“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cultural trend: The Church’s influence is waning and the hierarchy refuses to do anything about it other than preach outdated messages that few agree with or find meaningful for their own lives.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.