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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Sociology

Year Degree Awarded

2018

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Robert Zussman

Second Advisor

Joya Misra

Third Advisor

Miliann Kang

Fourth Advisor

Millicent Thayer

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change | Sociology of Religion

Abstract

My dissertation examines three organizations that promote premarital sexual abstinence. These three organizations broadly mirror different strands within the New Right: an evangelical Christian abstinence ministry called Purity Ring Posse, Revolutionary Romance, an elite group of conservatives on an Ivy-League campus, and Stand Up! a group at a Mormon university that seeks to “burst the bubble” and facilitate outreach between pro-family organizations and students. Drawing on participant observation, interviews, and content analysis, my dissertation demonstrates how each group attempts to promote a unique version of abstinence that can be successfully mobilized in the public square. Purity Ring Posse articulates “ abstinence as rebellion,” drawing on a performance of “coolness” to encourage young people to choose abstinence as a way of proving their own hipness. Revolutionary Romance articulates “academic abstinence,” focusing on research-based evidence and philosophical arguments that make abstinence seem like a healthy, objectively beneficial choice, distancing themselves from religious arguments and justifications. Stand Up! articulates “abstinence as a family value,” placing the promotion of abstinence as part of a larger strategy to promote a particular understanding of marriage, gender, the family, and sexuality. This version of abstinence mixes scientific evidence with religious arguments. But each group faces tensions in articulating their version of abstinence to their different audiences. Although in different settings, with different audiences, they all operate in a similar political landscape, one in which the meaning of premarital sexual abstinence has largely been captured by the New Right. I find that there is variance within the abstinence movement, but also tremendous pressure to standardize from various conservative networking organizations. Abstinence groups, regardless of their particular context or environment, exist in a society in which abstinence has been highly politicized. Thus individualized understandings of abstinence created by each particular organization prove difficult to maintain once the group engages in any sort of outreach or engagement with the public.

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