Sexual climate change

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For decades, young people have been experimenting with new and freer sexual mores. On college campuses, some might say that sexual freedom is on steroids. The ideas are not new, but on today’s campus the drive toward casual sex is dramatically accelerated.

Marriage is a “social construct.” Apparently, so is virginity, as one Dartmouth student told her college newspaper. She arrived at this conclusion after announcing to the world that she had “lost her virginity.”

The current social climate was not the result of simple experimentation. No, it took a combination of feminist advocacy, the gay and gender rights revolution, and modern technology, to create fertile soil for sexual license.

Students are coming to college to learn new things, but some undergraduates are in for more than they can handle. At their peak of sexual development, away from home, and surrounded by plenty of members of the opposite sex, college students could not be more vulnerable. Since females account for almost 60 percent of the college population, and males account for only 40 percent, the odds are boys are going to be “winners” in such cultures.

Researchers Peter Wood and Michael Toscano examined the social and sex life of students at Bowdoin College. They found that about 75 percent of the students were hooking up. The exact definition of “hooking up” was left to the students who answered the question, but there is little doubt about their understanding of the sexual nature of their dating.

A few years ago, we interviewed a group of seniors from a Boston Catholic college. One student remarked, “The dorm counselors are more concerned if I smoke in my room and how much beer I brought into the dorm room than how many women stayed overnight.” He noted with a smile that he enjoyed the relaxed sexual climate.

All of this raises the question: Are there things colleges can and should do to influence their students’ sexual experience? Our answer is a wholesale “yes.”

Let’s start with changes to policies governing college living arrangements. Colleges and universities should eliminate mixed sex dorms. That seems like a no-brainer. In two generations, American campuses have gone from in local parentis with rigid curfew hours to complete free-for-alls with minimal if any regulations on dorm closings. If colleges reinstituted dorm and housing closing hours, this would likely give the reluctant sexual adventurer an excuse to end a date.

Single sex dorms are in the interest of many who are often reluctant to address the topic. A few years ago, John Garvey, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., took a bold stand to start eliminating co-ed dorms as a way to curb both binge drinking and casual sexual encounters. Other campuses should follow suit.

We need a social climate change we can believe in.

Counselors on college campuses would likely find their work lightened and broken hearts less frequent with new living arrangement policies. The number of rapes and assaults would likely go down too. Student services on campuses are often complicit in promoting casual sexuality. Most campuses have provided or sold birth control pills and devices. Ending these sales would help improve the sexual climate. Colleges can support their policy changes by publishing statistics after they are implemented. Colleges in the past have been reluctant to give a true picture of assault cases.

Since colleges set the standards for high schools, both academically and socially, there will be a filter down effect on high school behaviors with these new college standards.

Parents are, after all, as concerned about the moral and social climate at school as they are about academic standards. But colleges have to hear about our concerns. Parents should make their fears known. They should demand clear and sensible policies. Taking bold initiative takes courage and group support. It’s time parents leaned on colleges and strongly urged them to amend their permissive policies. Our youth are worthy of a sexual climate change.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan are writers, former teachers, and the editors of  Why I’m Still A Catholic. They write primarily on cultural, educational and religious topics. Read their past columns here.