Extreme Virginity: From No Touching to No Sucking, and Everything In Between

For many co-eds, when college isn't about trying to catch your professor saying something offensive on your phone’s camera, posting Facebook statuses complaining about how busy you are, and sledding down hills on a tray you stole from the dining hall, it's about sex.  Lots of sex.  In bars and frats and dorms and cars and quads and empty classrooms and library cubicles and almost anywhere that provides some semblance of privacy for 3 to 9 minutes.

Yet an admittedly smaller population of collegiettes attends parties, suffers through long lectures, leads clubs, and, yes, sleds down hills on trays they stole from the dining hall, without the sex.  In fact, some vow to get married without ever touching a man.

They’re “extreme” virgins—women whose celibacy extends beyond baby-making and permeates every aspect of their interpersonal lives.  

Some draw the line at a handshake or a hug, others are comfortable with anything above the belt.  Most cite religious faith as a motivation for their virginity, many note secular advantages to their abstinent lifestyle, and they all live their college lives without walks of shame and birth control alarms.

Hannah* is a junior at Columbia University.  She’s studying to be a doctor, involved on campus, friendly, beautiful, and—as an observant Jew—completely, totally, and happily abstinent.  Hannah observes a Jewish law known as “shomer negieh”—a practice that completely forbids any affectionate touching between a man and a woman.  (Even handshakes and high-fives are off-limits.)  She hopes that the first contact she’ll ever have with her husband—the first handhold and snuggle session, much less blowjob or sleepover—will be on her wedding day.

“I chose to be ‘shomer’ because I honestly believe it's the proper thing to do under the Jewish law I follow,” Hannah explains. “I also believe that it fosters very stable relationships with members of the opposite sex and leads to an appreciation of who they are, not just based on physical closeness.”

While it might be “the proper thing to do,” it is certainly not the easiest.  Between natural impulses, college parties, campus culture, and an over-sexed society, choosing to practice extreme forms of abstinence is hard.

Really hard.

“Anyone who tells you it's easy is probably lying,” Hannah confesses, “In fact, at times it feels completely unnatural. Many friends and people I know don't hold by [their “extreme” virginity] once they are in a serious, committed relationship.  It simply becomes too difficult.”

Forget the restraint it takes to remain inches away from your fiancé until you’ve said “I do,” for extreme virgins, daily interactions—from shaking hands with a client to pushing up against strangers on a crowded subway car—are potential violations of their sexual code of ethics. 


“Although everyone has their own rules, I always shake hands with men in professional settings and even if a fellow male student extends their hand, I always reciprocate,” Hannah explains,  “And crowded spaces aren't so much an issue, I mean the whole basis of the commandment is to avoid touch that is in ‘the way of love’ and these cases of incidental physical contact aren't so worrisome to me.”   

When it comes to hooking up, Abby, a Christian student at Baylor University, stays above the belt and out of the bedroom because she’s worried about natural temptation. “No we are not making out on my bed, no my shirt is not coming off, I'm not straddling you, and you're not going to be laying on top of me or pinning me down,” she says. “This may seem prude, but it's the seemingly small things like these that would personally tempt me into wanting and doing more. It's not that I wouldn't make out with a guy, but is a bed an appropriate place? No.”

But what about ambiguous situations that blur the line between appropriate and sexually suggestive conduct?

Abby didn’t always hold to such stringent standards of abstinence; she decided to make her virginity even more extreme after a hot hook-up with a summer fling.  

“We were making out one day at his house, alone, and unfortunately it was on his bed. It was innocent at first, but then he got on top of me. His hands started to wander, and I wanted so badly to just blur the line a little and give in. But I had to shut him down and say no. I decided if I blurred the line that it would be even harder to say no to the next boundary. So we just sat there on his bed watching TV and kind of cuddling.”  

They broke up shortly after the incident, and now Abby makes sure that her hook-ups remain vertical.

Rachel Peck is a senior at Barnard College, Class of 2012, where she is majoring in English and Theatre and minoring in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Although she admits to actually enjoying high school in her hometown of Bexley, OH, her favorite thing to do is explore her new--slightly more exciting--home, New York City. When she isn't watching good (and bad...) TV, finding excuses to plan dinner with friends, window shopping, or napping, Rachel enjoys working for the Barnard admissions office, serving on her sorority's various boards, and writing for whoever will read it.  You can also follow her on Twitter (@peckrachel) if you're into that.

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