Way to go Janie!

<nyt_headline version=”1.0″ type=” “>Students of Virginity

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By RANDALL PATTERSON
Published: March 30, 2008
<nyt_text>There was a time when not having sex consumed a very small part of Janie Fredell’s life, but that, of course, was back in Colorado Springs. It seemed to Fredell that almost no one had sex in Colorado Springs. Her hometown was extremely conservative, and as a good Catholic girl, she was annoyed by all the fundamentalist Christians who would get in her face and demand, as she put it to me recently, “You have to think all of these things that we think.” They seemed not to know that she thought many of those things already. At her public high school, everyone, “literally everyone,” wore chastity rings, Fredell recalled, but she thought the practice ridiculous. Why was it necessary, she wondered, to signify you’re not doing something that nobody is doing?

Katherine Wolkoff for The New York Times

Janie Fredell, an advocate of premarital abstinence, says that “virginity is extremely alluring.”

Related

Letters: Students of Virginity(April 13, 2008)

Letters: Students of Virginity(April 20, 2008)

And then Fredell arrived at Harvard. Sitting in a Cambridge restaurant not long ago, she told me that people back home called it “godless, liberal Harvard.” Some discouraged her from going, but Fredell went anyway, arriving in the fall of 2005. She wanted to study government, she said, maybe become a lawyer, and she knew that “people take you more seriously as a Harvard student.”

From the start, she told me, she was awed by the diversity of the place, by the intensity, by the constant buzz of ideas. There were so many different kinds of people at Harvard, most of them trying to change the world, and everyone trying to figure out what they thought of everyone else. “Harvard really puts pressure on you to define who you are,” Fredell said, and she loved everything about Harvard, except the sex.

Sex, as she put it, was not even “anything I’d ever thought about” when, as a freshman, she was educated in safe-sex practices. What she was told was the sort of thing found in a Harvard pamphlet called “Empowering You”: “put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. . . . Use a new condom if you want to have sex again or if you want to have a different type of sex.”

Fredell began to understand she was in “a culture that says sex is totally O.K.” When a new boyfriend came to her, expressing desire, she managed to “stick to my guns,” she said, but there were “uncouth and socially inept” men, as she considered them, all around, and observing the rituals of her new classmates, Fredell couldn’t help being alarmed. “The hookup culture is so absolutely all-encompassing,” she said. “It’s shocking! It’s everywhere!”

She did nothing about it until her sophomore year. Then she began to read in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, about a new student group on campus — a band of celibates, men and women, calling themselves True Love Revolution. They were pushing, for reasons entirely secular, the cause of premarital sexual abstinence, and Fredell, by this time, was utterly committed to abstinence. 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. She began to feel a need to stand up for her beliefs, and what she believed in more than anything at Harvard was the value of not having premarital sex. In an essay she wrote for The Crimson, she asserted that “virginity is extremely alluring,” though its “mysterious allure . . . is not rooted in an image of innocence and purity, but rather in the notion of strength.” As she told me later, “It takes a strong woman to be abstinent, and that’s the sort of woman I want to be.”

After the essay appeared a year ago, Fredell was immediately aware of a loss of privacy, of having entered “whatever it is, the public sphere.” As students began responding on The Crimson Web site, she understood that she had defined herself at Harvard. “Everything became very clear to me,” she recalled when we met. She would join True Love Revolution. “I realized it was bigger than me, more important.”

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Randall Patterson, who lives in Houston, has written for New York magazine, Mother Jones and The Times Magazine.

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