PSA: This celebrity is not having sex!

We recently watched Russell Brand in New York City – which is absolutely hilarious and 100% recommended to anyone who doesn’t mind salacious (but intelligent!) humor, and having a bit of fun poked at the U.S. and/or religion.  Actually I recommend you watch it even if you do mind it, as you might come to appreciate such humor ;)

Anyhow, when Brand hosted the 2008 MTV VMA awards, he sparked controversy with certain viewers by, among other things, making fun of the Jonas Brothers’ promise rings (for the uninitated – a promise to remain “pure” by not having sex until marriage).  Brand does a wonderful riff off some of the hate mail and death threats he got after his hosting gig – video below, which is definitely NSFW!

I particularly liked the bit where he talks about the implications of the Jonas Brothers’ public declarations of their virginity (about 6:15-7:15 in the video clip).

Transcript:

I think what I meant to say when during the MTV VMA Awards, I implied that the Jonas Brothers’ chastity rings and virginity might in fact be a cynical marketing ploy, utilizing the theories of Michel Foucault, who said that in Victorian society, the repression of sexuality was just another way of bringing sexuality to the forefront of our consciousnesses.  It’s a marketing technique.  By saying that the Jonas brothers are virgins, you can’t help but think about them having sex.  The Jonas Brothers are not having sex (*thrusts pelvis*).  The Jonas Brothers are not having sex.  The Jonas Brothers are not having sex.  As long as you’re looking at the rings on their fingers you’re not wondering about where them fingers ain’t straying.  When I said that, I think what I meant was, “A jihad on all the world’s Christian people!”

How awesome is it that he name drops Foucault?  Love it.  And he’s completely right.  Even as a firm believer in premarital abstinence, I never understood the tendency of some in the movement to loudly and publicly proclaim their status as virgins, and make that a central part of their public identity.  So much of what I was taught was that sexuality was something private, between spouses, and not something to be “flaunted,” especially when members of the ‘opposite sex’ were present – in part because indiscreet talk about sex could stir up temptation (so much more could be said about this, another time perhaps).  Drawing lots of attention to one’s virginity seemed to me to be pretty overtly sexual.  As Brand so humorously points out, it’s inherently impossible to publicly announce that one is not having sex without also conjuring up the thought of one having sex – it’s like trying not to think about pink elephants.  It would be more consistent to simply not discuss one’s sexual status in mixed company at all.

Of course, not every public advocate for abstinence specifically discusses their own virginity.  But at times, the way the purity movement talks about virginity can be quite bizarre, and even hypocritical.  I’m particularly reminded of an article I once read, which sadly I can’t find now, about a very attractive abstinence speaker whose talks on chastity involved lengthy commentary on how wonderful having sex with her husband on her wedding night was going to be, and how much fun they would have and how good it would feel, etc. etc.  At the time, it struck me as strangely exhibitionist . . . advertising herself as a virgin and implicitly inviting the straight men in the audience to imagine having sex with her.

Looking back on this story from what I hope is a more nuanced and empathetic perspective, it occurs to me that the abstinence movement in general encourages this kind of exhibitionism when it comes to female virginity in particular, and frames female virginity in a way that’s every bit as sexually objectifying as the “secular” media they’re constantly complaining about.  There’s a way in which the announcement of a woman’s virginity, and the framing of it as alluring, and as a ‘gift’ ‘saved’ for a man – is itself a presentation of women as sexually available to men, and objects of male sexual desire, just as much as any objectifying photo shoot of scantily clad women.

So I now understand that this speaker may not have had much say in how she presented herself – she was using the language and promoting the ethics and philosophy of a movement that inherently objectifies and sexualizes women.  And in fact the implicit premise in much of the abstinence movement is not at all opposed to “secular” assumptions that women’s bodies are male property; rather, the abstinence-based assumption is that a woman’s body can only belong to one man – coded as a gift she gives to her husband (virginity is much, much more often spoken of as something a woman saves for her husband than as something a husband saves for his wife).  Whereas there is in theory more acceptance of experience with more than one partner in the “secular” world – as long as you’re not “slutty,” of course, which is just a hypocritical standard used to vilify self-possesed female sexuality while justifying and celebrating any and all expressions of (cisgender, straight) male sexuality, no matter how toxic.

