HERIZON – Student staff & Intern blog

Monday, December 14, 2015

Aspects of the Virginity Movement and How It’s Hurting Women in our Culture

By Halle Bloom

The virginity movement is alive and well in our culture. In this article I will explore different aspects of the virginity movement and how it’s hurting young women in our society, as well as provide some ideas on how we can combat the virginity movement. Jessica Valenti is at the pinnacle of the anti-virginity movement- she has written many articles and even a book on the topic.  She explains the virginity movement as “The lie of virginity- the idea that such a thing even exists- is ensuring that young women’s perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they’re sexually active.(p.1 The Purity Myth) The virginity movement also revolves around religious activities and organizations, abstinence only education, politics, the porn industry, and simply how we raise our children.  

In 1998 the first “purity ball” was held by Randy Wilson.  The ball was a time for him and other fathers to sign a pledge to God to be pure for their daughters and to protect their daughters’ innocence.  The New York Times reported that in 2012 in Colorado Springs the 13th annual purity ball was held by Wilson, and “purity balls” are being held in 48 states.  Jessica Valenti reports in “The Purity Myth” that more than 1,400 balls are held each year in the U.S.  In traditional fashion, fathers and daughters dress in formal wear, have a nice dinner, dance, and the daughters pledge to save their virginity until marriage.  The ceremonies are also called things like “father-daughter balls.”  These balls are very controversial, as girls as young as six are often brought to the balls by their fathers.  It’s easy to argue that children at that age don’t understand even what virginity is or the agreement they are making to their fathers and God.  On the other hand, older girls have the self-awareness to make the decision of attending the balls if they so choose.  Valenti and many others argue that the balls sexulize young women and make men the owners of their sexuality.  Many girls also feel socially pressured to attend the balls because it is part of the culture in their community.  Purity balls are just one aspect of christian conservatism hurting young women by forcing them into traditional gender roles, and telling them their sex status is more important than anything else. Whether you see it as protecting girls’ innocence or holding hostage women’s sexuality.

In the eyes of the virginity movement, queer sex does not count. “We’d have to come to the the fairly ridiculous conclusion that all lesbians and gay men are virgins.” (p.20. The Purity Myth)  We only focus on the “purity” of young white women- people of color, and non-cisgender people are not seemingly focused on and their version of virginity is not even considered in the movement, and if it is it’s seen as undesirable, there is something wrong with that picture.  

Close in line with purity balls, many abstinence only programs have participants sign abstinence cards pledging to abstain from sex until marriage.  Not only is this an absurd requisite for all young women, but abstinence only education (AOE) is mandated in 19 states, and almost all states must stress abstinence as the best option.  AOE holds women’s virginity on a pedestal.  It tells women the consequences of sex out of marriage, because of course you can’t get an STI from your husband.  AOE puts a lot of pressure on women to abstain from sex by telling them they will be undesirable, liked chewed up gum (literally that’s one of the metaphors used in some AOE classes.) In addition the media tells men they can keep asking for more, and  we don’t shame men for having multiple sex partners out of marriage like we do women. AOE is just one of the very strong contributing factors in our cultural obsession with women’s sexual choices.

Planned Parenthood has been in the news alot lately, and stakeholders are constantly working to defund them. This is just one example of how stakeholders affect the virginity movement and have a large role in the health care women receive in our country.  A whopping $95 million is still going to AOE programs from the federal government yearly.  Policy makers and politics have a huge role in how we teach our children and the laws that keep women from having a say over their sexuality.  The government funds many Christian-based AOE programs and programs that have a say in the reproductive rights of women.  In a 2009 article, Valenti wrote “President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, at the Department of Health and Human Services, has already come under fire from political bloggers like Pam Spaulding for “rolling out the welcome mat” for virginity movement leaders like the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America to discuss reducing the abortion rate.”  AOE programs and politics go hand in hand with health care for women and sex education.

Along with laws that control women’s reproductive rights, some pretty ridiculous laws have been fashioned to keep people from selling/owning sex toys and the porn industry has a bad habit of heavily sexualizing and selling the virgin mentality. Some pornography and masturbation may not have a direct affect on women, but the messages and standerds of sex that some pornagraphy sends sure does.  We hypersexualize the teen “look” and talk constantly about “getting your cherry popped.”  Porn is never viewed from the point of view of the woman and she is often seen as an object.  Instead of having more feminist-influenced porn, we look to end porn entirely. “Groups like IWF (Independent Women’s Forum) or CWA (Concerned Women of America) call for an end to pornography, what they point to is never more realistic sexual (and healthy) images-it’s chastity.” (p.95 The Purity Myth) In porn and the virginity movement woman’s pleasure is often put on the back burner. We don’t see women enjoying sex, and if they are in the eyes of the virginity movement it makes them a slut.  We need to work towards having a porn industry that shows more realistic versions of sex and depicts women not as objects, but as being an equal partner.

