In a recent post about the very new development (and 180 degree turnabout) of feminists criticizing hookup culture, I cited Jessica Grose, a Slate columnist who wrote a piece entitled The Shame Cycle. Writing about murmurings in the feminist community that might signal a backlash against casual sex, Grose wondered:
From whence this confusing, shame-feedback loop?
She followed that post up with Generation Scold, which I featured in a piece about the (hopefully) new Reverse Double Standard that penalizes man whores.
(Hey, did anyone see the recent episode of Glee where Will Schuester is shamed by the whole school for being a slut? Yessssssssss.)
Yesterday Ms. Grose continued in wonderment at the shifting tides, asking in a new post whether sex-positive feminists are reconsidering abstinence. Has Ms. Grose officially joined the small but expanding group of young feminists that believe having sex with randoms might not be in a woman’s best interest after all? The jury’s out, but I like the odds.
The main subject of the article is Lena Chen, a woman who published the photo you see here while writing her infamous Sex and the Ivy blog while at Harvard. Gawker called it “the worst overshare anywhere ever.” The blog IvyGate has called her Lena “I lowered my mouth over his cock and slid my lips over his shaft easily” Chen.
The New York Times once called Lena Chen Harvard’s best representative of hookup culture. (Don’t you just love the understatement?)
In a 2018 interview she explained:
For me, being a strong woman means not being ashamed that I like to have sex. And to say that I have to care about every person I have sex with is an unreasonable expectation. It feels good! It feels good!
Imagine the surprise in the femosphere, then, when Chen hosted a conference last week at Harvard on Rethinking Virginity, which strove to establish a “sex positive vision of abstinence.”
I wanted people to take away a more inclusive view of sexuality and realize that being sex-positive and being abstinent are not mutually exclusive. The discourse on sex needs to include those viewpoints instead of just writing them off as not truly sex-positive.
I’ve written about the pressure women feel from other women to have sex even when they prefer to abstain, so I welcome the addition of abstinence to the list of PC sexual choices.
Once again, young feminists are trying to make sense of another apparent defection:
“Chen is part of a handful of women bloggers who are sobering up quickly after their youthful indiscretions, and lately, the sober seems far more prominent than the indiscreet. It’s as if young women are going through the cycle of rebellion and regret much faster than other generations—because it’s all being publicly chronicled as it unfolds.”
Duh, that’s the whole point! The rebellion was extreme, and meant to shock. Young women purposefully wrote about their sexual misadventures in Too Much Information detail. The narcissism, the thirst for sexual and journalistic celebrity were intoxicating to a whole crew of young and promiscuous college students. They thought little of the future then, not caring that their rebellion was so extreme as to preclude any other future career. These women crafted identities for themselves just one slight step up from porn star, if that.
Today, most of those sex writers are in their mid to late 20s, and they’re scrambling to publicly atone and beg for one more chance. Yesterday’s bad girls are working so hard to reinvent themselves that Emily Gould, former Gawker editor and sex blogger, has switched from blogging about orgasms to sharing recipes.
Professional oversharer of sex puts on an apron and whips up a delicious dinner in under an hour! Expecting Don Draper at 7 for cocktails!
Not sure about her cooking, but the irony is delicious.
Grose shares this perception:
“This new circumspection—on the part of both chastened twentysomethings and some forward-looking teens—may in part be a bow to their professional futures. Young adults these days know that no employer or university admissions gatekeeper wants to see a picture of you with a beer bong. But young people are also spooked by the public shaming that the oversharers have encountered, and they don’t want to go down that road.
People in this cohort tend to meet instances of oversharing with mockery and scorn, rather than sympathy or commiseration. If you behave with abandon—either on the Web or in the bedroom—they believe you only have yourself to blame.”
