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Making A (very Poor) Case For Abstinence

If you are an abstinence advocate--a college student, perhaps, intent on encouraging your peers to put off sex until marriage--you may find yourself in an unfortunate catch-22.  Let's say a New York Times Magazine reporter approaches you and wants to write a story about your cause (the NYT Mag seems to have at least one such piece a year). And of course you want to publicize your activism. But unfortunately, in the process of giving an interview and putting your life on display, the writer ends up witnessing scenes like this:

It seemed a good time to talk with [one activist] about what else Keliher [another activist] had told me. He described the act he has never experienced as something “breathtakingly powerful” that “lights all of your body on fire.” He spoke of his lust as “this untamed beast.”

Fredell [the other activist] was incredulous: “Leo said that?”

He told me that he struggles constantly against “physical lustful temptation” — that he can be aroused just by a woman’s touch, by even a look at a woman or at a photo or sometimes by “thoughts that just come out of the blue — basically pornography in my head.” They come to him when he’s merely walking around campus, or even when he’s alone in the library — “like a fly buzzing around.”


Keliher quoted to me what an abstinence speaker said — that the real meaning of masculinity is “being able to deny yourself for the sake of the woman.” “To have that kind of self-control is really what it means to be a man,” Keliher had told me. When he finds himself aroused these days, he endures it and waits for it to pass. In this way, he said he has “matured out of that more infantile need for a woman into a recognition of self-sufficiency.” But some women, Keliher granted, continue to give him trouble.

One of these is a freshman — “a very gentle, caring soul,” he said, who “works with little kids and stuff.” Keliher can’t help thinking about her glossy hair and beautiful skin.

Another appears to be Janie Fredell. Keliher smiled and said he was “a little bit” attracted to her — “in very superficial ways,” he added. “It’s something we laugh about — if we dated.”

But Fredell did not laugh. “No!” she erupted, and with increasing volume, “No! No! No! I can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing between me and Leo! It’s just that we’re not compatible in that regard.”

Who, you might be wondering, would not want to be a part of such a crusade? It sounds like so much fun--depression and repression in almost equal doses. This, however, was not so much sad as it was galling:

She once told another reporter that oral sex, while “disgusting and disrespectful,” is not sex, but she now expresses clear approval only of kissing and hugging.

Her girlfriends are surprised that she can maintain a relationship without having sex, she said, but her boyfriend, at Georgetown, “knew from the get-go what he was getting into.” Fredell does not make sexual demands of him nor does he make demands of her. “So I’m free!” she said. “I’m free to experience the emotional and intellectual and spiritual intimacy of another person.” By closing herself off to sex, she claims to have found the humanity in her boyfriend and to have opened herself to an experience of love. “I’ll share this with you,” Fredell confided. “He said conversations with me were more enjoyable than sex would be with anyone else.” Every woman, she said, should have this “incredibly moving experience” of being appreciated for who she really is.

It is always nice to be told about the impact that sex has from people who have never had it. Anyway, if you support abstinence, avoid this article like the plague.

--Isaac Chotiner