Pitt group advocates for abstinence

By Marissa Meredyth

Members of Pitt’s Anscombe Society have a lot of ways to explain their beliefs about sexuality… Members of Pitt’s Anscombe Society have a lot of ways to explain their beliefs about sexuality and abstinence.

Group president Joseph Petrich equates premarital sex with stopping for a Big Mac before heading home for Thanksgiving dinner. It ruins your appetite.

The group’s members are doing what many college students find difficult — putting temptation aside in a predominantly hook-up focused culture, opting instead to save themselves until marriage.

The Anscombe Society is now University-certified to operate on campus and has initiatives in the works to spread abstinence education at Pitt. This comes after a controversial protest the group initiated at a PantherWELL Sexpo event in Towers Lobby about a month ago that brought attention from the local media.

The Anscombe Society said the University stifled its right to free speech after its asked membersto leave the lobby and stop distributing material, such as tissue-paper flowers, promoting chastity. The group later retracted its claims after meetings with University administrators, who pledged to help the group achieve Student Organization Resource Center-certified status. SORC recognized groups are able to use rooms on campus, can get Student Government Board allocations, and use campus facilities.

Shortly after, the University released a statement on the issue in which Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey said that University administration and the society had agreed to work together to get the group’s message out. Following the controversy, group Petrich said in an e-mail that “dealings with the University have been quite pleasant.”

Petrich said the Student Organization Resource Center helped the group organize itself and that Student Health was “cordial” in meetings.

“There seems to be a great attitude of cooperation between people of different view within the University,” he said.

Petrich and members of the group said the student response was mostly positive, but there are some who outwardly disagree with the group’s beliefs.

Freshman finance major Jay Saffran said he feels the question of sex before marriage is a personal choice. Still, he said that he doesn’t really care if the group exists, he just wouldn’t attend abstinence-based education if the University offered it.

There are currently 74 members on the group’s Facebook page, but Petrich said only about 10 regularly come to meetings, the same number required for SORC certification. The group meets every other Thursday at 9 p.m. in the Cathedral Commons.

Although some members in the society have religious reasons for abstaining, the group is secular — meaning it embraces members regardless of their faith, or lack thereof.

And not all of them are virgins, a number of members said.

Member Michael Israel said the society does not ask members about the past.

“Having taken part in hooking-up throughout the first few years of high school, I found it quite difficult to overcome,” Israel said in an e-mail. “So much of the way I valued myself at the time was based upon how many attractive girls I could hook-up with.”

He said that now that he is chaste, he has a more honest relationship with himself, God and a potential spouse.

“Before that I just had no understanding of the difference between love and lust,” Israel said.

Member Stephanie Spinelli said in a Facebook message that, “Saving yourself is what picks out the guys — or even girls, for that matter — who want to date you for who you are rather than who just want to have sex with you. It’s looked poorly upon by a lot of people, but the ones who are really worth it aren’t going to care.”

The number of young adults choosing to put off sex has increased, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a March 2011 National Health Statistics Report, the number of people of ages 15 to 24 who reported no prior sexual contact with another person jumped from 22 percent in 2002, for both genders, to 27 percent for men and 29 percent for women between2006 and 2008. The survey polled more than 21 million people.

Alexandra Souchuns, a group member and Petrich’s girlfriend, said only with a ring on her finger can one partnerknow someone is completely committed to a relationship.

“I have let one too many of my friends cry on my shoulder because this guy that they gave everything to ended up being a jerk,” Souchuns said in an e-mail.

Souchuns and Petrich said they still feel temptation in their relationship despite their commitment to abstinence.

Emma Dickinson, the group’s vice president, agreed that not having sex makes relationships stronger. Dickinson also made clear that chastity is not a “stringent rule designed to limit us.” She said instead it is a “healthy lifestyle.”

She hopes to live by example, realizing that it is not the “popular way of life” for college students.

A senior marketing major, Jessica Buehner, said on Facebook chat she was indifferent to the organization.

“I think it’s great if that’s what you believe, as long as the University doesn’t try to push that this is the only option,” she said. “There’s no reason they can’t exist or do whatever it is they do.”

“I’m sure they’ll find support and resistance on campus — but I don’t see it as anything monumental,” she added.

Pitt psychology professor Irene Frieze said there are many different views regarding virginity. She cited one book, published by Laura Carpenter in 2005, called “Virginity Lost.” The book addressed how people viewed losing their virginity.

Women more often saw virginity as a gift to their partner, though others felt like there was something wrong with them if they were a virgin.

“Those who saw this as a gift would be the group most likely to delay having sex, possibly for religious reasons,” Frieze said in an e-mail.

The Society’s first priority is to create an abstinence education program in conjunction with PantherWELL, which already hosts a number of safe sex education events on campus including Sex in the Lounge.. Other plans include organizing a dance to give students an opportunity to meet others in a carefree environment, without the influence of alcohol.


Organizations like the Anscombe Society are by no means exclusive to Pitt.

Kelsey Long, who now attends College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., started the Anscombe Society at Pitt last year after attending a Love & Fidelity Network annual conference in Princeton, N.J.

The Love & Fidelity Network, the Pitt group’s affiliate organization, was launched in 2007 by the founders of the first Anscombe Society at Princeton University in 2005. The organization wants to “equip college students with the resources and direction they need to advocate for the institution of marriage, the special role of the stable and intact family, and the integrity of sexuality on their college campuses.”

The Anscombe Society is named after G.E.M. Anscombe, who was an influential 20th century philosopher who wrote works advocating chastity, abstinence and faithful marriage.

Cassandra Hough, the Love & Fidelity Network’s director, said in an e-mail that there are about a dozen chapters accepted as member groups at universities across the country.

They also have 37 official Student Fellows and 20 student leaders in the network at more than 30 campuses nationwide. These students work to promote abstinence and relationship integrity.

Hough said campus-wide lectures are the most frequent types of event that the groups organize, but others will hold debates, social events and poster campaigns to increase discussion.

Some also try to collaborate with university administrators and staff on how to improve sex education and programing.

“There are bound to be those who disagree with our positions,” Hough said.

“It is our hope that regardless of whether students choose to be abstinent before marriage or not, they will take seriously their decisions regarding sex and relationships and consider the many benefits of limiting their number of sexual partners,” she said.