There’s a post floating around online right now—in Instagram stories, in screenshots on Twitter, as a green-screen background on TikTok—calling into question the biblical implications of Hot Girl Summer. “The bible warns us of the sinful nature of Hot Girl Summer, “ it reads. “Try practicing Pious Girl Summer. A summer full of scriptures, sun, and self improvement through religious piety. And remember: Modest is hottest!”
It comes from the so-called Brigham Young Virginity Club, a “Utah-based club dedicated to preserving and promoting Virginity on college campuses.” The account, by its own admission, has no formal affiliation with Brigham Young University. To study the account, to analyze its posts, is an exercise in flip-flopping. At first … sure, okay! Maybe some group of Mormon students at a university in Utah run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints are using the vernacular of the internet to push a pro-abstinence agenda. That’s actually a pretty smart idea. But, then, a closer look at a post about the “poophole loophole”—anal sex as a workaround for religious tenet—and you’re right back to laughing and thinking the account is just good performance art. But then, if you’re me and TikTok is convinced you’re an ex-Mormon, so you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching videos from ex-Mormons, your mind immediately drifts to the stories you’ve heard about “soaking.” (I will not be explaining this, but it’s yet another “loophole” that I would recommend not Googling on your work computer.) And all of a sudden you’re back to thinking, for a moment, that the account might be real after all.
I’m not alone in doing these mental uneven bars. On TikTok and Twitter, plenty of people were also asking the big question on my mind: This thing can’t be real, right? So my ICYMI (In Case You Missed It, Slate’s internet culture podcast)cohost Rachelle Hampton and I began investigating, like a low-budget Sherlock and Watson. The first thing we did was scroll through all the accounts that @BYUVirgin was following on Instagram: a bunch of college students from schools in Utah. (Reasonable.) A fair number of Barstool Sports accounts. (Perhaps less reasonable for an account alleging to promote chastity.) And … at least a dozen other college virginity club accounts— a network of similarly voiced accounts, many with nearly identical posts all preaching the gospel of abstinence according to internet shitposter. Most of them cropped up in the same two-week period in December 2020, many on the exact same day. The Brigham Young Club, however, was the first, launching last September.
Wondering if maybe some, or all, of these accounts were in fact run by the same person, we tried a trick that can be a good place to start when trying to deduce who’s behind an Instagram account. And by “trick,” I mean we exploited a privacy loophole Facebook should probably fix. It works like this: If you try to log in as the account in question and say you forgot your password, Instagram will show you a censored version of the email associated with the account. It’s supposed to help jog your memory, so you’ll know which email to check if you are earnestly trying to change your password. But in our case, it helped us find at least one other account associated with what appeared to be the same email used by the Brigham Young group—that of the National Virginity Council. (That email was easy to find; it was in their bio.) We also found a third account, but upon double verification, the email had been changed. (The downside of this little trick is that most people will change their email and password out of security concerns.)
Suspicious, yes, but not exactly a smoking gun. We then called up the communications office at Brigham Young University; the account says it is not formally affiliated with the school but there is an internet petition with a middling number of signatures attempting to gain formal recognition for the club. BYU, as expected, only noted that anybody is free to post whatever they’d like on Instagram. Which, true, and perhaps the answer to this entire investigation.
Also suspicious wasa video ad posted to the account starring BYU Virginity Club’s “first brand ambassador,” Le Soniregun, peddling the club’s merch. For $30, you can get a “Purity Power” sweatshirt that comes with a free “V-card.” (The expiration dates are pre-inked for … “my wedding night.”) The video is complete with ’80s infomercial music and lines like, “I was tempted just the other day when a young lady asked if I wanted to be fellated by her on a Tuesday night.” And if you swipe past it to the next slide in the post carousel, you’ll find a promo for Le Soniregun’s music. A classic tactic right out of the Lil Nas X playbook of harnessing the internet for free publicity.
Still mostly at sea, we decided we had to go straight to the source. A few email exchanges later, the person running the BYU Virginity Club agreed to talk to us under terms of anonymity. He appeared to be using some sort of voice modulator during our recording session to further obscure his voice. (Though I might recommend, if you’re going to try to hide on the internet, changing your Zoom display name before you enter a room.) He claimed to be a junior at Brigham Young University and said he was worried about his status at the school. “I haven’t come out to some of my friends as a virgin yet, so I’m kind of holding off on that,” he said, which seemed more than questionable, given abstinence is baked into the BYU honor code for non-married students and violating said honor code is grounds for expulsion. (Also note the “coming out as a virgin” language, a frequent turn of phrase used by many virginity club accounts.) BYU Virginity Club said he’s a “born again virgin” and a Mormon. And then, we began talking in circles.
“I think in general there’s just a lot of very casual stigma and prejudice against people who are virgins. If someone doesn’t seem as cool or as popular, you might think they’re a virgin,” he said. “We wanted to create a safe space where people who choose to remain celibate can kind of get together and discuss strategies to stay strong and to stay faithful.” He said he founded the account with a group of people who co-manage it, and that they are in a group chat with a network of two dozen other virginity clubs at various colleges. The group chat is supposedly named “hot tub of virgins.” He admitted to also running the National Virginity Council account, as we suspected,, but insisted that the other accounts that appeared around the same day at the end of 2020 were all created organically, with no coordination. “Obviously, some of the other accounts take a more lighthearted approach to it,” he said, when we brought up a post from the Saint Louis University account which explains why Pangea, the landmass, should be brought back in service of abstinence. “Honestly, I think some of them are even genuine. It’s hard to tell which ones are real and which aren’t.”
In a 2020 post, the account claimed it was “facing institutional prejudice,” and that “the administrators in the student leadership department are biased against Virgins and the very idea of a Virginity club at BYU.” Which, again, seemed counterintuitive, given BYU’s policy on premarital sex. “[The school doesn’t] totally take it seriously,” he said. Neither, frankly, did we, but no matter how many times we asked, BYU Virginity Club insisted the club was not satire. Not an elaborate piece of performance art. Not a grift to sell merchandise and promote an album. And at that point, we’d reached an impasse. BYU Virginity Club remained fully, almost impressively, committed to its message and premise, and Rachelle and I stood totally unconvinced.
Purity culture is toxic, and the very concept of virginity is one I’d just as soon abolish all together. Baked into it is the notion that being a virgin is embarrassing or shameful or weird. (Cut to that Clueless scene: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”) None of those things are true, and there is certainly a world where an internet-savvy student at Brigham Young University realized that pairing meme parlance with the visual language of Instagram could be a really useful way to talk about chastity among young people and get them to actually engage online. That is, by our findings, not what’s happening here.
You are of course free to make your own determination, but we might suggest checking out the saved Instagram Stories highlight labeled “Politics,” where the club acknowledges that, while banning sex on college campuses would be illegal, they propose a “cap and trade type system where artificial caps are set on the amount of sex allowed at universities each year. Students can then buy/sell these permits ensuring that the students not interested in Virginity are still able to do the act.” It reads like a 2021 Instagrammed version of A Modest Proposal. Funny, absolutely. Real, absolutely not. ICYMI PI declares this case: Closed.