New Line of Tween Panties Promotes … Abstinence?

By Annie Shields @ Ms. Magazine Blog

.

  What better way to reinforce family morals than by wearing underwear that doubles as a conversation starter, right? If the junior prom after-party starts to get dull, just take off your pants and encourage a dialogue! Awkward first date? Lift up your dress and ask for some feedback!

On the one hand, these panties were created by parents to encourage their teens to remain abstinent. On the other hand, these are panties. A strange choice of merchandise to hawk in the name of chastity.

Stranger still, these 75-percent “frisky” garments seem to be closely tied to a religious agenda. The very name of the line implies a Christian affiliation–subbing “your mother” for Jesus in the familiar WWJD. So what’s really going on here? Let’s take a closer look at some of the site’s offerings.

The essages on these panties–”Dream On,” “Zip It!” and “Not Tonight”–coyly indicate non-consent to a potential romantic partner. The marketing campaign confirms this:

But the whole concept of abstinence-promoting underwear makes about as much sense as commemorating sobriety with flasks instead of coins at AA meetings.

It isn’t just dumb, it’s dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your children to choose abstinence before marriage; there is something wrong, however, with not empowering them with the knowledge and tools to make that choice and confidently communicate it to romantic partners. Without pulling down their pants.

What’s more, the panties can really muddy the notion of “consent” in young people’s minds. What if a teen girl wears “Not Tonight” panties and decides at some point in the evening that she actually does want to have sex? Nothing wrong with that, but the dissonance between the panty-message and her ultimate decision may well reinforce the mistaken idea that “no means yes” in her partner’s mind.

This bizarre line of undergarments calls to mind what Jessica Valenti dubbed The Purity Myth in her book of the same name. In an interview, she argues that oversexualization of women in the media and pop culture has begun to intersect with the conservative movement, resulting in the fetishization of virginity:

If you are telling young women over and over that what’s most important is their virginity … then you’re sending the message that it’s the body and sexuality that defines who they are … With the virginity movement it’s adults–and a lot of men–deciding what appropriate sexuality is for younger women. It’s anyone and everyone except young women themselves defining (their) sexuality.

This is ridiculously displayed in WWYMD’s promotional videos, which feature abstinence-friendly songs and wind-blown girls posing suggestively in their skivies next to fully-clothed young men. Here are some of the choice lyrics:

No kiss, no touch, no makin’ out
hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey…
 
When men see a body like this, they have a tendency to dismiss
that I got anything upstairs, but I got me a lot of brains up there
 
Let me make it clear, so there’s no mistake
my life’s goin’ good, there’s too much at stake
to just hand it over, to any man…

The second video is even more explicit and confusing, combining gratuitous crotch shots with pro-chastity song lyrics:

I am waitin’, for my time in life,
I am waitin’ for love.
I am waitin’ on the world to change
I am waitin’ on you

Abstinence-promoting strategies as ineffective as these will certainly prove to be are, unfortunately, not unprecedented. Just last week it was reported that the Candies Foundation paid Bristol Palin more than $260,000 to be a pro-abstinence spokesperson–seven times the amount they spent on actual teen pregnancy prevention programs. With the rise of what’s been called the chastity-industrial complex, peddling purity is big business. Once again, social and religious conservatives say one thing, do another and wait for the money to roll in.

ABOVE, TOP TO BOTTOM: Screenshot of Twitter message, WWYMD logo, Items from WWYMD line, Promotional flyer from the What Would Your Mother Do? Facebook page.

This was originally posted on the Ms. Magazine Blog on April 14, 2011. The above post was slightly edited, leaving out the intro on the piece’s relevence to the Ms. “Click!” blog carnival.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 3, 2011, in feminism, gender, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I have to say that I took a generally different view on this topic. Although I did agree that the responses are relevant in some situations, I personally saw different angles. My first though was that in order for any marketing campaign to be effective, it has to reach and appeal to its audience. I can see where the company is catching the attention of young women (and not just their otherwise consumer heads, mothers) to say “YES! I want to wear this product”, and even have peer groups nodding along that it’s clever, empowering and a simple voice and message to their male counterparts. Clearly the intelligent tween doesn’t have to be showing her boy short version of these underpants to feel empowered and supported in her choices. I don’t in fact think the message is intended for the male portion of the audience at all. I also think that the messages of “not tonight”, “zip it” shows the females power of choice, and says that she knows she has a sexual power over him, but she is choosing not to use that or share that part of herself. I think that the boys she encounters will understand at least that she put some forethought into the evening. I think that there are a lot of other factors at play here, and this is akin to a chastity ring (promise ring) which doesn’t necessarily stop sexual activity from taking place. I don’t see these garments as akin to a flask or to a sobriety chip, but to an AA or an NA shirt, simply. In fact, I really appreciated the point a parent should not be intending to substitute these undergarments for real lifelong lessons about the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ times to have sex. The parent who would buy this garment for their child without having led life with serious conversations on the topic, would have already put the child at far further risk than buying this garment could do. It’s a sad commentary though, that tweens are being marketed a product that revolves around sex at all, and I liken that to my own experience at that age – which was farr farr farrrrr from any of this!
    Thanks! – Lorie

