SAHNER GALEANO DEBENEDETTO
Tim Larsen  /  AP
Anscombe Society members, from right to left, Christian Sahner, 20, of Maplewood, N.J., Jonathan Galeano, 19, of Gilmore, Texas, and Cassandra DeBenedetto, 20, of Stow, Mass., talk about an 'anything goes' atmosphere on Princeton University campus, on Sept. 19.
updated 10/13/2005 10:38:25 AM ET 2005-10-13T14:38:25

The students who started one of Princeton University’s newest clubs remember the awkward moment when they realized they were in the minority: while watching a play called “Sex on a Saturday Night.”

The play is put on for incoming freshmen to inform them about sexual health and safety. But to some students, there was just too much talk about sex.

“I remember sitting there and feeling really uncomfortable because every single character had either engaged in premarital sex or was talking about having engaged in premarital sex,” said Christian Sahner, 20, a junior from Maplewood, N.J.

So about a year ago, the students formed a group promoting chastity. While similar groups exist at other universities, it is a first for the Ivy League. The groups first sprung up in the South, but the idea is catching on nationwide, said Jimmy Hester from “True Love Waits,” a Nashville, Tenn.-based group that promotes abstinence.

“In the early days I would have said it was a Southern, Southeast movement, that’s where it caught on the quickest,” Hester said. “Now we hear from folks in Washington, Oregon, all over the place.”

The Princeton group is named after Elizabeth Anscombe, an English philosopher and staunch Roman Catholic who defended the church’s teachings on sex, and died in 2001.

People who want to take part in the society’s activities don’t have to sign a pledge or take an oath. Some members may have had sex in the past, and leaders say the group is open to everyone, even those who may just be interested in exploring the idea of chastity intellectually.

'Be emotionally ready'
One of the main reasons the group was created was to let students who don’t want to have premarital sex know they’re not alone, organizers said. They knew beforehand that sex would be part of college life, but many were surprised at how prevalent it was.

“My freshman year ... it was really distressing to me to see my peers going out, getting drunk, and having random sex,” said Clare Sully, 20, a senior originally from Princeton. “I hadn’t yet come to the conclusion that sex was only for marriage ... (but) I was quite certain that sex was way too important to treat so casually.”

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Jonathan Butler, 19, and five of his friends are starting the “College Coalition for Relationship Education,” a secular group designed to promote abstinence. They reached a similar conclusion.

“You don’t just have sex to have sex. You have to be emotionally ready,” said Butler.

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The Princeton group brings in speakers who talk about issues related to sex and chastity. A recent talk titled “Real Sex: The Truth About Chastity” drew about 120 people. Another speaker from the University of Virginia focused on the effects of the sexual revolution on family and children.

Not anti-sex?
The group is not affiliated with a particular religion or political ideology. Most of the group’s organizers are Catholic and almost all vote Republican because many in the party oppose abortion. But others affiliated with the group are longtime Democrats, and a few are Jewish and from other religious denominations.

Organizers are adamant that Anscombe is open to everyone, although questions have been raised about whether the group is anti-homosexual. An article in the university newspaper last February described the group as opposing homosexual relationships. Organizers say while many members may find homosexuality to be wrong, it’s neither a universal belief nor the group’s main focus.

Members emphasize that they’re not anti-sex. They fully intend to have sex, but only with the right person and after they are married. And for the record, they date, and some even have boyfriends and girlfriends.

“When you do have sex, you form a bond,” said Caroline Chopko, 20, a junior from Kennett Square, Pa. “I’d rather save that for the person that I’m totally in love with and I’m going to marry.”

Organizers say students respond with a mixture of respect and curiosity. Others acknowledge their choice is a rare one. Chopko said some have a “warped perception” of what it means to practice chastity.

“It’s not like we don’t dance or have fun,” she said.

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