Review: The Cult of the Born-Again Virgin

The Cult of the Born-Again Virgin

The Cult of the Born-Again Virgin: How Single Women Can Reclaim Their Sexual Power

by Wendy Keller

1999. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.


Various schools of spiritual, political and practical thought recommend celibacy as a tool for personal independence, for personal growth free of the power dynamics of a couple, to free up time and energy for work and achievement, and even to increase sexual pleasure by practicing masturbating without performance pressures. Wendy Keller seems to be familiar with these ideas, but in The Cult of the Born-Again Virgin she presents celibacy strictly as a tool for finding a husband and for having guilt-free sex, which seem to amount to the same thing to her.

This narrow view of celibacy is seriously disappointing, in that it ignores a lot of interesting possibilities, but it was Keller's depressing ideas about relationships and her lingering bitterness that really ruined the book for me. That and the repetitive ranting, bastardized feminist slogans, and her incredibly narrow assumptions about her readership (she frequently refers to how “we” grew up in the '70s and feel depressed after cruising for sex at cocktail parties to bolster our self-esteem).

Keller's repeated affirmations of bitter, blameful ideas about relationships are distressingly counter-productive. When she makes comments like, “as every woman knows, once most couples start having sex, they automatically have it every time they are together, which really cuts down on conversation.” and offers celibacy until marriage as the only solution, I get the distinct impression that she has lost faith in sex, men and relationships, despite her lip service to the idea that sex can be pleasurable and consensual. Each chapter degenerates into the same rant about how casual (i.e., non-marital) sex is impossible and celibacy is irrationally important as an option. The book becomes depressing and frustrating because it offers only the most negative motivations for celibacy (and for marriage!).

While it is entirely possible that a few unhappy, single women might automatically find inspiration and develop better relationship skills during a blindly chosen celibate period, I found it strange how little guidance Keller offers about what to work on during celibacy. She simply insists that if a woman feels “odd, guilty, disconnected or out of control” after sex, she should stop having sex until she finds a “good quality man,” whatever that is. This level of discussion belongs in Bridget Jones novels.

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For a more well-rounded discussion of motivations for celibacy, try The History of Celibacy. If you like the bitter tone of the Born-Again Virgin, but still want a more balanced discussion, try Women, Passion and Celibacy.

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