As you’ve heard, Olympic track hopeful Lori “Lolo” Jones opened up about her sexuality (read: chastity) this weekend on HBO’s Real Sports. While I didn’t think there was anything much to complain about, certain writers and commentators have taken it upon themselves to nitpick Lolo’s words ("She shouldn't say it's so hard.") or even to question her motives ("She's obviously a lesbian."). In a country that seems to wish so hard to take a progressive stance on female sexual rights, what’s the problem with a woman who wants to hold the ultimate control over her own sexual expression?
Let’s forget for just a moment about her reasons. It doesn’t matter, for the sake of my argument, whether she has chosen to remain celibate for religious doctrine, medical reasons, practical considerations, or whatever else. What matters is the fact that she has made a choice about what to do with her own body. As a feminist, I hereby give her my unwavering support, regardless of what that choice may be. I affirm her rights as a human being to make her own decisions about how she is going to conduct her own interpersonal and sexual relationships, and there is nothing any of us can say that would confiscate these rights from her. We should do well to remember that our fellow women in other countries might appreciate the notion that she has been able to maintain this decision to the ripe old age of 29, as too many of them have not been so fortunate. In countries like Yemen, practices like polygamy and child-bride marriage are legal and accepted. These practices prevent extended-age virginity for obvious reasons, but also for secondary ones, in that girls and women receive less education and less status as persons in general than do men. In Chad, the average life expectancy of a woman born in 2012 is only 49, and less than 3% of the current population has reached age 65. They also have the world’s third-highest rate of maternal mortality and rank in the top 20 for HIV/AIDS infection and exceedingly low in access to medical care. In other words, if you live in Chad, you don’t have a lot of time to spend hanging onto your v-card because chances are, you’re going to be dead sooner than not. If you want progeny, you have to hurry.
Even here at home, however, we overlook the fact that Lolo is not among the 10.6% of American women (and 2.1% of American men) who have been raped at some point in their lives. (Certainly one can claim moral and religious virginity after having been the victim of a sexual assault; I would never argue otherwise, but Lolo seems to have been making the point that she is also what I suppose I’d call a medical virgin.) But beyond this, can we not celebrate with her as she seeks to achieve physical superiority through athleticism as well as through avoidance of disease and pregnancy (which would be a pretty big impediment to the London games at this point)? I understand you can practice safe sex, but maybe she’s taking the most fool-proof road to this goal. That’s her option. Or can we just not understand the pursuit of a woman’s athletic goal to the exclusion of distractions like romantic entanglements? If a male Olympian were so intently focused on his dreams of gold that he shunned dating along with alcohol and junk food, would we be so put off by his determination, or would we applaud his single-mindedness? Or, like someone did with Tim Tebow, would we put a bounty on his virginity? (At least there seems to be some level of honor among bloggers for not putting that out there for Lolo. That’s just nasty.)