Celibate at Harvard

By KARA BASKIN  |  October 25, 2007

“One of the worst things about popular culture’s perception of sex is that guys don’t feel like they have any control over themselves. They’re given this message, ‘Oh, I have to indulge my sexuality. I have to do this because I’m a man.’ They don’t feel responsible. No, you can control yourself. You can be completely respectful of a woman,” he insists.

But life, of course, isn’t quite so black-and-white. I point out that there are countless unmarried people in respectful relationships, suffering from neither crabs nor heartache. What about them? Leo looks at me plaintively: “Well, the first thing I would tell them is, listen, we’re in college, this is the very beginning of our adult life. Are you really going to stay with this person?”

But when you’re 18 and horny, do you really care? For Janie and Leo, protecting yourself from potential long-term pain appears more important than take-me-now gratification.

“There’s this hookup culture — and we just don’t want people to sell themselves short,” Janie says.

“And actually, I read an interesting article,” comments Leo. “The rate for divorce is much lower if you complete college, and you know, if you aren’t having sex before marriage. There are all these different factors that help strengthen a marriage. The physical act of sex is the last thing. That’s what we want to try to get people to see, in that context, sex is an amazingly powerful and beautiful thing.”

I appreciate Leo’s sentiment, but I gotta ask — how does he know this if he’s never . . . er, actually done the deed? I’m beginning to feel like a wizened old whore here. “Honey,” I want to say, “It ain’t always powerful and it ain’t always pretty.” Where’s my scotch and cigarette when I need ’em? Instead I ask, politely, like a tentative TA: “Leo, how do you know this?”

“It’s not something that you have to experience personally to know. The happiest people with the happiest sex lives are, like, middle-aged Christian women.” Well, there goes my shot at bliss.

Leo and Janie assure me, however, that their group is entirely secular, a mix of religious and non-religious members, with outreach to other colleges in the works. Both were raised Christian, she in Colorado, he in Washington state, but neither consider religion to be a major factor in their sexual decisions; rather, it’s their secular beliefs that inform their religious viewpoints.

This is in contrast with other pro-abstinence clubs such as MIT and Princeton’s Anscombe societies, religious groups that also take stances against gay marriage and homosexuality. In fact, TLR is open to members who’ve previously had sex, and they don’t denounce gay marriage or homosexual intercourse. “We’re not trying to make rules for people,” Leo says. “We stay away from any technicalities and definitions because we’re trying to promote an attitude toward sex, a lifestyle. We’re not trying to make rules for people. Basically we’re just trying to make people see how precious sex is.”

Sex is indeed precious, and so is marriage. Which is why you don’t want to waste it on someone with whom you’re sexually incompatible. What happens if you walk down the aisle, only to discover that your beloved has the sexual technique of a gynecologist? Leo has an answer. “It’s a myth that you can be sexually incompatible. The level of understanding that you should have, before you get married, is enough to overcome that.”

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