“Sexual Ethics: Even on Catholic campuses, hookup sex prevails”

See article online at http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/1072

This article by Kris Berggren from National Catholic Reporter -May 30, 2008-caught my attention not because it is offering information that I didn’t already know anecdotally, but because there is now solid research that demonstrates what I have been arguing in theology classes and papers for six years.

Donna Freitas, a Catholic theologian and assistant professor of religion at Boston University, has written a new book: Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses based on a nationwide study of students at secular and Christian institutions. What she found was “except for some evangelical colleges where a cult of purity exists, there is little difference between public, private and Catholic colleges and universities in the ‘hookup culture’” that is…“where students seek sexual experiences with a variety of partners outside of relationships.” Still, guilt and regret prevail with 41% of students being “profoundly upset by their own behavior,” but no one seems to be addressing these dual issues from an informed and realistic stance. The fact that casual sex is as prevalent on Catholic campuses as it is on public and other private institutions points to a larger cultural trend: The Church’s influence is waning and the hierarchy refuses to do anything about it other than preach outdated messages that few agree with or find meaningful for their own lives.

Over the past century in the U.S., we have watched religion lose its hold on the way most people act (at least in their personal lives), and we now live in a society where popular culture directs people’s actions far more than their religion’s ethical and moral codes. I am preparing to graduate from my second Catholic university, and at both schools have watched administrators and theologians stick their heads in the sand and believe that sexuality related issues (casual sex, rape, sexual assault, abortion, STD’s, etc…) are not present on their campuses. The mentality seems to be either “if we ignore it or chose to be ignorant about it, then it doesn’t happen,” or “We’re not talking about sex (except in regards to NFP), we’re Catholic!”

At many Catholic schools, sex education is completely non-existent and as a result, many planned parenthoods and other agencies offering free or low cost STD and pregnancy assistance are flooded with Catholic college and university students. They can’t go to the campus medical/health centers because there are no contraceptives to be found, or the students are fearful of being judged. These issues that could be addressed in a pastoral and loving manner, in the spirit of Christ, instead find alternative (though not the best) remedies elsewhere. This turn to the secular just exacerbates the divorce of religion and personal morality, thus making the Church more out of touch with people’s lives than it already is. Where will it end? When church buildings are nothing more than museums and theater houses like they are in Europe? We must address these issues realistically and pastorally.

I’ve been designing a parish model for elementary and middle school comprehensive sexual education that would include parents teaching their kids (let’s break the taboo), to be followed up with sex and rape education in high school and at the beginning of the college. Does anyone know of a bishop who would let me pilot it in their diocese? Doubtful…

Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.


6 thoughts on ““Sexual Ethics: Even on Catholic campuses, hookup sex prevails”

  1. Hey Becky, would you say that the lack of sex ed and the hookup culture on Catholic campuses are different problems (although obviously both worsened by the head in the sand treatment?) I’d love to hear your recommendations for encouraging students to approach their sexuality holistically and respectfully. Future post!

  2. Pingback: “Sexual Ethics: Even on Catholic campuses, hookup sex prevails”

  3. I guess I made a jump without explaining my logic. Yes, these are two separate issues here that I believe are completely related. I guess what strikes me most about the research on hook-up sex is that the Church has no influence on how these students actually act and make decisions. This is just like the use of contraceptives and abortion rates among Catholics compared to the wider society–virtually no difference. The question is why? My answer, based on the mountains of research on sex education, is that if sexuality is made a positive part of life—holistic including God and spirituality, not just in relation to marriage or abstinence only education, then there wouldn’t be a stigma attached to it. There has to be reasons other than women fantasize about being the “office hoe” or “maid” for all of the hook-up, theme parties mentioned in the article.

    I think it is has to do with the American Puritan view of sex and an unwillingness to talk about sex in any terms other than “good in marriage for making babies, bad outside of marriage and tares away at your heart and soul.” My leap in logic to sex education is because study after study shows that comprehensive sex education, like in Sweden, leads to extremely low STD and abortion rates. Sweden has one of the lowest rates of abortion and STD’s per capita in the Western world. Their abortion rates are significantly lower than the U.S. even though their government pays for them under universal healthcare. Sweden public schools begin sex education in kindergarten, and though it is correlative, it certainly makes sense that comprehensive sex education-i.e. knowledge is powerful- will lead to healthier decisions. I would like to combined comprehensive sex education with pastoral care and Church teaching on respect for one’s body and the bodies of others based on Imago Dei- we are made in the image of God- and need to respect ourselves and other people both in sex and in our world (it could definitely help with the horrendous objectification of women seen in these hook-up theme parties).

    As for how to help with what’s going on campuses already, let’s stop hiding the fact that sex is happening. Let’s talk about, and stop believing that it isn’t going on in dorm rooms because it’s a Catholic school. If we as a Church embrace our sexuality, then we can perhaps help others see their sexuality as a gift that they can take pride in. I’ve found with my high schoolers, that talking about sex without condemning them or assuming that they haven’t already had sex or seriously considered it by 9th grade, that they are much more willing to talk about it and make better decisions. Too often God gets put in another category from sex, and I refuse to do that. I think Catholic campuses need to combine their discussions and not consistently have it revolve around NFP and abstinence only education.

  4. Great post! I would love to see comprehensive sex-ed in our churches – UCC and UU churches already have a program, as do many traditionally African American churches. A program like the one you describe is sorely needed.

  5. Check out Theology of the Body Explained or Introduction to Theology of the Body both by Christopher West for the best explainations of the Church’s stance on sexuality and morality. I also suggest reading Humanae Vitae. Respecting human dignity, both of yourself and your neighbor is never an outdated philosophy. Of course, its not the most pleasurable philosophy, but doing what is right does not always mean doing what makes us feel good!

    Peace Be With You!

  6. The primary problem with both Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae is that college students, as well as more than 90% of American Catholics according to recent studies, do not care what either Pope had to say on this subject, given that the actions of Catholics no more align with these teachings than non-Catholics. Just telling people to read them, which they will likely NEVER do, will not create a culture that respects human sexuality and integrates it healthily into life. I believe pastoral care and education will change things. That is what the Church as a whole needs to be doing, and until we all do, college students and most other Catholics will continue to be influenced much more by popular culture than by the Gospel.

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