Remembering “Students of Virginity”

During my senior year of high school, I was amazed to find this NYT magazine article describing the abstinence groups at Harvard, Princeton, and MIT.  Before reading it, I had no clue that intelligent human males existed who held principled objections to premarital sex.  In my Seattle high school, although I was not alone in abstaining from sexual activity, I was one of the only people I knew who openly expressed a moral objection to premarital sex.  This view was generally tolerated as a religious quirk, though regarded as a bit dangerous.  (Had my reasoning pertained to mental health it would have been much safer.)  This didn’t oppress me much, but it did give me a set of parochial misconceptions about the realities of the dating market.

My understanding of things was clear: everyone has premarital sex.  Perhaps not everyone will demand it of you as a girlfriend or boyfriend, and you can always freely refuse it, but you must know that everyone has it eventually.  Since this is the case, an abstinent person’s romantic life will consist of a series of relationships which end when your partner gets fed up with your abstinence, though perhaps one day one of these relationships will lead to marriage before that occurs.  If you do marry, although your spouse will have accommodated your strange practice for a courtship period, he will not take your ideas seriously, and certainly would not have followed any of them before dating you.  I found this situation suboptimal, but it was the reality that I had come to accept.  Although logistically more complicated than most differences of opinion, I didn’t see why this one should prevent me from dating any more than, say, a difference of religion.

While I still hold that you should not limit yourself to dating only people who share your sexual ethics, I wish I’d know that there are other reasonable chaste people in this world.  Given my pessimistic understanding of the dating market, it’s a wonder that I scraped by with my views intact.  And I certainly worry that there are many similar high school and college students who, faced with the prospects of a dating market in which everyone has premarital sex, simply give up. Indeed, there is a prudence to such defeat: if everyone else is doing it, how can you compete? How could I expect a man who’s slept with a number of women to marry me before having sex? How could I expect him to take on the risk that I’m worse in bed?

Yet this need not be the case. When sufficient numbers declare their commitment to sound sexual ethics, this alters the dating market and makes abstinence more feasible. This is one of the best reasons for an organization like Anscombe to exist. It might seem silly for us to run around declaring our commitment to sound sexual ethics, but such behavior can combat the hopelessness which might drive other students to forgo their ideals. Reading about True Love Revolution and Anscombe certainly gave me great solace, and we should not disregard the possibility of enabling someone to stick to their sexual ethics.