“Are You a ‘Trashable’ Styrofoam Cup?”: Harm and Damage Rhetoric in the Contemporary American Sexual Purity Movement
This article describes and analyzes the harm and damage rhetoric that is an important part of the conservative Christian sexual purity movement in the United States. Despite the rhetorical focus on the danger associated with sexual interaction prior to heterosexual marriage, there is no evidence that sexual purity teachings produce meaningful public health outcomes or changes in sexual behavior. One way to make sense of the movement’s endurance is to understand the attention to harm and damage as a means of subject formation. Girls are rhetorically constructed as vulnerable and in need of protection and should thus orient themselves to receive guidance and protection from the church, father, and nationstate. The harm and damage rhetoric is so pervasive that feminist interventions into sexuality education in the United States can fall prey to reliance on adolescent girls as a site of injury and vulnerability. This can be countered by understanding adolescent girls themselves as not only helpful but also essential to the development of sexual ethics and theologies that are not dependent on notions of purity.
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