Virginity: A Historical and Cultural Primer
Dr. R. Marie Griffith (Harvard Divinity School, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity), Dr. Kathleen Kelly (Northeastern University, Performing Virginity and Testing Chastity in the Middle Ages), Lori Adelman (International Women’s Health Coalition), Christian Garland (Harvard College Queer Students & Allies, H-Bomb)

Virginity is highly valued across the world: as a rite of passage, as a gift for one’s future spouse, and as evidence of one’s moral purity. As Lori Adelman notes, “Violations of girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health occur every day in the name of preserving and protecting girls’ virginity, delaying sexual activity, or controlling the circumstances under which girls and women lose their virginity.” From forced child marriage and female circumcision to the deliberate withholding of information on reproductive and sexual health, the emphasis on preserving virginity has pernicious consequences in the West and beyond.  What are the religious, economic, medical, and legal origins of virginity? How has sexual chastity been constructed and who benefits from this concept? Our conference opens with a multidisciplinary panel of scholars, who offer a history lesson on the ever-elusive concept of virginity and discuss the origins of contemporary ideas about sexual abstinence.

Debunking The Virginity Ideal: The Feminist Response To Slut-Shaming & Sexual Scare Tactics
Sady Doyle (Tiger Beatdown), Chloe Angyal (,  Lux Alptraum (Fleshbot), Therese Shechter ("How To Lose Your Virginity")

In the years since the sexual revolution, overt displays of sexuality have become a part of the pop cultural mainstream, conservatives have lamented the “hook-up” culture and casual sex, and feminists have critiqued the so-called revolution for merely reinforcing sexual desires, expectations, and practices that cater to male interests and generate capital. Branded “sluts” if they do, and “prudes” if they don’t, girls today are caught in a Catch-22 in which deviation from a narrowly defined norm could ruin their sexual reputation. What does sexual liberation look like in contemporary America, what has changed, and what hasn’t? What are some examples of positive depictions of sex and virginity in popular culture, and what can they teach us? How does the male experience of virginity differ, yet remain equally problematic? Where does consent fit in? Hear from feminist bloggers and commentators in a discussion of female sexuality and the evolution of the virginity ideal.

Before you attend, check out the work of Therese Shechter, who curates stories of virginity loss, critiques pop cultural representations of purity, and shares snippets from her documentary-in-progress at the film’s companion blog, The American Virgin.

Healthy Sexuality: A Workshop
with support from Harvard University Health Services
Elizabeth Janaik (Center For Wellness)

This workshop will cover social and medical constructions of sexuality and virginity, sexual values clarification, and basic sexual health concepts. Participants will discuss the diversity of sexual norms and of definitions of healthy sexuality in their communities. After completing this workshop, participants will be able to demonstrate improved knowledge about sexual norms and the social forces in which they are based, and articulate their values regarding sexual rights and responsibilities.

Popping The Queer Cherry: Virginity Loss, Marriage Norms, & LGBT Identity
Lux Alptraum (Fleshbot), Ellyn Ruthstrom (Bisexual Resource Center), Christian Garland (Harvard College Queer Students & Allies, H-Bomb), Eva Rosenberg (FemSex, Trans Task Force), Aida Manduley (Brown University Queer Alliance, Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council)

Queer sexuality complicates the traditional notion of virginity, particularly when discussing queer female sexuality. In a heterosexual model, vaginal intercourse is privileged above other sexual acts because of its association with reproduction. But in a queer model where sexuality is divorced from reproduction, is there one defining act that connotes loss of virginity? How do we reconcile a penetration-focused view of loss of virginity with a female-bodied person whose sexuality does not involve being penetrated? What does “queer abstinence” look like? If your sexuality includes being attracted to more than one sex or gender, can you have more than one “loss of virginity”? And if virginity isn’t as simple as it seems, then how can sex education programs become more inclusive of a fluid range of sexualities? Our panelists will discuss alternatives to sexual standards based on the heteronormative idea of intercourse and marriage and share lessons that can be taken away from the queer model of sexuality.

Toward A Sex-Positive Vision of Abstinence
Megara Bell (Partners In Sex Education), Therese Shechter ("How To Lose Your Virginity"), Shelby Knox (“The Education of Shelby Knox”), Sarah Morton (Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund), Lena Chen (Sex and the Ivy, Harvard College Queer Students & Allies)

The 2000’s have witnessed an unprecedented wave of pro-abstinence literature which argues that premarital promiscuity leads to depression, at-risk behavior, and inability to form healthy long-term relationship. Meanwhile, young people continue to experience strong social and cultural pressures to follow a set of sexual norms that delineate what constitutes “nice girls” and “good women”. How have contemporary discourses constructed the idea of virginity and how has that impacted the definition of sex? What are the facts and how should they inform public policy? Is there such a thing as sex-positive abstinence education? What might it look like? How can the dialogue make space for older virgins or those who have abstained from sex for secular reasons? Join a documentary filmmaker, a feminist activist, and sexual health educators in a conversation about the future of the abstinence movement.