In fact, the distinct impression I got from this article is that the virginity crowd contextualizes sex in much the same way that anorexics and other people with eating disorders contextualize food and weight control. It’s all about the body disgust, especially disgust for the female body and an irrational belief that self-denial will somehow help a person rise above his/her physical self. … I find it telling that these virgins stick together and compete to see if they can find new, interesting ways to up the ante of self-denial and advertise their success. It strongly reminds me of how anorexics stick together and compete to see who can eat the least and lose the most weight.
Amanda is onto something here and, as always, it’s more complicated than it looks. Both anorexia and this determined sexual abstinence share a tone of “Look what I can choose not to do!” with other behaviors such as extreme dieting. These behaviors also all relate to obsessive controlling the body and to bonding with peers while excluding oneself from the larger society.
The kind of chastity Amanda is talking about is neither asexuality nor the individual decision to be chaste. We know a woman who chose chastity 25 years ago because of the time her sex life took away from the other things she wanted to do–and it worked. These young Christian virgins seem to be taking pride in their power over their sexual impulses and their ability to control the role and timing of sex in their lives. They are quoted as saying that waiting for the right circumstances requires enormous self-control.
While we agree that sex is a basic human need for most people, sex is different from food because not getting it never killed anyone. The young virgins described in the Rolling Stone article are making a public and proselytising statement and generally getting approval from friends and family, even if the wider world is skeptical. Although they may be mocked or teased, they can make their obsession public without fear. Similarly, obsessional dieters and orthorexis (people who only eat according to a very finely drawn set of semi-arbitrary rules) may be disrespected, but they ca have normal lives. Anorexics, on the other hand, live with the constant threat of the hospital or the asylum. By necessity, theirs is a private obsession.
The young virgins wear symbols of their behavior which publicly reinforce their sense of accomplishment. When they look in the mirror, they feel good about how they are living their lives. Anorexics look in the mirror and see disgusting bodies that need to be pared down even further. When scientists show anorexics pictures of their own bodies without their heads, the anorexics generally think the bodies are just fine: add their own heads and they will see their bodies as bloated and repulsive.
Depending on how, where, and when you grew up, your experiences around chastity, sexuality, body image, eating, and not eating will vary immensely. Our experiences are limited; we’d love to learn from you.