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Celibate at Harvard

Can true love ever replace campus hook-ups?
By KARA BASKIN  |  October 25, 2007

A year ago, a conservative revolution was born in the throbbing heart of liberal Cambridge: a True Love Revolution (TLR), that is. Harvard couple Sarah Kinsella and Justin Murray embarked on a campus-wide campaign to promote abstinence. Through mailings, ice-cream socials, and editorials in the Crimson, they urged their classmates to wait until marriage to have sex, lest they feel cheapened, objectified, or hurt (blue balls aside). Today, for the more than 100 student members of TLR, love means never having to say, “Your dorm or mine?”

College has always been a petri dish for sexual rebirth. Let’s face it, at a dimly lit kegger, even the most timid soul can fling aside his emo glasses and get lucky. On a national level, 71 percent of college students report being sexually active. These base instincts don’t discriminate: it seems that, when it comes to loin-locking, even the brilliant minds at Harvard turn to horny mush.

According to Justin, Harvard’s sex-ed freshman orientation events cater to the majority, treating sexual activity as a forgone conclusion — on par with hangovers, say, and the freshman fifteen. TLR acknowledges an alternate reality, and its founders practice what they preach. Justin and Sarah, now in Washington, DC, are saving themselves for marriage (and yes, they do hope to marry one another).

This past Valentine’s Day, the TLR crowd made themselves known with greetings stuffed in student mailboxes. “Why wait?” the cards read. “Because you’re worth it. Yours, True Love Revolution.” The flip side to being “worth it” is, of course, being “worthless.” Students took exception to the implication. Undergraduate Rachel Singh editorialized in the Crimson: “It’s a symptom of that culture we have that values a woman on her purity. It’s a relic.” People took sides online and at overcrowded dinner debates, and eventually the couple was even accompanied on a date by the New York Times.

Leo Keliher ’10 and Janie Fredell ’09 — a purely platonic duo — took the helm this year, and, heathen that I am, I didn’t know quite what to expect as I scurried across Harvard Square to meet them at Za. Bible-thumping dwarves wielding chastity belts? I took great care to dress appropriately — sensible button-down, pressed jeans, wholesome smile — but I just knew they’d smell impurity on me, the way dogs can smell fear. I straightened my posture and stepped inside, where I came face to face with two smiling, texting undergrads.

Janie is a slight, bubbly person; Leo’s a brooding chap with a boyish face. “I looked around campus, and it seemed like people were so lonely,” Janie tells me as we sit down to tea. “And the correlation between loneliness and being instrumentalized, not knowing how to care about someone else — like, truly in a relationship — like, seeing yourself as a physical entity as opposed to an entire person, that’s really what compelled me to be active — actively abstinent.”

She’s in a long-distance relationship; her boyfriend, who is “so supportive,” goes to Georgetown. Leo is single, but he speaks with the world-weary tone of a guy who’s been around the block.

“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?”

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Related: On with the dance, The kids in the hall, Socks appeal, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Colleges and Universities, Culture and Lifestyle, Education,  More more >
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Celibate at Harvard
A "body is not a bike" but neither is a body "pure" after many years of living in it.
By less_than_spam on 10/29/2007 at 9:28:27
Celibate at Harvard
I have a hard time understanding why people are being so critical of Mr. Keliher and Ms. Fredell's group. Give them a break, already. What they're endorsing is not any crazier than the views held by many people (including, might I add, the apparent bias of Ms. Baskin). Being in a relationship with someone who is willing to truly love you and commit to you actually sounds like (and, might I add, based on my experience, IS) a wonderful thing. I give them a lot of credit for being courageous enough to present this vision.
By A True Lover on 11/07/2007 at 11:07:39

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