As at many universities, the dominant sexual ethos at Princeton University is the hook-up culture,marked by casual sex and uncommitted relationships. Under this culture, the lifestyle of hooking up is presented not merely as normal, but also as normative. Those who do not adhere to — and particularly those who publicly question — the tenets or practices of this culture are thus less then welcome, both socially and intellectually; they are seen as silly artifacts of a bygone age rather than full participants in the modern collegiate community. As a result, students at Princeton who wish to remain abstinent not only face immense social pressure to conform to the hook-up culture, but many also find themselves alienated when they do not. Whether inside or outside of the classroom, whether in conversation or in a campus publication, abstinent students who express their views on sexuality are all too often derided for their beliefs.

In the face of the hook-up culture, the Anscombe Society has been dedicated to providing support for abstinent students at Princeton since its inception in 2005. As a student organization, Anscombe is devoted to upholding the ideals of marriage, the family, and chaste sexual values. Through such avenues as lectures, debates, panels, and articles, Anscombe has striven both to support chaste students and to help change the widespread perception on campus that the abstinent lifestyle is strange and unreasonable. Indeed, Anscombe has made such great strides in achieving these ends and presenting the case for abstinence with intellectual rigor that it has attained national recognition as an authority on traditional sexual ethics, appearing on television, printing articles in national publications, and speaking to high school students throughout New Jersey.

Despite the efforts of the Anscombe Society, however, hostility towards abstinent students persists on campus. Of course, any struggle against a dominant ideology is an uphill battle, but it is particularly troubling and distressing that Princeton’s administration is making that slope even steeper. While the University purportedly holds to the values of equality, neutrality, and acceptance, its actions in fact reinforce and bolster the cultural marginalization of abstinent students. The reason is that the administration’s policies foster a deep double standard when it comes to sexuality. That is, the University, through programs, policies, and, most importantly, official centers, gives recognition and to certain social and intellectual conceptions of sexual culture and support to those students who subscribe to those opinions and lifestyles. In instituting the Women’s and LGBT Centers, the University has correctly identified sex and sexuality as areas of particular concern for college students which require particular attention from the administration. Despite this commendable attempt to fulfill the needs of the campus community in this realm, it remains an injustice that young men and women with chaste views on sexuality do not have institutional support to aid them in their navigation of the often troubled waters of college sexual culture.

To remedy this problem, the Anscombe Society believes that Princeton should establish a center for abstinent students for two central reasons. First, the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would give a stamp of institutional approval to the chaste and abstinent lifestyle. By establishing such a center, the University would send the message that this lifestyle is just as worthy as any other. The center, then, would be a huge step in helping to change the discourse on campus regarding sexuality and abstinence. The institutional approval that comes from having a center would help tremendously in making abstinent students more accepted at Princeton and in leveling the intellectual playing field.

Second, the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would provide chaste students with concrete support. As a student group, Anscombe simply does not have the resources to offer abstinent students the support that they need. Nor can abstinent students find support for their uniquely chaste needs among existing University institutions. For instance, same-sex attracted students who wish to refrain from homosexual acts are offered no assistance or encouragement from the LGBT Center. In meetings with University officials, Anscombe has been told explicitly that these students will not receive institutional support through the LGBT Center. What is needed, therefore, is a center specifically for abstinent students of all kinds to provide them with support through events, literature, counseling, and other forms of encouragement. This center would not contradict, but rather complement, the work of the LGBT and Women’s Centers. Just as the latter serve the unique needs of their respective constituencies, the abstinence center would provide for the specific needs of students wishing to remain chaste.

For the reasons outlined above, Anscombe believes that Princeton should establish a center for abstinent students. As the University holds great sway over the campus culture, only institutional approval and support of this sort will help to bring balance to the dialogue and discourse on campus regarding sexuality. Only the establishment of an abstinence center will help to fight the appalling marginalization and alienation of abstinent students on campus.

Despite the reasons advanced above in favor of an abstinence center, one might still raise objections. In the following paragraphs, various objections to the establishment of a center for abstinent students will be considered and responded to.

