If young girls were taught abstinence, there would be less sex abuse.  “If we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”  This is what Nadine Dorries MP said on Channel 5, speaking on the Vanessa Feltz show.

There is some interesting conversation, involving both Nadine Dorries MP and Julie Bentley from sexual health charity FPA, around how to make sex education better and how to include information on relationships.  The segment from which the quote above comes is at about 19 minutes in, with the particular quote just before 20 minutes.  I can only imagine that it was intended to suggest that a culture of promiscuity leads to a culture of sexual abuse.  The other possible meaning, that victims of sexual abuse simply didn’t say “no” (which is in fact hinted at when she says that girls may later realise that something was “the wrong thing to do”), is extremely offensive.

However, even the idea that sexual abuse arises from a culture of promiscuity is misguided.  Firstly, sexual abuse is rarely about sex, but about power.  Secondly, abstinence provides sexuality and virginity with almost mythical status, making both consenting sex and sexual abuse even more powerful and alluring.  And thirdly, the incredibly high likelihood that not all people will choose abstinence leads to a divided view of women* as either madonnas or whores.

Of course all individuals should be given the confidence to make their own decisions, without being pressured into doing anything they don’t want to.  Of course parents should be a part of this conversation.  Of course it’s an issue for both boys and girls.  But making such claims about abstinence and sexual abuse is hardly the way to achieve a society full of self-confidence.

(* It’s historically been women, rather than men, who are perceived as either madonnas or whores.)


About feminismfortories

Moderate Tory, Liberal Feminist. Based in the UK.
This entry was posted in Banning things and sexism, Foolish comments, Media, society and state and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Abstinence

  1. Holly says:

    Good post, especially like the point on virginity. Just one disagreement, I think there’s more to rape than power and it is about sex. It’s obviously about violence, but specifically it is about getting sexual pleasure by your ability to harm someone else.
    Dorries promotes the idea that sex is not something women want, they are not participants, they exercise autonomy only by refusing it. That view of sex makes it easier to believe arguments like “saying no to sex will reduce sexual assault”. When sex is done by men and women are merely gatekeepers, not participants, it is far closer to rape than when women are expected to be full participants who enjoy and create sexual experiences with their partners. I’m not saying that passive acceptance of sex equals rape, but that there is a spectrum from full participation and enjoyment to total lack of consent.

    A far better approach would be to teach girls and boys the importance of being able to say “yes” and “no” and on what terms and most importantly teaching teenagers (especially boys) the importance of paying attention to whether their partner is comfortable in the situation and enjoying her/himself. Boys should be taught to connect their own pleasure with that of their partner, rather than deriving pleasure through domination. Given that they will likely be taught the latter by a lot of porn, Parents and teachers need to teach the importance of the former. But a dialogue based on abstinence will only obstruct such a conversation.

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