Indeed, Chen was reviled with mockery and scorn by many of her Harvard peers. She’ll graduate from Harvard this spring after taking some time off to recover from anxiety and panic attacks triggered by intense negative publicity about her writing. Personally, I’m glad to hear that young people are spooked by such lurid accounts of sex. (By the way, they’re not only spooked, they’re grossed out. Viewers vociferously complained that photos of Lena Chen having sex were revolting because they featured the pasty white legs and abundant pubic hair of her partner in the foreground). I hope those unsuspecting readers of Sex and the Ivy have been able to banish those visual images from their retinas over time.
Just when I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about the Chen conversion to common sense, I discovered she didn’t care for the Slate article, and accused Grose of totally misrepresenting her statements. From her blog, the Ch!cktionary earlier today:
“Rethinking Virginity” does NOT mean “reconsidering virginity”. Not. At. All. I was/am not preaching sexual abstinence (or ANYTHING for that matter). Just, no. Off the bat, let’s get that straight.”
“I wish [Grose] refrained from listing every single horrible thing that happened to me as part of the backlash against my blog and then insinuating that I really did regret it after all.”
“I make it very clear that I stopped blogging about my sex life not because of fear over employment prospects but because I realized that I go to school with some incredibly fucked-up people who have absolutely no qualms about making my existence at Harvard miserable.”
However, Chen clearly states that she no longer describes herself as a “bleeding heart nympho,” preferring the label “third wave radical Marxist feminist.” (If you know what that is, please leave the definition in the Comments.)
Coincidentally, an article in the New York Post yesterday profiles some other women who appear to be less conflicted about abstinence, very publicly embracing a celibate lifestyle:
Two weeks ago, Katie Jean Arnold had her celibacy wake-up call. After hooking up with a stranger on the L train platform and going back to his place, she woke up at his apartment and decided to leave. On her way out the door, he came up to her, naked, and said the words she’ll never forget: “What’s your name?”
Two weeks? Hahaha! Does anyone else find this tragicomic? The habit may be harder to break than she realizes:
Sex in New York for me had become like the 99-cent package of Ding Dongs on the corner.
We all know how addictive Ding Dongs are!
The article goes on to highlight numerous celebrities who have recently gone on record as preferring to sleep alone:
Ashley Dupre: “I’m very good at it, but I’m saving that.”
Lady Gaga: “I’m celibate, celibacy’s fine.”
Courtney Love: “I’ve been celibate for four years.”
Julia Allison Says Namaste
Perhaps the most interesting celebrity to go on the wagon is Julia Allison, a 29 year-old media whore personality, who got her start as the sex columnist at Georgetown, and blogged about a devastating breakup this past March.
“She’s at the point, she says, where she doesn’t want to seek intimacy without the potential for a serious relationship.”
I’ve always been against the New York version of fast-food sex. Believe me, come on, please, I’ve slept with guys I don’t love before, but I’ve frankly reached the age where I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve dipped my toes in those waters, and it’s cold.
Her blog currently states that she’s “going dark” at an ashram for several weeks- perhaps she needs to remove herself from temptation, lest she fall into the Ding Dong trap.
It’s hard to know how genuine these makeover attempts really are. Some of them carry the distinct whiff of a publicity stunt, perhaps in response to the recent rash of submissions to the newly christened Spinster Lit genre. Whether they are seeking virtual hymenoplasty or just a less sordid lifestyle, hopping off of the casual sex carousel may enable these women to reclaim some measure of self-respect. I’m more interested in their ability to influence culture via media portrayals of their radical choice. Abstinence is the new black.
One thing is clear. These women have lived with shame and found it a debilitating companion. Stuart Schneiderman has written about the nature of shame before in his excellent post The Ethics of Hooking Up. In a new post acknowledging Jessica Grose’s surprisingly open-minded treatment of the subject of abstinence, he reminds us of the power of shame and its ability to reform us:
For the record, shame is not a social construct. It is a universal emotion that accompanies the public exposure of one’s sexuality.
The media influences American culture enormously. They’re eager to write about notorious sex kittens sharing their shame instead of their shameful experiences. That’s progress.