  • (1) Women and LGBT students are so by nature, while abstinence is a choice. The University should support students’ identities, but not their highly personal choices. Certainly, abstinent students are so by choice, and not by nature. What this objection misses, however, is that centers have not been established at Princeton because of who students are, but because of how they are treated and because of the unique types of support they require. For instance, the Davis International Center was not established because international students are foreign by nature, but rather because they lacked the proper support on campus and can easily feel alienated by being in a foreign culture. Likewise, while abstinent students are not inherently abstinent in the same way that women are women, they still need just as much institutional support in the face of deeply-ingrained social and intellectual hostility on campus.
  • (2) There has been historical discrimination against LGBT students and women, but not against abstinent students. It seems that historical or national discrimination is a key consideration for a center’s establishment. While it is indeed true that centers at Princeton have been formed because of discrimination, they have not been formed on account of historical or nationaldiscrimination. Centers have not been established so that Princeton can congratulate itself for fighting national discrimination. Rather, centers at Princeton have been founded because oflocalized discrimination on campus. Thus, the LGBT and Women’s Centers exist to serve the needs of Princeton students — not every LGBT student or woman around the nation. Moreover, the Davis International Center clearly contradicts this objection, for it would be difficult to argue that international students have been subject to the level of historical or national discrimination that women or same-sex attracted people have. Instead, there are certain social, cultural, and intellectual barriers that make full acceptance into the Princeton community for international students particularly difficult. In this respect, abstinent students encounter specific, localized barriers to social and intellectual acceptance on campus, just as LGBT students and women have. The particular and unique needs of abstinent students on the modern college campus, and specifically on Princeton’s campus, merit the institution of a center.
  • (3) The abstinence center would be taking a moral stance, saying that one lifestyle is better than others. However, the University should remain morally neutral. This objection is misguided on two accounts. First of all, the purpose of the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would not be to assail other students and their views, but rather to give support and legitimacy to abstinent students. The center would exist for abstinent students who are abstinent for whatever reason—psychological, emotional, medical—and not simply out of moral considerations. Second, moral neutrality is impossible, since advocating for moral neutrality is itself a moral position. The task of the University is instead to present a plurality of moral viewpoints, without privileging any one in particular. Indeed, it is quite evident that, amongst current centers, no moral neutrality exists. The Director of the LGBT Center, for instance, has publicly called support for a traditional definition of marriage offensive and homophobic. Clearly, such a statement takes a moral position. In arguing for the establishment of a center, Anscombe is not asking for moral neutrality, but rather for equal opportunity for moral views to be expressed and supported. Establishing the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would equalize the intellectual discourse on campus, and would be in keeping with the University’s commitment to acceptance, tolerance, and equality.
  • (4) If you establish an abstinence center, then every other student group on campus will want a center, too. The problem with this objection is that, by the existence of the LGBT and Women’s Centers, the University has already set a precedent that matters of sexual identity are important enough to merit centers. As such, establishing the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would simply be following the logic of the University’s current policies to its natural conclusion, and would not necessitate that the University establish centers for other student groups. The central point about establishing this center is that it would rectify the gross inequality of support when it comes to matters of sexuality.
  • (5) While abstinent students may be marginalized on campus, there are in fact a large number of abstinent students at Princeton. It would seem, then, that having an abstinence center is unnecessary, for abstinent students are not an oppressed minority. It is correct to say that there is a large group of students on campus who are abstinent. However, numbers do not address the central issue, for even if there were a majority of students on campus who are abstinent, there would still remain the cultural perception that students with chaste ethical views are somehow abnormal. Indeed, the University tacitly promotes this cultural perception by not having an abstinence center, and sends the message that abstinent students’ beliefs are not as valid as those more in line with cultural and intellectual orthodoxies. Moreover, while there is a great contingent of abstinent students at Princeton, there is currently no institutional support for them, no place that offers them assistance and encouragement in living out their ideals. For these reasons, then, Princeton needs the Center for Abstinence and Chastity.

In conclusion, the marginalization of abstinent students¿and the lack of institutional support and approval that they face¿necessitates the establishment of a University-sponsored center for these students. Indeed, as shown from a consideration of the objections, there are no strong arguments against the center, and there is every argument for it. Conversations with administration officials confirm this, for they have been unable to provide us with a substantive reason for refusing to establish a center. To deny to abstinent students the same level of institutional support currently enjoyed by other students would be unjust. In accord with its avowed ideals of acceptance, tolerance, and equality, the administration of Princeton should found the Center for Abstinence and Chastity. Such a center would not only help to change campus opinions and discourse about abstinence, but it would just as importantly provide abstinent students with the unique and specific support that they need to thrive at Princeton—socially, psychologically, and intellectually.

If you would like to know more about the Anscombe Society, please contact:

  • Brandon McGinley, President, at
  • Shivani Radhakrishnan, Vice-President, at
  • Joel Alicea, Administrative Chair, at
  • David Pederson, Public Relations Chair, at

This article can also be read in pdf format: Why Princeton Needs an Abstinence Center.