The End of Sex: Chapter 7, Opting Out: Rethinking Abstinence in the Age of Hookup Culture

November 27, 2013 | Catie

by NeW summer intern Catie Verano, student at Hillsdale College

This week, the Online Book Club is discussing Chapter 7 in “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.”

The culture of sexual abstinence, including programs like “True Love Waits,” is greatest among conservative religious youths. Unfortunately, these methods fall on deaf ears for most average young adults. Freitas describes the problem in these terms:

“Promoting abstinence from a religiously conservative standpoint– preaching no sexual intimacy until marriage– has traction only among teens for whom faith is the central, decision-making frame for all aspects of their life” (142).

Princeton University has a growing, minority group of sexually conservative students who are “dedicated to affirming the importance of the family, marriage, and a proper understanding for the role of sex and sexuality.” This group, called the Anscombe Society, provoked a media frenzy; people were shocked that students supported chastity and traditional sexual values at an Ivy League school. The Anscombe Society inspired the start-up of similar groups like True Love Revolution at Harvard University and Love & Fidelity Network at Princeton. These societies were established in response to the hookup culture, and they provide an alternative for those who are unsatisfied or uncomfortable with the hookup culture’s dominance on campus. They see themselves as:

“Providing an alternative view of sex in the face of liberal politics they believe to be at the bottom of hookup culture– that is, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, and liberal-leaning, anti-religious views” (147-148).

The Anscombe Society sought to establish an abstinence center at Princeton, but was denied because Princeton believed their society promoted anti-gay bigotry. In my opinion, Princeton failed its students who bravely admitted to feeling lost and uncomfortable amid the hookup culture.

“A better response from Princeton would have been to challenge Anscombe to broaden its scope and definition of abstinence beyond right-wing religious politics and to explicitly include same-sex relationships” (149).

Regardless, the politics surrounding pro-abstinence groups tends to be conservative and right-wing, against government-funded sex education. Unfortunately, the politics associated with these groups turn people off to the idea that there could be an alternative, fruitful conversation about abstinence. We have warned young adults about the consequences of sex and have provided ways for them to avoid the negative repercussions. We have not, however, provided them with reasons to value sex.

The primary concern should be for the health and well-being of young adults, but left-wing and right-wing politics have made it difficult to focus on the actual problem. The left promotes safe sex and making sure teens know the mechanics of sex, while the right tries to remove sexual desire from teens until marriage. What is an alternative abstinence conversation that can meet young adults in the right context? Freitas suggests,

“Advocating periods of temporary abstinence to teens and young adults who are interested in continuing to be sexually active could make all the difference in their ability to find the fulfillment they seek from sex” (155).

By broadening the term ‘abstinence’ that does not include marriage, there is much greater hope in getting young adults to rethink their sexual experiences. We need to find a way of communicating abstinence to young adults who are not religious and do not identify with right-wing politics.

Discussion Questions:

1) Do you think abstinence is reasonable for young women and men?

2) Are there ways to promote abstinence from a non-religious perspective?

3) Are there other ways we can get youth to rethink their sex lives and the hookup culture?

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