Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns

Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns

Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns

Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns

Synopsis

Even though they are immersed in sex-saturated society, millions of teens are pledging to remain virgins until their wedding night. How are evangelical Christians persuading young people to wait until marriage? Christine J. Gardner looks closely at the language of the chastity movement and discovers a savvy campaign that uses sex to "sell" abstinence. Drawing from interviews with evangelical leaders and teenagers, she examines the strategy to shift from a negative "just say no" approach to a positive one: "just say yes" to great sex within marriage. Making Chastity Sexy sheds new light on an abstinence campaign that has successfully recast a traditionally feminist idea--"my body, my choice"--into a powerful message, but one that Gardner suggests may ultimately reduce evangelicalism's transformative power. Focusing on the United States, her study also includes a comparative dimension by examining the export of this evangelical agenda to sub-Saharan Africa.

Excerpt

The walls pulsated with the rhythmic thump-thump-thump of a song from the popular recording artist Usher. Strobe lights flashed across three large screens on the stage. Green lasers probed the darkness, and fake fog felt its way across the floor as eight hundred hormonal teenagers poured into the room. Nothing says rock concert quite like lasers and fake fog, except that this was a sexual abstinence event hosted by Silver Ring Thing in the chapel of an east coast Christian college. “Sanctified, Not Skank-tified,” according to one girl’s T-shirt.

My research on the rhetoric of the evangelical sexual abstinence campaigns had brought me to the event, and I was feeling, frankly, a bit disoriented. My own adolescent sex education was a hazy memory, but I’m sure the gist of it was “don’t do it.” I think I would have remembered if green lasers had been involved.

Josh, the twentysomething national program director for Silver Ring Thing, was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, carrying a cordless microphone, and pacing the stage. “I’m here to talk about how great sex can be,” he said, as the crowd hooted and cheered its agreement. Then Josh led the teens in an unusual abstinence cheer: “Sex is great!” The audience repeated the cheer three times, each time gaining in intensity: “Sex is great!” Where were the tearful testimonies of sweaty Saturday nights, I wondered? “Sex is great!” Not even a gross-out slide show of sexually transmitted diseases? On the last cheer Josh followed with a clincher: “Sex is great … and it is great, in the context of marriage.”

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