"Sex positive" young women reconsider abstinence.

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May 11 2010 11:56 AM

Why Is a Former Sex Blogger "Rethinking Virginity"?

"Sex positive" young women reconsider abstinence.

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The resulting trauma gave Chen panic attacks and led her to take time off from Harvard. She stopped blogging about her sex life in explicit detail on Sex and the Ivy. She got into a serious relationship with a grad student and embraced cohabitation, even adopting a bulldog with her new love. She started a new blog—the ch!cktionary—and instead of referring to herself as a "bleeding heart nympho," Chen now goes by the label "third wave radical Marxist feminist."

Chen doesn't apologize for her old blog, but she acknowledges that the early posts "reflected a painful desire to be liked" and that she's lost a lot because of it. Her experience echoes that of other female bloggers who have written about their intimate lives. Emily Gould also does not apologize for her former antics in her new book, And the Heart Says Whatever.In a New York Times Magazine article, she wrote about the panic attacks she experienced as a result of the public vitriol she received after an unfortunate appearance on Larry King Live. Chen admits that she didn't understand the potential repercussions when she started blogging.

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Now, Chen seems dedicated to making sure no one else goes through what she had to endure. In theory, the Rethinking Virginity conference was supposed to create a utopian space in which no one is judged for any kind of sexual behavior—whether it be Jesse James' mistress Michelle "Bombshell" McGee or someone who chooses to be abstinent. But the conference-goers didn't exhibit much tolerance for unusual or hedonistic behavior. I asked the panel called "The Feminist Response to Slut-Shaming & Sexual Scare Tactics" what they thought of adults having nonmonogamous unprotected sex, and the response was uniformly, well, shaming. "They're doing something damaging, and careless, and it's not a choice I personally approve of," said one panelist.

The final panel of the day, moderated by Chen, was called "Toward a Sex Positive Vision of Abstinence." The panelists all concurred that abstinence should be taught to high schoolers as part of an arsenal of ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs. (While Chen did not offer her own opinion during the panel, she has been a critic of the abstinence movement.) The only real debate seemed to be about whether the government should continue to push the abstinence message past high school and make sure that adults knew it was an option as well, by, for example, mandating that abstinence be discussed as part of comprehensive sex education programs in colleges across the country.

While the one middle-aged sex educator on the panel seemed horrified by that idea ("I wouldn't presume to teach abstinence to adults," she said), Chen was intrigued. "What if an 18-year-old virgin needs to learn how to talk to his partner about how he's never had sex before?" Chen inquired. It was striking to hear the young adults in the audience call for a government-mandated safe area to save a hypothetical virgin from the risks—and the joys—of youthful trial and error. That abstinence was even being considered as a solution to the young adult sexual minefield is a surprisingly conservative shift.

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