I think Brand is also right that there’s an element of marketing in all of this.  I don’t think it’s necessarily cynical; in all likelihood the Jonas Brothers believe quite sincerely that it’s very important to remain a virgin before marriage.  But sincerity of sentiment isn’t incompatible with publicly advertising that sentiment in a way that is (intentional or not) personally beneficial.  You take an attractive celebrity being held up as a heartthrob or sex symbol, and repeatedly emphasize their sexual naivete – as Brand says, this brings their sexuality to the forefront of the public consciousness (more obviously with celebs whose careers are explicitly bound up with their packaged sex appeal – e.g. Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, etc.).  And as we all know, sex sells.

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12 Comments on “PSA: This celebrity is not having sex!”

  1. Max says:

    Re: the attractive female celeb discussing her future wedding, et al, I’m reminded of some of the Christine O’Donnell MTV clips that can be found on youtube.

    • Grace says:

      Yes, good example! It’s totally exploitative of women, and I think many women in the movement who end up in the spotlight don’t realize that they’re being exploited and objectified. I mean . . . come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a female spokesperson for abstinence who isn’t white, or who is fat, or whose gender presentation isn’t ultra femme? I can’t think of one.

  2. I liked your post, and now reading your comment I had to laugh out loud about the truth of what you said “when was the last time you saw a female spokesperson for abstinence who isn’t white, or who is fat, or whose gender presentation isn’t ultra femme?” Good point!

  3. Grace,

    I used to publicly promote abstinence (and other things)in my university’s student union. Thinking back, I and the other gals were cutie pies! I would tell you the name of the group, however that would allow someone to google it- and find info on me- eeek! I wanted to joke about that the other day and say- We promoted abstinence- and we sure were HOT! But I didn’t know if that would seem to undercut some of the points you were making. (However, I think Faith is making the same kind of joke I was thinking about! :) )

    It is a really interesting point that you bring up- that the femme attractive women are being objectivized. I had never really reflected much on that before. Interesting….

    Erica

    • Faith says:

      Actually the joke is that even though I fit the abstinence spokesmodel profile she listed, Grace knows that I am a woman with a transsexual history. Probably NOT the spokesmodel the abstinence movement wants…

      • Grace says:

        Faith – I didn’t know that, actually! Did I miss that in an earlier comment? Sorry! And yea, that would definitely disqualify you ;)

      • Faith says:

        I’ve been pretty open about that on SFL, I figured you knew.

      • Grace says:

        Ahhh, I see. I only just started reading SFL a couple months ago, and I think the recommended resources post is the first thread I’ve commented on, so I haven’t spent much time in the comments area.

        I don’t really read comments on other blogs in general, just on posts I find particularly interesting/relevant . . . it’s sad because I miss out on the sense of community and familiarity that comes from being a regular commenter somewhere, but I’m way too distractible and can end up spending a whole day just commenting on blogs if I’m not careful :/

  4. prairienymph says:

    Interesting! Your posts are always enlightening.
    I just posted a nude photo of me and my laughing baby on facebook. Only my shoulder is showing, but that isn’t cuz I’m trying to be modest, I just wanted to highlight the baby’s face.
    My in-laws reaction has really bothered me and you have just highlighted why.
    They have my body pegged as a sexual object available to their son. It was so disturbing for me to have them react to it as if it was pornography, when it is clearly innocent.
    Perhaps Christians can be so sensitive to secular media because sex is so prominent in their minds?

    Also, when my brother and his wife got pregnant before they were married, he had to apologize in front of 2 church congregations. Now, to have someone demand a public apology for a sexual act sounds more like voyeurism than abstinence promotion- which as you point out, can be the same thing anyways.

    (I totally get distracted by blogs and comments.)

    • Grace says:

      Perhaps Christians can be so sensitive to secular media because sex is so prominent in their minds? Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity are obsessed with sex. It’s funny, because what we were taught growing up was that “the world” was obsessed with sex. And in some sectors that’s true – but in general, the average “secular” person I know today is far less preoccupied with sex on a daily basis than most evangelicals I know. Funny how that happens when you turn bodies and sex into something shameful and dirty.

      That’s horrible about your brother and his wife. You’re totally right that it’s voyeuristic.

  5. […] some churches claim to believe sexuality is an incredibly private thing but still put it on such public display. Apparently that’s only bad if someone chooses to express themselves sexually in a not […]


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