Of course it’s deplorable that sexually adventurous young women are constantly told they are “degrading themselves” by seeking out various experiences, that every bit of enjoyment eats away at some secret store of purity.
Perhaps I'm being naive, but are sexually adventurous young women "constantly" told that? My sense is that young women receive very mixed messages about sexual adventure, or so the entertainment most beloved among my female friends from my Catholic high school leads me to believe.
Nor does it seem like the message passed from mother to daughter is as reductionist as "every sexual experience you have eats away at your purity." The mothers I know are more likely to talk to their daughters about the risk of pregnancy, STDs and the emotional cost of feeling used by a boy who professes deep feelings when he is actually most interested in getting you into the sack. (And the mothers I know are largely Catholic Republicans.)
Of course there is a double-standard in American society that is more forgiving of promiscuity among men than the same behavior in women, but I'm not sure I agree with Howley when she says that this "restricts the lived autonomy of women in ways I can’t even begin to articulate."
My own preference is that women enjoy as much autonomy as possible, so long as it doesn't harm anyone else -- the same standard I apply to men -- but I find it hard to believe that if one polled women about the changes they'd like to see in society to afford them more autonomy many would answer, "I wish I could have more sexual partners without any stigma -- that would really increase the autonomy I feel in life."
I hasten to add that perhaps women do feel that, and it just isn't the kind of thing women I know happen to discuss with me. Very possible! But I'm constantly curious about issues like this, and nothing I've ever read or discussed with female friends or experienced leads me to think that Howley is right.