Debunking Double X: Slate’s Mischaracterization of the Rethinking Virginity Conference

Last week, Slate published an article that alleges the Rethinking Virginity conference was aimed at encouraging young women to “reconsider abstinence”. This is a misrepresentation of the event, which was aimed at challenging the heteronormative definitions of virginity and critiquing mainstream discourse about sexual abstinence. Though Slate alleges that the speakers “didn’t exhibit much tolerance for unusual or hedonistic behavior”, live tweets from the conference demonstrate the broad range of discussion topics, which included: interrogating the virginity ideal through the lens of queer sexuality and trans identity, criticizing the scare tactics of Bush-era abstinence-only programs, incorporating the perspectives of abstinent and queer people in mainstream sexual discourse, and challenging cultural definitions of sex promoted by male-centric pornography.

The article also states that one of the panelists used “shaming” language when answering a question about unprotected, non-monogamous sexual intercourse. Shelby Knox, another speaker present at the panel, tweeted this question and the subsequent answer live from the conference. Had Slate printed the quote in context, it would have been clear that the panelist in question was concerned about the public health ramifications of unprotected sexual activity and not stigmatizing promiscuity.

The following articles dispute the validity of the Slate piece:

"Young Feminist Bashing: Rethinking Virginity Edition", Shelby Knox, conference panelist, on her blog

"Everyone’s An Expert On Girls’ Sex Lives", Tracy Clark-Flory on Salon

"A Different Take On ‘Rethinking Virginity’", Lena Chen, event organizer, on Double X

For a more accurate look at the topics and content of the conference, please consult the post-event overviews and panel recaps by participants and journalists.

Please direct questions and comments on the Slate article or the conference to the Harvard College Queer Students & Allies’ Women’s Events & Outreach Chair Emerita at lena[at]

Post-Conference Press & Recaps

If you weren’t able to make it to Rethinking Virginity, check out the #rethinkingvirginity hashtag on Twitter to relive the conference through live comments and photos from the event.

You can also read about the conference in the following outlets:

Harvard Virginity Conference Pops Its Cherry, The Boston Phoenix

Slut Panel Postmortem: Shame, Shame, Go Away, Feministing

Educators Challenge Virginity Connotations, The Harvard Crimson

Rethinking Virginity—And Examining Our Assumptions About Sex, Jezebel (by panelist Lux Alptraum)

"Queer Sex Doesn’t Count" And Nine Other Myths Uncovered- And Debunked- at the Harvard "Rethinking Virginity" Conference, Feministing (by panelist Lori Adelman)

Stay tuned for more!

Advance Press For Rethinking Virginity

Chloe Angyal, one of Monday’s speakers, blogged about looking forward to hearing fellow Rethinking Virginity panelists, Sady Doyle (Tiger Beatdown, and Professor Marie Griffith (Harvard Divinity School).

Amanda Hess, who pens the column “The Sexist” for The Washington City Paper, had a hilarious chat with Doyle about some of the ways in which valuing virginity delegitimizes the wide spectrum of sexualities and sexual expression . Doyle notes:

"Sex is being defined as this very heterosexual experience of having a Penile Apparatus stuck into our Vaginal Apparatus in an Act That Could Potentially Produce Offspring (if you don’t make his weiner wear an outfit, or whatever). Like, OK: There are a lot of things that are pretty darn sexual, which this description of Sex does not cover!"

Hear, hear!

On The American Prospect's TAPPED blog, Silvana Naguib writes about the rising popularity of hymen restoration surgery among Arab women. But while it may be easy for Westerners to decry supposedly backward sexual norms, Naguib notes that Americans, too, possess a “bizarre virginity obsession”. She says, “By continuing to prize virginity, Americans support a violent narrative about young women and sex, increasing the value of their sexual purity only to gain power by depriving them of it.”  about how

Join us on May 3rd, 2010

Harvard University

Is there a sex-positive way to teach abstinence? What are the historical and cultural origins of the virginity ideal? How does a queer person lose their virginity? Does anyone even know what virginity really is?

From debunking myths to defying norms, the Rethinking Virginity Conference will feature scholars and experts speaking about gender, sexuality, and the elusive concept of virginity.


The event take place at the Student Organization Center at Hilles. Brought to you by the Harvard College Queer Students & Allies.

Thank you to our sponsors …

… for making this event free and open to the public, with support from our publicity partners:

ACLU of Massachusetts, Fenway Health, Queer Women of Color and Friends, Feminist Majority Foundation Choices Campus Program, Bisexual Resource Center, and the Harvard College student groups, Trans Task Force, Radcliffe Union of Students, & Students For Choice.

Pre-Conference Meet & Greet

Join us the night before in Harvard Square for a “tweet-up” and meet the speakers!

Daedalus Restaurant (Roof Deck)
Sunday, May 2nd from 8 to 10pm

45 1/2 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-5053
(617) 349-0071