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]lenachen.com.