From the seemingly strange traditions of purity balls to how our media and pornagraphy displays women as objects, unable to experience pleasure or hold control over their sexual activities without consequences, the virginity movement spans many aspects of the American culture and proves to me that more than ever we need widespread feminism and equal rights for everyone.  In addition, we need to make our culture a safe environment for women to express their sexuality without the backlash of shame and the idea that virginity is held to a higher standard than choice.  The virginity movement and how we view virgins and sex in America, in my eyes, needs to change.



Frank, Priscilla. “Welcome To The Bizarre And Beautiful World Of Purity Balls.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, May-June 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.


Oppenheimer, Mark. “‘Purity Balls’ Get Attention, but Might Not Be All They Claim.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 July 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.


Institute, Guttmacher. S TATE P OLICIES IN B RIEF (n.d.): n. pag.Guttmacher. Web.


Santelli, John, M.D., M.P.H, Mary Ott, M.D., Maureen Lyon, Ph.D, Jennifer Rogers, M.P.H., Daniel Summers, M.D, and Rebecca Schleifer, J.D., M.P.H. “Abstinence and Abstinence-only Education: A Review of U.S. Policies and Programs.” Journal of Adolescent Health. N.p., Jan. 2006. Web.


Valenti, Jessica. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2009. Print.



Breastfeeding: The Bare and Honest Truth of the Matter

By Shelby Kranz

In the world of health, ask any doctor about breastfeeding for lactating mothers with new born babies and 9 out of 10 will highly recommend doing so. The benefits for the child are immense. In fact, breast milk provides the infant ideal nutrients and a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fats. Not only is the concoction of nutrients on point, it’s also more bioavailable (more easily digested and absorbed) by the baby. Breastmilk, unlike any form of formula contributes antibodies to the infant from the mother that help the child fight off viruses and bacteria. Being breast fed is also linked to lower chances of obesity, fewer ear infections, respiratory illness, a higher IQ and even lower risk for cancer and diabetes. Breastfeeding also helps with the infant-mother bonding that is so crucial in these early stages. The benefits however do not stop there- even the mother gets some advantages if she chooses to breastfeed. Breastfeeding burns more calories and therefore can help a mother lose pregnancy weight faster. Also, it reduces post-pregnancy bleeding, and lowers your risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and osteoporosis.

With so many benefits to baby and mom, choosing breastfeeding for your child seems like a very good option. However, in certain cases, breastfeeding for women is not an possibility- whether they have a health condition, or the child is lactose intolerant (the reasons may range). In that case formula is necessary and a viable choice. When it makes sense nonetheless, breastfeeding is the best bet for healthy, happy babies.

But here comes a big, fat contradiction- mothers have almost nowhere to breastfeed in many public environments- even their workplace. And when they do in public, they are shamed. How does this make any sense at all? First, our health care highly recommends breastfeeding. Second, we have little to no accommodation for lactating mothers in their daily life, except, of course, for bathrooms. Thirdly, breastfeeding in public leads to reactions of disgust and harassment. Why? Because many believe breastfeeding is distasteful and disrespectful (even sexual) to do in public- in short it makes people uncomfortable. Something so natural and necessary to life is somehow skewed to be appalling.

A mother in Kentucky underwent this harsh judgement while publically breastfeeding her infant daughter in March of 2014. Here is an excerpt from her experience:

Anyway, so I’m sitting there nursing my baby in the WIC office waiting room, minding my own business, and that’s when grandma-to-be makes the huge mistake of opening her mouth. “UMMM, EXCUSE ME, don’t you have a blanket to cover THAT up with? Or maybe you could go find another room to do THAT in. my son is sitting right here and HE CAN SEE YOU! You’re making him feel uncomfortable, so STOP IT! That’s gross! I just think you are being really rude and inconsiderate!!!”

There are thousands of other stories, just like hers. Of course, sometimes breastfeeding bare is taken as offensive- despite how natural and normal it is. In fact, there are laws (such as in Kentucky ironically) that protect the rights of mothers to breastfeed in public. The public usually is not aware of this however, for the most part which leads to public harassment. This issue has been picking up a lot momentum in the feminism movement, and for good reason. Not only should women feel comfortable enough to breastfeed in public, they should also have specific accommodations for privacy if they choose to as well. There will be a time when all women are able to comfortably breastfeed, wherever they wish, however they wish- only then will the battle be won. The key, like most things, is education, awareness, and understanding when it comes to the matter of breastfeeding. And that, my friends, is the bare truth. 




