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.