Monday, October 19, 2009

A thought about the abstinence and chastity center

by Josh Franklin

Over this past week, there has been a lot of discussion about a center for abstinence and chastity on campus. Although I have already written about this, after following the discussion on campus, attending one of the week's events, and talking about the idea with many other Princeton students, I thought it would be good to re-articulate my position on this issue.

I think that a center for abstinence and chastity is inappropriate on this campus. While I agree with some of the principles that lead its supporters to the conclusion that it is needed, I think that in the end, establishing this center would be harmful to the campus community. Students come to Princeton with a variety of different beliefs surrounding sex and sexuality. Moreover, everybody is in the process of understanding their own developing sexualities. I think that the vast majority of students believe that sex is something that is deeply meaningful; however, I think that that belief takes many different forms.

Something that I've read and heard many times during discussions about the proposed chastity center is the idea of sex as a mindless rubbing of body parts, done simply for pleasure. I believe that this idea of 'meaningless' sex, which would be a fair way to describe the hookup culture, is an illusion. Put in another way, while relatively few people understand sex to be such a casual activity, or behave as if they do, it certainly seems as if a great number of students feel that way. Establishing a chastity center has the unintended, negative effect of institutionalizing this myth of the hookup culture. Instead of establishing the opportunity for choice, a chastity center represents a false dichotomy between ultimate promiscuity and total abstinence, leaving the vast majority of students who grapple with the choices in between without support.

I want to make it clear that I respect and admire abstinence, and more than that, I appreciate that today's campus culture of sexuality is full of negative pressures and can be stressful and difficult. What I'm trying to say is that a center for abstinence and chastity plays into and reinforces this culture of sexual pressure. While I admit that such a center might be experienced as positive for a small group of students, it would affect all students (as much as a University center could affect anybody, which in my opinion has been exaggerated throughout this discussion). Thus the goal should be to think about how as a community we can change our culture of sexuality on campus so that it fundamentally doesn't create these pressures. Like most other instances, I don't think it is productive to create more spaces where difference and opposition can be articulated, but to think as a community about the ways in which a plurality of perspectives can be accommodated.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


At October 20, 2009 at 2:02 AM , Blogger Rebecca said...

Agreed. There is a place for discussion of abstinence, but it's the same place as the discussion of safe sex and consent and all those wonderful things - the women's center or LGBT center or among the RAs or wherever those things happen on campus. Because abstinence is part of healthy sexuality, too - if it's what one wants to do. Being pressured into sex and out of it are both unhealthy.

Also, what it says in your link about it being implicitly set up as the enemy of the LGBT center and the women's center.

Rebecca (Brown U.)

At October 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM , Blogger Anna said...

This was really well-written and well-argued - kudos!

At November 5, 2009 at 11:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bull hoowy. What are you afraid of? That some students might actually reconsider having sex? My, how dangerous! There's plenty of room for all opinions for/against sex before marriage. Those who advocate abstinence/celibacy are NOT going to sway those who have already made their decision to have sex (probably when they were in high school!) and those who WOULD choose to abstain should be free to access information and counsel supporting their choice. This is a democratic campus, in a (supposedly) democratic country, in which ALL points of view should be presented, freely and without restriction or censure.

Remember the "American President" quote?:

"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.
Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free".

Words to live by.

At November 6, 2009 at 7:32 AM , Blogger Rebecca said...

Anonymous, can you provide an argument for a campus-sponsored abstinence center that:

1. does not fill a role already covered by a women's or LGBT center
2. does not violate religious anti-establishment principles


At November 6, 2009 at 3:33 PM , Blogger Franklinster said...


Thank you for your comment. I agree that there should be--and there is--room on campus and in society at large for a wide variety of perspectives about sex and sexuality to be articulated. I also share your belief that free speech is an important value.

However, I don't think what you wrote really addresses any of the points that I made in my post. Rather than restating them here, I would just like to say that allowing a particular voice on campus is different from creating an institutional center. My contention is that rather than representing "free speech", the establishment of such a center would perpetuate the stifling of speech that is already happening. Open discussion of sex and sexuality is something that I wholeheartedly advocate. But just because I oppose a particular plan to establish a center doesn't mean I oppose any particular individuals' right to speak; I merely believe that doing so would be bad. And as a matter of fact, it doesn't seem that this particular point of view has had much difficulty finding articulation.


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