Things That Existed Before There Was Light

By Alyssandra Tobin

I’m not afraid of the trees

outside my bedroom anymore,

not since they dropped their leaves

like pearls, like feathers, like a whore’s


arsenal of lace and spandex–

sheer armor for a pinup

apocalypse–ribbons, fishnets,

because only Bette Davis


can save us and wants to save us

from the way winter feels when you’re

alone without a fire.  When dusk

lands I’m out under the trees; their


leaves break like dragon scales

or wet chalk wherever I go,

their dead pieces leaving dry trails

along the tops of my shoes,


which are filled with three kinds

of shattering jewels, and blood.

The Kali Yuga unwinds

and ends where Shiva stood,


where there is music at night

but no trumpets.  Never smile.

Not the demon, I want a fight.

Bring me Death, Time, with her fangs


stuck deep in the neck of someone

who called her bluff, her four arms

tying him down while she spits the sum

of his sins, of all of the harms


we buried under the porch

but spilled out in a spring flood,

of all of his blades, stuck where it hurts.

Kalika, listen to me.


When you’re in the graveyard

and your blood says destroy,

do not stop.  Don’t give yourself

time to sober up, the story


is a blood-steamed battlefield

and you’re wearing a necklace

of severed heads, it rattles while

you dance.  It is not a chain.


Your brothers will try to stop

you, they will send your husband,

he will lie on the gore-sopped

earth and because he is a man


he will expect you to be

subdued by the sight

of his body under your feet,

he thinks it’ll shock the fight


out of you and shame you

blushing red, that’s how the story

goes but listen, I want you to

use your teeth to make him sorry,


I want you to step over him

like he’s a rain fattened-worm

beneath your toes and you’re Kali,

with your dripping jaw and a world


to end.  It’s winter where I am.

Bring me your skirt made of lost

arms and we’ll wrap it in leaves, lace,

dirt.  They’ve been throwing our soft


voices at us, but we have years

of silk scars, of broken knees,

of new bitemarks burned here,

uncaged now, from under the leaves.

*A note from the author: Kali is one of the most infamous of the Hindu goddesses, known for her role as both a benevolent creator and a bloodthirsty goddess of war, famine, death, and destruction.  In one of her most famous legends, she becomes drunk on the blood of those she’s killed, and begins trying to end the universe.  In order to stop her, the gods have her husband Shiva lay beneath her feet, causing Kali to be overcome by shame for her transgression against her husband/a male deity.  She immediately ends her rampage, and is pacified by her own embarrassment.

[12. 3. 2015]



This article does a great job talking about how gender roles can negatively impact men as well.  Disney is hella problematic and it is important to open up the conversation about not only how it negatively socializes women but also men. 

Also,  Laci ❤





The Pill’s Effect on Mate Choice

By Dawn Plomp

A lot of factors come into play during mate selection.  The commonly cited variables in partner choice are usually related to personality traits and physical attractiveness.  What humans often do not consciously notice is scent.  Like many animals, humans are engineered to be susceptible to pheromones and scents let off by other members of their species.   A likely motivation for utilizing scent in mate selection is to maximize genetic diversity.  When a child receives two alleles for a recessive condition, they will express that gene.  Sometimes these are harmless, such as red hair, but some are dangerous disorders.  Offspring with parents that have largely different genetic makeup are less likely to express recessive disorders because it is unlikely both parents would have the allele for that condition.  Genetic defects were especially prevalent in European royalty, where inbreeding was common with the intention of keeping the bloodline pure.  Smells reveal information about a potential partner’s genetics and play a significant and often overlooked role in mate selection.

A good comparison to see how genetically close two people are is to code their major histocompatibility index (MHC).  This group of genes code for proteins used in the immune system.  MHC is used in the medical field to match patients with organs their bodies are likely to accept.  In addition, a study led by Claus Wedekind also linked MHC to mate preference.

The Wedekind study had women smell a t-shirt worn over two nights by a man.  The men were asked to avoid getting other scents on the shirt, which entailed using unperfumed soap and deodorant, sleeping alone, abstaining from sexual activity, and not smoking.  All participants had their MHC coded and were sorted as being either similar or dissimilar in genotype compared to a given woman.  Women were presented with six t-shirts during the trials, three from similar men and three from dissimilar men.

The trials were conducted during the fertile stage of the woman’s menstrual cycle, days 10-14.  Some evidence suggests that the point women are in the menstrual cycle changes odor preference, so this was done to eliminate a confounding variable.  Women were presented with the t-shirts in glazed cardboard boxes with a triangular smelling hole cut out.  They were then asked to rate the t-shirt on pleasantness, sexiness, and odor intensity.  Wedekind was suspicious that the oral contraceptive pill might affect results, so his team noted if a woman was on the pill and included that in the results.

