Recently I read an article in the New York Times that I found depressing and distressing, though, sadly, not very surprising. Based on interviews conducted at the University of Pennsylvania with 60 female students over the course of a year, the article described a trend found among students at Penn and other universities who have given up on what they see as an outdated notion of dating or courting. Instead, they prefer to engage in “hook-ups” – isolated sexual encounters with casual acquaintances. What is the reason why young women are increasingly making this choice? They don’t have time to deal with actual relationships, tangled up with feelings and emotions and personal baggage. They are too busy pursuing their careers and ambitions for that. Nevertheless they still consider themselves entitled to sexual fulfilment. The solution seems to lie in the “hook-up” culture.
I recall being shocked by a conversation introduced by a teacher in my high school “Health Studies” class, about whether “love” was a necessary condition for sex. Not whether marriage was necessary – I still had retained that apparently outdated notion in the back of my adolescent mind – but whether one should be bound by the condition of “being in love” with someone before consenting to have sex. Some of my peers said “yes;” others said “no.” At least there was still a debate.
Now, it seems, it’s nearly a given among college students that “being in love” (let alone marriage!) is completely unnecessary for and unrelated to sexual activity. Many of the young women who were interviewed described the hook-up culture in terms of liberation and empowerment. They want to have their cake and eat it too: while enjoying one-night stands they remain free to pursue their goals without being “encumbered” with a relationship. This attitude used to be associated only with their male counterparts, while women were thought of as longing for an elusive deeper relationship with the men they dated. One of the main points made by this article was that college women have basically given up on – or ceased to care about – the goal of finding a man willing to commit. It seems that such are today’s young feminists on the cutting edge: bold, driven to succeed, and alone.
There is one really telling (and heart-breaking) detail about these hook-ups: they almost always involve significant alcohol or drug use. In other words, these women have to abandon their senses and artificially overcome natural inhibitions in order to engage in behavior they claim to enjoy. The result is a foggy remembrance of the act, which often amounts to rape. The men involved tend to take liberties that the women are often far from comfortable with, judging by the comments made. Other results undoubtedly include unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions, and transmission of STDs. However, what is conspicuously lacking from most of the comments in this article is the most tragic result of all: total relational brokenness.
With every “hook-up” these precious young women (and men) are further fragmenting their souls and deadening their hearts. As is clear from the article, there is no way to engage in “casual sex” without treating the other person as an object, a thing to be used and discarded, rather than as a person with eternal and infinite value, made in the image of God. In doing so, one ultimately makes the same denial about oneself. “I am using this man for sex, and he is using me for sex. He doesn’t matter to me, and I don’t matter to him. All that matters is that we each get what we want, and then we go on with our lives.” In the end, however, what is gained by this approach? Only a terrible disconnection from other people and a decreasing ability to receive and reflect Divine love. If I am essentially an object, surrounded by other objects, living for myself and ignoring the life of the other then I might as well be the only person in the universe…and I’ll be just as lonely as if I were.
Parents, I beg you: teach your children to value human relationships as infinitely precious. Help them to see other people as infinitely worthy of consideration. Help them to view Christian marriage as a glorious calling, full of challenges, yes, but capable of bringing far greater joy into their lives than a thousand “hook-ups” could do. Teach them that worldly success is not a higher goal than finding the path of salvation to which they are called (whether the married or the monastic path). Remind them often, mostly by your example, of our Lord’s words: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)