Sexologist breaks down virgin/slut dichtomy as societal norms
In modern society, women fall under two binary categories — the prude virgin or the sexual slut.
Sexologist Jill McDevitt shared this observation during her discussion of the virgin and whore complex Monday night at Trayes Hall in the Douglass Campus Center.
She used a clear strip of tape to signify the purity associated with a woman’s virginity.
McDevitt demonstrated the concept of being clean and the premise of virginity by ripping the same piece of tape off the arms of four male volunteers she called onstage.
The last man got the tape when it was very dirty and did not stick anymore. This demonstration was a visual representation of the purity of virginity and the loss of that purity.
McDevitt, author of “Fighting the Crusade Against Sex: Being Sex-Positive in a Sex-Negative World,” highlighted the effects of sexual oppression and the need for a positive attitude toward women and their sexuality to a crowd of 200 people.
“We have a culture that bases women’s value on someone else’s version of how they should be sexual,” she said.
In order to demonstrate the power of this virgin-whore dichotomy, McDevitt asked women in the audience to recall times they were judged for participating in or refraining from sexual activities.
The audience recorded their responses anonymously on a piece of paper and McDevitt read some aloud.
One woman’s response told the story of how her dad called her a slut after finding out she kissed a boy. Another recalled being kicked out of a man’s room for refusing to perform oral sex.
McDevitt said historically, women were valued in terms of their sexuality. In some cases, a man would purchase a wife but could return her if he believed she was not a virgin. The women accused of engaging in premarital sex would be stoned to death.
Even though women are ridiculed for being prudes or sluts, McDevitt cited a University of Texas study that showed both men and women having sex for the same reasons after researchers recorded 237 responses.
She said some of the reasons cited for having sex were “I was bored,” “to get a promotion,” “the person made me feel sexy” or “I wanted to increase our emotional bond.”
Although women suffer from discrimination, McDevitt said women also contribute to their own oppression.
“Women have created a hierarchy which we are all complaining about, and yet we are contributing to it,” she said. “Folks need to look inside themselves and come to terms with the ways they themselves contribute to a culture of sexual oppression and then work on amending those behaviors.”
Jennifer Osolinski, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she was startled by women’s role in their own sexual oppression.
“What shocked me the most is the self-awareness about how much we contribute to the virgin-whore dichotomy,” she said. “It’s not just men shaming women because women partake in shaming each other.”
But Christina Doonan, a part-time lecturer who sponsored the event, said this discrimination is a problem for everyone.
“All members of a community are negatively affected by discrimination and oppression because it limits possibilities for everyone,” Doonan said.
McDevitt said she first experienced the virgin-whore dichotomy at a very young age.
“Although my parents did a good job at being sex-positive, when I started my first sex relationship, I felt ashamed, and after discussing it with my other female friends and realizing they felt the same, I decided that it was important to advocate for these types of conversations,” she said.
McDevitt said she hopes her work as a sexologist will positively change attitudes toward female sexuality, which she tries to do through her YouTube show, “A Day in the Life of a Sexologist.”
“My next goal is to get my YouTube show picked up by a television network so that [more people other than] YouTube members can have positive conversations about positive female sexuality,” she said.