Last night, students and faculty gathered in McNeir auditorium to discuss something that isn’t usually talked about at events sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry: hooking-up.
In the first of a four-part series on “The Sacred and the Sexual,” Donna Freitas (COL ’94), author of Sex and the Soul and an assistant professor of religion at Boston University, discussed her findings about the impact of “the hook-up culture” on students’ spirituality.
Freitas defined hooking-up as any kind of intimacy in which the encounter is transitional or temporary and involves shutting off one’s emotional side in order to engage in purely physical activity. She said her research shows that students are participating in the hook-up culture not because they enjoy it, but because it’s a norm they feel obligated to conform to.
In a survey she conducted of nearly 600 students, 41 percent reported negative feelings about hooking up (and used descriptors like “used,” “dirty,” “empty,” and “disgusted”), 23 percent expressed ambivalence and 36 percent said they were more or less fine with it. While those numbers don’t seem too skewed, Freitas said there were very few students who were really positive about hooking up—those who said they were fine with it were really lukewarm.
“Living in the context of hook-up culture made them feel exhausted and empty and spent,” Freitas said.
In over 100 interviews with students, Freitas said she found that most feel like their sex lives are not reconcilable with religion. Many were hostile towards religion because it offered only “don’t”s in regards to sex (the two big ones being “don’t have sex before marriage” and “don’t be gay”). However, many students thought the realm of spirituality might be more able to accommodate genuine reflections on sex and hooking-up.
Freitas said that students at Catholic schools reported acting and feeling the same way as students at secular schools did. Her recommendations were to use spiritual tools found in the Catholic tradition, such as spiritual direction and discernment, to reflect on and make decisions about your sexual behavior.
After Freitas’s presentation, Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. held a discussion with four Georgetown students. The student panel—made up of Pat Lenihan (COL ’10), Ryan Callahan (SFS ’10), Princess Hunter (MSB ’10) and Shruti Dusaj (SFS ’11)—seemed a bit cherry-picked in that none challenged Freitas’s assertion that the hook-up culture was emotionally damaging.
The panelists said they noticed a disconnect between students religious lives and their social and sexual behavior. Many said that because Georgetown student are so busy, they find hooking-up a convenient alternative to establishing meaningful romantic relationships.
Students in the audience asked how much concerns about reputation factored into the hook-up culture, which prompted Freitas to jump back in and add her observations about the gender divide in terms of attitudes towards hooking-up.
Freitas said she found that girls were afraid that if they hooked-up too much they would get a negative reputation, but they also felt hooking-up was necessary if they wanted to find someone to date. Guys, on the other hand, wanted to hook-up more frequently, but not necessarily because they enjoyed it. The real reason was that they were concerned about proving their masculinity.