Purity Balls in America: The Cult of Virginity

After reading both Jessica Valenti and the article on purity balls by Amanda Robb, let’s watch a couple of videos.


First, let’s watch sex educator and youtube hit, Laci Green, who discusses the historical roots of the concept of virginity.

At first glance, virginity wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with economics or marketplace commodities, but the history Green shares makes it clear once again that “the personal is political.”

As Green points out – and as you learned from the documentaries for International Women’s Day last Friday, in some parts of the world, women are still killed in honor crimes if their virginity is even suspected of having been compromised, often by their fathers, brothers, or other male family members.


The ideology behind these balls is deeply rooted in the rise of the conservative (often fundamentalist) Christian Right in the U.S. This ideology depends heavily on traditional, rigidly defined and heterosexual gender norms and also equates virginity – in particular, female virginity – with the idea of physical and spiritual purity.

One thing we need to remember in particular from Valenti’s reading: there is no medically or culturally agreed upon definition of “virginity.” In addition, our understandings of virginity tend to be heteronormative as well – that is, we define its loss based on the act of a man penetrating a woman during heterosexual intercourse.

As in the readings, pay close attention to the language, that is, the rhetoric, used to talk about virginity, love, and sex. And pay attention to intersectionality as well: how is virginity classed? Raced? Whose virginity, for example, is prized and/or encouraged?

In our next class, we’ll talk about sex education. What connections do you see between purity balls and the growth of abstinence-only education in America?


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