  2. smeeta maharaj

    This is so wrong! having sex around so much at such a young mind can not be good for someone who is so young and inexperienced. This will just cause even younger people starting to have sex and potentially getting pregnant, dropping out of school, and struggling for much of their young lives. I think this is a very stereo typical statement that i’m saying but Ive seen it happen so often. i think its so dumb how advertisers are targeting young kids with panties that are telling them that a man would see them and how to respond. When i was younger i was exposed to sexual stuff at a young age. Wearing lace bras and thongs defined sexy and being insecure because i was skinny made me want to wore those types of garments and get attention from boys. I did end up getting the attention but looking back at it now i was too young to have experienced that type of sexual activity and when i have kids i will be a lot more protective of what they are doing.

  3. I chose to respond to this topic because this new line of tween panties is pretty silly. I totally agree that it makes absolutely no sense and it is like giving out flasks at AA. I read in another reader’s response that they seem to have a bit of tease thing to them. I would have to agree especially since they are marketed to the age group they are. At the end of the day it’s just another novelty item someone is trying to make a “new thing.” I could not imagine that this was an idea that was approached to promote with such a meaningful message behind it. I think if parents would like to promote abstinence it would be most effective in what you teach your children growing up and the way you do it. Teenagers are going to do as they please no matter what their underwear says that day.

  4. Even just looking at the pictures in this article, one can make so many assumptions. The fact that the words and sayings on the underwear is “Not Tonight”, etc. is almost like a teaser. The underwear and the different poses with the girls suggest sexiness and sexual attraction. I think that if this company really wanted to promote abstinence it could’ve been done in so many other conservative ways.

  5. I really don’t see how the creators of this clothing line actually thought the words written on these under clothes could actually keep teenagers from having sex. I almost feel like this clothing line actually promotes the idea of possibly being sexually active to teens that might not consider it otherwise. This reminds me of the popular “I ❤ Boobies" products (plastic wristbands and clothing) that are supposed to spread breast cancer awareness amongst young people and according to the "keep a breast" website, "exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support." I've seen so many teens, both male and female (though I definitely have seen more males wearing the products than females), but I question how many of those wearing the products have actually become aware of prevention and early detection just by buying the product. I think it's great that money is being raised for a breast cancer foundation, but I can't help but think that teens are only buying the products for the words themselves and because they have an excuse to wear something that would otherwise be considered inappropriate. If there was a line of products to raise awareness for prostate cancer, would the same male teens be as excited and willing to support the cause? I'm not sure if the right message is being sent here. Going back to the abstinence clothing line, I completely agree with Elizabeth that ultimately the goal is to sell underwear. A few already suggestive words written on an underwear (bracelet for that matter) cannot replace a real and informative conversation about extremely important topics in teens' lives.

  6. This product may seem like an innocent and cute idea and possibly the original intention is to help adolescents rethink having sex until they are emotionally mature for this level of intimacy. But, I can’t help but think about how many people get tickets every year for running red lights or rolling through stop signs. I think once the chemistry between two people has gotten to the point where they are in their underpants the likelihood of switching gears is going to be near impossible to accomplish. And statements like “not tonight” don’t really advocating abstinence. The real intent of this product is to sell underwear. I noticed on their website that a line for boys will be coming out soon. What messages will adorn those briefs and boxers? Teaching abstinence is a great challenge and needs to be taught at school and in the home. Although children are in school more than at home during these years, parents remain the most influential figure in a child’s life. Kids might hate these conversations, but parents have the privilege and responsibility to engage in them, and if parent-child discussions are founded in honesty and objectivity, they won’t be forgotten, even if it’s down the road.

  7. I chose this topic because I feel like it is very controversial. When I first encountered this, I assumed that this might be a fun and playful way to encourage young girls to steer away from engaging in sex early on before they are ready. However, reading further, I realized, the purpose of these panties are counter-intuitive. Why would they go as far as to show their underwear in the first place? And yeah, I definitely agree, it defeats the purpose of the main component in a relationship–communication. If girls cannot blatantly communicate to their partner that they are not ready to have sex with them just yet or ever, why bother being in that relationship in the first place? It is obviously not healthy. I feel like these panties give off the message like, “Let my underwear do the talking for me.” So, every time a girl and her partner begin to become intimate, is she going to lift up her skirt, pull down her pants, etc. and ask him to read her underwear? It’s an innocent approach, I’m sure, but it’s obviously not well thought out. I don’t think I would invest my money in this merchandise and if I were a mother of a teenage girl, I would NOT waste my time to even look at this ad.

  8. This is an intriguing post, it is strange how a message that is about abstinence is placed on such a sexual item like panties. I do agree with the message on these underwear, but I think that the message should be placed on a piece of clothing that is non-sexual, perhaps a hat or wristband. The message will probably be more effective if the message is placed on a non-sexual clothing item, that’s just my personal opinion. I do find these underwear humorous as it would be quite funny to see a “not tonight” written on someone’s panties.

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