Monday, April 25, 2005


Something of a celebrity has visited the blog. Jennifer Mickel has replied to Tuesday’s “Chastity belt” posting about abstinence efforts at her school, Princeton. Her reply is eloquent and thoughtful, certainly a better, classier effort than I could have offered at the age of 19.

She shames me in another way, as well: I noticed, in the original post, a cringe-inducingly clumsy bit of writing that has me telling Jennifer to “fuck off” when the intention was to direct that at abstainers-as-victims or abstainers-as-heroes in general. I apologize to my readers and to Jennifer, who should be able to discuss serious topics on campus and in The New York Times without becoming the target of misdirected execrations by random self-righteous blogs. And I will be taking a correspondence course from the local junior high to avoid such embarrassments in the future.

There is still room for debate, however, on the original topic. Jennifer’s correction that “The Ivy Council discussion I attended was NOT a discussion about sex” is disingenuous; it was a conversation about sex that may have come amid discussion on any number of topics, one described by Jennifer herself in the Times as being “very sex-focused” and dealing with “rape kits in medical centers and condoms and the morning-after pill.” Yes, it sounds kind of like a discussion about sex.

And while Jennifer is clearly not a deeply silly person, chiding schools for having rape kits in medical centers when there should also be support for abstainers is, in fact, silly as well as a nonsequitur. Hospitals shouldn’t stop stocking trauma kits, even if most of us vow to drive safely, live healthier lives and stop all gang activity.

It is true, as Jennifer says, there are groups for all sorts of people out there, although not every one is a support group, and there is even a long history of people gathering for, so to speak, nothing. Extending the argument that there’s little need to expend resources on abstinence and chastity, one would also assume there was never a need for freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and disbelievers to gather, either, since they merely reject religion — a negation similar to abstinence and a largely private choice. The reason freethinkers had such a thriving speakers circuit, and rock stars such as Robert Ingersoll, was not just the limited entertainment options of the 1800s, but the need to defend, explain and disseminate a way of living and thinking.

So my dismissal of Princeton’s earnest abstainers may have a personal element. I’m just not much of a joiner, and my lifelong rejection of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, coffee and mushrooms has never needed a support group backing it up. These are personal decisions, ones I do not try to foist or inflict on others (except for the one about the mushrooms) and pressure to give in has always been answered very simply, without struggle, with “I don’t want to.” Similarly, my disbelief in God doesn’t go much beyond, “That’s silly,” and I don’t need to belong to a group to reinforce that. I know I’m free to smoke pot or drink a scotch or espresso any time I choose, and, the next day, not to, or pray to God or Ahura Mazda and then do it never again.

This is not a big deal.

And it does not make me a victim, even with all those around me engaging in behavior I resist, even were I to feel the full energies of the advertising industry, pop culture and society pressing me constantly to surrender. People can fall prey to these forces. But not much can stand up to a sincere “I don’t want to.”

This suggests that support for those espousing chastity and abstinence is needed because, actually, they “do want to,” just as people in Alcoholics Anonymous need support to stay away from substances they feel are destructive to their lives.

That’s not really what’s going on with Jennifer and like-minded people at Princeton, though. Listen again to the leader of the abstinence group, speaking ex cathedra from the moral high ground to all the poor saps in the gutter engaging in animalistic rutting just because it feels good:

We don’t believe that human beings should be used as instruments or objects. We think the proper relationship between humans should be one of respect and love, and we think promiscuity and random hook-ups are completely destructive to respect and love. Dignity itself is a moral standard.

In addition to my eyebrows, gorge and level of impatience, this raises all sorts of questions about the actual limits of chastity for the Princetonians. Do they kiss? Engage in mutual masturbation or oral sex? What if it’s not a random hook-up, but a friends-with-benefits situation? How many dates qualifies a boyfriend or girlfriend for sex, or even a kiss or mutual masturbation? Do they recognize that they can be in a relationship without sex that still lacks respect and love? Surely they know long-term relationships, even with sex, can lack respect and love.

Whatever. I sincerely apologize to Jennifer Mickel. I wish her a life of respect and love.

I also wish her and her abstaining peers at Princeton some rocking orgasms. Like respect and love, they’re pretty good.


Indri said...

As fond as I am of orgasms, I must note that Ms. Mickel defended herself very graciously in her response to the original post. Especially compared to how...forceful...everyone was in the comments. I assume she did a search on her name and was probably startled by the vigor with which everyone jumped on her. Yet she did not respond in kind.

That is more grace than I would have mustered at that age. Or at this one, for that matter.

Scape7 said...

We've all gotten used to preachers and politicians donning disguises to attack our freedoms, and when those alarms go off we're prone to overact. I suspect Jennifer got unfairly caught up in some crossfire, and I've apologized to her by e-mail as well as in this blog.

None of that changes the substance of what was said, of course, from either side.