Giving chastity a chance in the college ‘hookup culture’


Let’s talk about sex.

College students do it all the time, right? According to an NBC News report, the average age of a person losing their virginity is 16.9 for males and 17.4 for females.  From this age, students tend to “hookup” increasingly, especially in the college years. Or do they?

“Hookup culture” is prevalent and thriving on most college campuses. According to Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, the culture “began in the 1970s, after birth control became widely available and the age of marriage began rising.” Since then, contraceptives have been a heated topic and popular option, especially among younger adults and students. “The dynamics surrounding relationships among Catholic-college students is of special concern to Catholic families and educators,” says Dr. Anne Hendershott and Nicholas Dunn of Studies in Catholic Higher Education. 

TIME magazine reports that some students think that their fellow students are hooking up nearly seven times a semester.

It’s clear that it happens at a regular occurrence, and as high school students we learned the means to “having safe sex.” But what about the other side of the argument? What if we dare to open our minds and misconceptions to the word “chastity?”

Chastity, for our case, is not merely abstaining from sex, but waiting until marriage. College students, whether they know it or not, have a choice between the two — to engage or to wait. It seems the general perception of college culture promotes the idea that most students do have sex and that it happens frequently.

However, according to the 2013 report, “The Truth About College Hookups,” one of four college students is a virgin. While this number is not a 50/50 split, it shows that a significant section of the population isn’t represented well by their peers who think that it is much more common. The general idea that “everyone’s doing it” attributes to the general 75 percent of students actually doing it, ignoring the 25 percent that aren’t. But, those students grouped in that 25 percent matter: “Discouraged by the hook-up culture on their campuses, there appears to be a student counter-culture emerging,” said a study by Hendershott and Dunn in 2011.

If students are choosing the option of chastity, why aren’t we, the SLU community, talking about it more?

As a Catholic university, we gather together to form interfaith dialogue and racial discrimination dialogue. We have organizations centered in publishing the feminist voice, groups promoting Pro-Life and groups dedicated to standing up for equal rights within the context of gender identity and sexuality. SLU prides itself in its Jesuit mission to be inclusive and respectful of all groups and viewpoints, so why can’t chastity be one of them?

According to “The ‘Hook-Up’ Culture on Catholic Campuses: A Review of Literature,” Catholic institutions similar to ours are taking action.

The Elizabeth Ancombe Society at Providence College helps connect students with the knowledge and social science data that helps them navigate romantic relationships in a happy and healthy way. The University of Notre Dame established the Edith Stein Project, which is founded on the Pope John Paul II’s “On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman.” Boston College’s “Sons of St. Patrick” aims, according to a 2011 study by McNellis, to “seek to create a brotherhood of Christian men dedicated to leading virtuous lives.”

Dialogue on chastity, and promoting it, should not only be introduced, but encouraged. The argument to make every college student chaste is irrational and impossible. However, the idea of chastity on a college campus shouldn’t be taboo, but should be discussed, encouraged and supported.

The practice of chastity is not only both emotionally and physically healthier for you, but it also falls in line with the Catholic teachings that Saint Louis University is founded on. As a Catholic, Jesuit institution, we should be seeking to open up dialogue on the benefits of choosing to wait. However, it isn’t absurd to think that chastity outside of religious practices and beliefs is radical.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “50 percent of sexually active men and women will have a genital HPV infection at some point in their lives.” According to The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, “when a man is married as a virgin, his divorce rate is 63 percent lower than a non-virgin. According to “Chains of Affection: The Structure of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Networks,” through sexual contact with one person, you could be exposing yourself to the STDs of hundreds of people.”

As these studies show, mental, physical and emotional health are all affected by sex. There is good reason to think twice. There is a good reason to start talking.

It is impossible to think that every student will want to abstain from sex. But it is possible to allow those who feel discriminated against, called “prude” or “boring” or “lame,” to have an equal voice. Chastity has a hidden prevalence underneath the hookup culture. If we dare to look past reputations, stigmas and stereotypes, we will see that, much like many heated topics at SLU, chastity should be one that’s brought into conversation.