Virgins and Anorexics

Amanda at Pandagon writes about the Rolling Stone article on the “new chastity,” which got us to thinking about people who take pride in denying their bodies.

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.

4 thoughts on “Virgins and Anorexics

  1. There is a difference between anorexics and those who abstain from sex outside of marriage. Anorexia nervosa is a disease. It is absolutely NOT in any way a matter of “choice” as you put it. Abstinence is a conscious choice, but anorexics don’t even see their bodies as they really are. They have no choice, just as a person with obsessive compulsive disorder can not simply choose not to do a compulsive act. If anorexia were a choice, then all other diseases would be, too. Mental illness is already very misunderstood — please don’t confuse it with people who choose not to fornicate because of religious or personal reasons and a desire for self mastery or to avoid the problems that come with fornication.

    Self control is a positive thing which you try to make negative by calling it “denial”. We must learn control to be able to function. We must control what we say, think, feel, how we react. These are not irrational expectations, but healthy ones. We must not become a Lord of the Flies society where the base urges are answered at every moment. Food, sex, rest — all good things. But they can be abused in every direction.

    Denying oneself food is harmful while denying oneself sex is not. I personally think that sex is treated today like a toilet function — one must relieve themselves *immediately* in/on whomever is readily available. Some women are even passive participants in sex acts — I don’t see how that is even vaguely pleasuable, yet we’re instructed these days to allow others to utilize our bodies as their personal masturbatory tools. If we don’t, we’re prudes (aka excessively polite.)

    Comparing anorexic people to those who are free to choose when to have sex is comparing apples to oranges. Anorexics are slaves to the self, they are not in control, they are controlled. The chaste are in control and the master of their bodies. I would much rather be the former and have a choice, than to give in to every base desire and be a slave to my own body.

  2. Mena,

    You’re right. I misspoke. I know anorexia in not a choice.

    I’m fine with all sexual choices that are consensual and not coerced, including chastity and or celibacy.


  3. What a fascinating comparison. Perfecting the art of self denial. I think the previous poster does have a point. One is a psychiatric disorder, while the other isn’t. But they may share some commonality. You can google search “holy anorexia” wish I could find the link I was reading on a few weeks ago.

    I have just recently had gastric bypass surgery, which is a self denial of food in quite a different way. I’ve been discussing it with family members. The joy of food is gone, it is merely something to contend with 3 times a day when I have to. Different than anorexia, i realize. But I have the body dysmorphic disorder that is common to those that are anorexic. At close to 400 pounds I could still see myself as somewhat normal even though I was over 200 pounds away from “normal”.

    Sex is another issue. I have always enjoyed it. From far too young an age until right now. Unfortunately, the Lexapro that I take for a chemical imbalance deprives me of some of my sexual interest. I can be moody, depressed, angry, and out of control, or I can enjoy sex. What a damn trade off!


  4. Being overexposed to sex at a young age without truly understanding the societal implications, I was an outsider throughout most of my childhood when being blatantly honest about my early experiences. I think that there is merit in celibacy, but abstinence is truly a type of self denial. It is not a psychological condition but to deny physical urges is inhuman. It is a condition created by social conditioning.

    Morals are created by experience and beliefs and most people whose morals tell them not to have sex have been told from birth about the sin of sex. They have possibly even been chastized for actions taken as a child. As a child you do not understand the difference between right and wrong because you have not experienced negative or positive outcomes. The human body and physical pleasure are wonderful things. They should be celebrated but instead they are demonized by modern christian morals.

    This demonization is not without cause but in modern society it is misguided. In the Netherlands the age of consent is 12. It is natural for humans to be sexual even in childhood but because of fears of disease and pregnancy old cultures condemned sexuality. We have entered an age of birth control and modern plastics are readily available made into condoms that are free in schools and at clinics across the country.

    Physical pleasure should be celebrated to the extent of ones physical needs. To deny one’s desires is just giving in to an antiquated chastizing received from one’s father or mother figure. I feel that comparing people with internal psychological disorders created by society with those who have psychological misconceptions, that equally denies them true physical pleasures is accurate and just. These conditions can both be considered a type of disease and the original statement made a great distinction between health implications.

    Mental health is another story. One I am greatly concerned with. I think restraint is healthy when reasoned but when following views created by an inaccurate reasoning it can lead to internal conflict. In summation I believe people have an obligation to do soul searching to find what makes them happy whether its being with one partner or many or even none. My only urge for people who support abstinence due to old logic is to do what makes you ultimately happy.

    For Holly: I am so sorry you have to deal with that trade off. My only suggestion too you is that you take some time off the drugs trying to deal with your emotions and moods. I know that doctors say you have an imbalance but I think everyone has a great tendency to vary greatly in their emotional states. I as a seventh grader dealt with huge mood swings and chronic depression. I was very antisocial. Through all the crying in my room and angry bouts at school I learned to put up a wall. I was apathetic to the world. Over time I have broken down the wall and learned to feel again but I am no longer depressed. I think the human mind is the most mysterious thing in the world. Drugs may be your only answer for a calm life but I suggest trying to build your own barriers to emotions but be conscious of the fact that they are there when things that really matter happen. Meditation may be very good for you. I have spent a lot of time sitting in my room listening to music just seeking contentment and new ways to approach the world; New ways to approach thought.

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