminism in justifying their decisions.

Levy herself has gone on the record as stating in an interview with sex-positive feminist Susie Bright:

OF COURSE I don’t think [sex radicals] are responsible for this…the whole point of sex radicals is to explore new and different and more creative ways to represent— and to have— sex. I’m all for creativity. I’m all for exploration. I’m just not for the incessant reiteration of this one incredibly dull shorthand for sexiness… Wet t-shirt contests! Implants! Brazilian bikini waxes!


You have always been about encouraging women to investigate what they really and truly want from sex. Raunch culture, on the other hand, is about performance, not pleasure. That’s my objection … As I say in my book, the women for whom this is *genuine* — the women who authentically get their kicks from flashing for GGW or stripping or whatever— have my best wishes.

It’s a shame that Levy’s work has been so often misinterpreted as it offers a rare, nuanced examination of how the male-dominated entertainment and pornography industry have hijacked “sexual liberation” for profit. This isn’t because feminism went too far; it’s because it didn’t go far enough.