Those that are abstinent from sexual activity typically avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. But many religious students, including those at GW, cite another perk: being saved.
Although 56 percent of college students have had sex according to a 2003 report, religious values trump the highly sexual college atmosphere for many students of different faiths.
“Obviously, being on a college campus is probably not the best place to live if you’re trying to stay abstinent,” Saif Inam, a GW senior and the vice-president of the Muslim Students’ Association, wrote in an e-mail. “But like eating Halaal food and not drinking alcohol, it’s just another thing that you put effort into doing if you want to follow your religion.”
The Quran states that sex is only permitted with one’s spouse, and Inam said the MSA promotes waiting until marriage for sex. The group has hosted events in which students discuss Islamic marriages and finding a spouse, but Inam said abstaining from pre-marital sex is not as hard as it seems.
“It’s possible to do,” Inam said. “And it’s cool because you then don’t have to deal with the drama and hardships that come along with being sexually active.”
Thomas Bergbauer, a junior and student leader at GW’s Newman Catholic Center, is also devoted to a religion that prohibits sex before marriage. Bergbauer said being a part of the Catholic community on campus at the Newman Center has allowed him and his peers to help each other uphold their religious values when it comes to sex.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to sit around and read the Bible on Friday night, but surrounding yourself with people with the same morals and same beliefs makes it easier to live by those morals,” Bergbauer said. “We all encourage each other.”
Bergbauer said programming at the Newman Center does not solely emphasize prolonging abstinence until marriage, it is also aimed at explaining to students why the Catholic faith does not condone pre-marital sex.
“Catholic faith explains how intercourse is a gift and a way to consummate the marriage,” Bergbauer said. “We like to educate our students on not just pre-marital sex, but everything under the sun as far as Christian relationships go . It’s not like a whole bunch of ‘no, don’t do this, don’t do that,’ but it’s reasoning.”
Rev. Peter Giovanoni, the chaplain at the Newman Center, said the most common issue he discusses with students is pornography addiction.
“Also, how do you go from living a promiscuous lifestyle to a living a chaste lifestyle?” Giovanoni said.
While some students may think they are unwelcome in a holy place if they have sinned sexually, Giovanoni said, “Forgiveness is always available.”
For other faiths, such as reform Judaism, the issue of pre-marital sex is somewhat left to the discrepancy of the individual.
“Reform Judaism places more emphasis on the decision-maker,” said Rabbi Josh Ginsburg of GW’s Hillel. “With Orthodox, it isn’t up to the individual to make that decision.”
Orthodox and conservative sects of Judaism are more stringent in their views on sex prior to marriage. Ginsberg said Judaism generally has a positive view of sexuality. Students who do not wait until marriage can still be devoted to their religion.
But that doesn’t mean that promiscuity is encouraged.
“There’s a discouragement of hook-up culture,” Ginsberg said. “It is treating us as mechanical things.”
Freshman Mindy Michaels, a reform Jew and the daughter of a rabbi, said she draws from her religious background in all aspects of her life, including her sex life.
“A lot of my foundation is based in my Judaism,” Michaels said. “I think the main thing that has come from that is that I respect my body and I respect my emotions, and take care of my emotions, and I respect others. So from that I’ve been able to make personal choices that reflect those.”
Michaels, like Ginsberg, said that individual students must decide for themselves how to best balance their faith with their sex lives.
“I think it comes down to one’s personal definition,” Michaels said. “When you ask a priest, rabbi, Sikh, minister, whomever, everyone is going to have different definitions of what creates the perfect person, because no one is perfect.”