by Sara Moslener
Oxford University Press, 2015
Review by Hennie Weiss on Jun 23rd 2015
In Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence, author Sara Moslener provides her readers with a historically rich and detailed view of the development of the protestant evangelical movement and its beliefs in sexual purity, which has focused much of its attention on adolescent. Previous works have discussed how the evangelical movement at large has linked sexual deviance to national decline, (and established sexual purity as helping to counteract such national decline) based on sexual impurity and sexual immorality being spurred on by nuclear threats and the Cold War of the 1960s and the sexual revolution making headway starting in the 1970s. Moslener extends such works by proposing that a broader historical perspective is needed, one that starts earlier (as early as the nineteenth century), and that includes a deeper analysis of the rhetoric of fear, the works of early leaders, and the belief that adolescence is a time when sexual interest can be both natural yet dangerous. "Recent scholarship on evangelical purity culture situates the phenomenon at the individualistic turn of evangelicalism, one that heightened the value of personalized beliefs and self-actualization…By defining evangelical purity culture according to this individualistic turn, recent studies fail to recognize the nationalistic themes in sexual-purity rhetoric. Since the nineteenth century, evangelical Protestants have sought cultural and political influence by asserting sexual purity in the face of national insecurity, particularly through threats of civilizational decline and race suicide" (p. 154, 155).
Moslener therefore provides the reader with a historical perspective that incorporates key notions related to the evangelical movement with American history at large, starting earlier in time and focusing more on concepts such as fear of national and civilizational decline, sexual immorality and apocalyptic anticipation. Moslener then connects the historical development of the purity movement to the last two decades when organizations such as The Silver Ring Thing and True Love Waits have become popular programs for teenagers that are used to spread the word about sexual morality, sexual purity and adolescence sexuality. As the evangelical movement became more individualized, less about family values and more about personal faith, The Silver Ring Thing and True Love Waits took form as newer purity movements that focus more on personal faith, political activism, and whose foremost tenet is sexual abstinence until marriage. These movements are part of a counterculture against what is being perceived as lax attitudes about sexuality alongside with a religion of fear. At the same time, these organizations, especially so The Silver Ring Thing, operate both on the basis of a religion of fear, one that is separatist and maintains boundaries as part of a counterculture, and a religion of accommodation, one that works to overcome such divisions, by employing popular culture as a platform of operation. Moslener explains that by employing technologies that promote celebrity culture, consumerism and the use of mass media, but using parody when doing so, the Silver Ring Thing situates itself both within a religion of accommodation, and a religion and moral economy based on fear, with sexual abstinence as its key tenet to where "...young people who pledge themselves to sexual purity are tasked with far more than saving themselves for a future spouse. In the moral economy of sexual purity, these adolescents are the salvation of American civilization" (p. 168).
Moslener has written a book that not only provides a deeper historical perspective, but that situates the purity movements within an earlier historical framework. The target audience is scholars writing about and researching evangelicalism, but Virgin Nation can also be used in the classroom in studies such as religion and history as well as human sexuality and gender studies.
© 2015 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.