Pleasantness and sexiness were found to have a high, positive correlation.  When women smelled MHC-similar men, they gave low pleasantness and sexiness ratings.  In contrast, MHC-dissimilar men received high ratings in these categories.  Women can smell this genotype difference and prefer men with dissimilar MHC.  But what was even more striking about this study is the correlation they noticed when women were on the pill.  Those on the pill actually preferred MHC-similar men rather than MHC-dissimilar men.

Hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, work by creating a pseudopregnancy state, which prevents ovulation.  During pregnancy, women prefer the scent of MHC-similar humans.  Most likely this is to draw women to their relatives, who can provide a lot of the support needed through pregnancy.  Because the pill creates a hormonal state that is similar to pregnancy, it makes sense that it would be accompanied by the MHC odor preference reversal as well.

This result sparked another study led by S. Craig Roberts that sought to empirically test whether the pill affected odor preference.  The Roberts study tested women who were off the pill in a similar fashion to Wedekind’s approach, and then had about half the women start using the pill and tested their odor preference again.  Roberts used this design in order to test the same woman, on and off the pill.  This helps to reduce confounding variables and increases validity of the findings.  The results showed a shift in the pill group towards MHC-similar men, aligning with the original findings in Wedekind’s experiment.

While a woman is searching for a long term partner to settle down with and have children, she is likely to be using some type of hormonal contraceptive.  These studies suggest that when she commits to someone, but then stops using the pill because she is interested in having children, she may find her partner to no longer be desirable.  This could create a huge strain on a relationship that was strong prior to the cessation of pill use.  Also, because humans want to maximize genetic diversity, mating with someone similar in genotype can lead to more miscarriages, “Couples who suffer from recurrent spontaneous abortions often share a higher proportion of their MHC than control couples in many different populations” (Wedekind 248).

With these findings, it seems the simplest solution would be to just stop using the pill and rely on non-hormonal forms of birth control.  But family planning is never that simple.  The pill is more effective than the leading non-hormonal birth control, the condom, at preventing pregnancy.  When the pill is used simultaneously with a condom or other non-hormonal birth control, the likelihood of pregnancy is incredibly low.  Women with irregular or very heavy periods also benefit from the pill’s ability to regulate their menstrual cycle and reduce pain and bleeding.

Not enough studies have been done around birth control and the odor preference reversal it has shown.  It is appalling that an issue with such huge implications has had little attention from the scientific community.  Birth control is a great invention that has allowed for people to plan when they will have children, but also comes with a lot of drawbacks.  Constant study of existing birth control methods creates a body of knowledge for a person to draw from when deciding which method is best for them.  It is also critical that new forms of birth control continue to be developed, tested, and honed to offer the best methods to our society.

Works Cited

“Birth Control Methods – Birth Control Options.” Birth Control Methods – Birth Control Options. Planned Parenthood, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

“Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) | Genetics.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Roberts, S. Craig, L. Morris Gosling, Vaughan Carter, and Marion Petrie. “MHC-correlated Odour Preferences in Humans and the Use of Oral Contraceptives.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282.1804 (2008): n. pag. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

Wedekind, C., T. Seebeck, F. Bettens, and A. J. Paepke. “MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 260.1359 (1995): 245-49. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

[3.16. 2015]


Lets Celebrate Herstory!

If you’re anything like me Buzzfeed articles are constantly floating around the periphery of your tech and social media life. Amongst the quizzes, reviews and the 11 Times Drake Looked Like a Dinosaur (which is a real article- http://www.buzzfeed.com/kaylaharvey/11-times-drake-looked-like-a-dinosaur-jdn1?utm_term=.uqB6VLX9R) I came across an article about 18 badass women of this passed year who broke records, spoke out against injustice and worked  toward the betterment of societies. So here it is, aptly titled “18 Badass Women You Probably Didn’t Hear About In 2014”.
It being March 1st lets celebrate both the women who made it possible to be where we are today and those working to affect the future. Enjoy :]

Happy Herstory Month!

Much Love,



Cover of Fall 2011 HERIZON Zine

Click the link below to download and view the entire zine edition.

UVM Women’s Center – Fall 2011 – HERIZON Student ZINE

Spring 2010 HERIZON Zine Cover

Click the link below to download and view the entire zine edition.

UVM Women’s Center – Spring 2010 HERIZON Zine

Spring 2008 HERIZON Zine Cover

Click the link below to download and view the entire zine edition.

UVM Women’s Center – HERIZON Student ZINE – Spring 2008


Below is the scanned copy of the UVM Women’s Center Fall 2008 HERIZON Student Zine:

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Cover

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 1

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 2

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 3

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 4

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 5

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 6

Fall 2008 Herizon Zine Page 6

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