website statistics

Ivy League Abstinence

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine published a story on Abstinence Societies at Ivy League schools. It focused on Harvard’s True Love Revolution and its co-president Janie Fredell.

The one great thing about abstinence organizations is that it gives its members the tools to just say no in environments, like college, that seems to push sex on you at every turn.

(TAV’s college days weren’t nearly as hot and heavy, but going to art school with lots of gay men tends to do that to one’s sex life.)

The problem with these societies is that when you scratch the surface, they’re still built on top of some very unpleasant foundations. (Note: The quotes are directly from the Times' article) Princeton’s Anscombe Society takes a position...

not just against premarital sex but also against homosexual sex and marriage…

which leaves the non-hetero community pretty much out in the cold. Harvard’s group thinks they are more open:

The group did not require an abstinence pledge, nor concern itself with drawing specific boundaries. Its one stated purpose was to discourage premarital intercourse, but by declining to endorse gay marriage, the group left gays, just as Princeton did, with no option but to abstain forever. Since True Love Revolution did not condemn gay marriage, Murray hoped no one would feel “personally attacked.” “We just wanted it to be kind of humorous and lighthearted,” he said.

Then there’s the sales pitch for pro-abstinence clubs:

[Harvard] posted the conclusions on their Web site — the belief that “ ‘safe sex’ is not safe”; that even the most effective methods of birth control can fail; that early sexual activity is strongly associated with all manner of terrible outcomes, from increased risk of depression to greater likelihood of marital infidelity, divorce and maternal poverty. Premarital abstinence, on the other hand, is held up by True Love Revolution as improving health, promoting better relationships and, best of all, enabling “better sex in your future marriage.”

This is the same kind of misinformation that the government-funded abstinence programs use to scare 13-yr-olds. Here’s the reply from Martha Kempner, a spokeswoman for SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) which promotes sex education. She agrees…

“that True Love Revolution performs a service in providing abstinent students a place to gather for support. “What is disturbing,” she says, “is that this club is using inaccurate information and distorted data to sell that message.” She strongly rejects suggestions that premarital sex leads to poverty, an inability to bond or to increased likelihood of divorce. “There’s no legitimate research that says premarital sex has all of these harmful consequences,” she says. “They’re completely baseless claims.”

Then there’s our favorite Propaganda-That-Will-Never-Die: That this is all about the ladies:

True Love Revolution …sent out cards to the women of the freshmen class that read: “Why wait? Because you’re worth it.” Some interpreted the card to mean that those who didn’t wait until marriage to have sex would somehow be worth less. One writer for The Crimson concluded that “by targeting women with their cards and didactic message, they perpetuate an age-old values system in which the worth of a young woman is measured by her virginity.”

Maybe Harvard’s Janie Fredell is just not a very sexual person. The New York Times quotes her as saying oral sex is ‘disgusting and disrespectful’ and when asked about masturbation she says “Oh, God, no!”

We respect that. Not being into sex is a good reason not to have it - and there are lots of others. But homophobia, sexism and bad science aren’t any of them.