Before I start in on this column, I want to say to the self-appointed sexual abstainers of the world: I don't care if you don't have sex. Seriously. Please, don't fornicate if you don't want to. I promise to respect your decision so long as you promise not to preen about as if you're better than everyone else.
Of course, having a proper amount of humility and a cheerful comportment when dealing with those more in touch with the naked side of life doesn't get one media attention or the chance to play the virgin martyr. I know it's considered only politically correct to be generous to sexual abstainers, and I am, so long as they're humble about their choices. The ones who are don't even tend to show up on my radar. But the holier-than-thou abstainers — who are just a branch of the anti-choice movement that seeks to restrict the rights of women, force Americans into a rigid patriarchy, and punish those who don't conform with disease and unwanted pregnancy — get no sympathy from me.
Which is why I couldn't stop rolling my eyes while reading this New York Times Magazine article about the "True Love Revolution" virginity club at Havard. These virgins would like you to believe they are simple, kind people trying to live out their philosophies free of judgment, but even the name of the organization belies this claim. "True Love Revolution" is in itself an accusation towards the 95% of Americans who do have premarital sex: You can't understand true love, which can only be activated by awkward wedding night fumbling.
Not that the interview subjects don't try very hard to uphold their image as innocent babes in the woods, just trying to live their lives in peace.
She could hardly bear to see it ridiculed in The Crimson. An article about the group's ice cream social appeared under the headline "Not Tonight, Honey, I Have a Brain Freeze." A columnist who wrote about the group joked of getting "very, very aroused" just thinking about virgins and wondered if such people might be available for "dry humping."
"It's an odd thing to see one's lifestyle essentially attacked in The Crimson," Fredell said.
As it turns out, The Crimson was firing back after the students of Harvard had put up with a ton of shaming tactics from the True Love Revolution club. If the clubbers don't like being attacked, perhaps they should not pick fights. But the allure of playing the "Neener neener, I'm purer than you" card overwhelmed the club, which, according to this article, sent out cards to freshman women to insult them about their private sexual behavior. The cards read, "Why wait? Because you're worth it," implying that sexually active women lose value. It's the sort of thing you have to hide behind a card to say, because calling someone a slut to her face often leads to unpleasant interactions.
The relevant thing to remember here is that they only sent the cards out to female first-years. Later, after they got called on it, they added men to the list of those who are to receive insulting messages about their sex lives, a late addition that is so disingenuous that it's worth wondering why they bothered. The ugly sexism at the heart of chastity movement makes comments like this laughable:
"It's extremely countercultural," she said, for a woman to assert control over her own body. It is, in fact, a feminist notion. Conventional feminism, she explained, teaches that control of your body means the freedom to have sex without consequences – sex like a man. "I am an unconventional feminist," Fredell said, in the sense that she asserts control by choosing not to have sex – by telling men, no, absolutely not.
She's peeing on your leg and telling you it's raining. Abstaining from sex to fit a patriarchal notion of the marriageable/purchaseable female is only "controlling your body" in the most limited sense of the term. Don't let a disingenuous use of the word "feminist" throw you off the scent. The chastity movement, which is basically the youth division of the anti-choice movement, does not function from the idea that women should have the right to control our bodies. If you wish to have sex outside of marriage, or to terminate a pregnancy, or even to prevent one, they'll be happy to deprive you of this control. It's like being in a prison cell, but feeling you're free because you're allowed to walk three feet in any direction.
By all means, abstain if you want to, but don't pretend it's freedom if you don't believe women should have other options.
Thankfully, this article does better than most on showing the link between the voluntary chastity movement and the larger political movement to force the rest of us to join or face punishment through STDs and unwanted pregnancy. My podcast on Monday detailed the more common approach to covering the chastity movement. Dawn Eden managed to sneak onto "The Today Show" to talk about abstaining from sex outside of marriage, and not once did the hosts mention her participation in a larger movement to deprive other women of the choice to use abortion or contraception. This article does mention, however, that True Love Revolution is engaged in a typical anti-choice maneuver: using selective statistics to create the incorrect impression that condom use doesn't prevent STD transmission, a lie that could be very deadly in some situations, undermining claims from anti-choicers that they're "pro-life." Follow-up to their website demonstrates that they are willing to scare people into abandoning condoms by hyping HPV transmission, but they neglect to mention that if young women get vaccinated for HPV before they become sexually active, they do not run these risks.
Being generous again for a moment, I want to say that I understand and accept that in our hyper-sexual culture, the choice to abstain can feel strange, and you're going to get called stuffy. I can imagine that there could be a group of virgins who sincerely don't judge the sexually active, who are eagerly pro-choice, and who only meet as a club for moral support. But while this is theoretically possible, this article shows that the reality at Harvard is something very different.