Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Sex and the Soul

College students and the hook up culture.

What do sex and spirituality have to do with one another, if anything? Of course, many prominent religious thinkers and leaders have had very negative views of sex, though positive views can be found in the Bible as well as contemporary religious works, such as Rob Bell's Sex God. But for college students today, it looks like drawing connections between sex and the spiritual life is difficult.

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According to Donna Freitas, most college students generally (except evangelical college students) have no idea how to "reconcile their sex lives with their religious lives/interests/beliefs."

I recently went to a lecture given by Dr. Freitas on this and other findings reported in her book Sex and the Soul. Most students are more open to spirituality than religion. Most students think that their peers are enjoying the hook up culture, while not enjoying it themselves. In fact, 41% of those who reported hooking up describe it in pretty negative terms--"awkward, used, dirty, regretful, empty, alone, duped"--while another 23% were ambivalent. The final 36% were basically "fine" with hookups, but even most of them described it in less than glowing terms.

One point made in the presentation was that while part of the point of hooking up is that you don't really care about the other person, people found this difficult to accomplish. That is, it was difficult not to care about the other person, even though it is part of the hook up culture that it be a merely physical act. Why is this?

Many possibilities suggest themselves: cultural views about the morality of sex, reasons based in evolutionary psychology, or perhaps something about the nature of sex lends itself to the impulse to care for the other. Whatever the answer, it is worth thinking about in a culture that is in so many ways hypersexualized (Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone?) but still reluctant to have frank, open, and honest discussions about sex.

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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