The sexual revolution, that series of experiments and reimaginings that were supposed to turn dull and unfulfilling sex into wild and wonderfully satisfying sex has turned a corner. Sex is now… really, really dull and unfulfilling. Or so says Donna Freitas, author of The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy.
Writing in the Washington Post, Freitas, who spent the past eight years investigating the hook-up culture on college campuses observes, “Hookup sex is fast, uncaring, unthinking, perfunctory. It has a lot less to do with excitement or attraction than with checking a box on a list of tasks, like homework or laundry. Yet, it has become the defining aspect of social life on many campuses — so common, so obligatory, that it leaves little room for experimentation that bends the rules.”
Of the students surveyed who reported hooking up, 36 percent described it as “fine” — not exactly a glowing recommendation. Twenty-three percent were “ambivalent.” The largest group, 41 percent, described their experience with words such as “regretful,” “empty,” “miserable,” “disgusted,” “ashamed,” and “duped.”
At the same time, Freitas writes, hooking up is such a huge part of campus life that even if they don’t like it, students go with the flow believing that if you want a social life, casual sex is the price of admission. And besides, they force themselves to think it’s just sex, not a big deal. After all, isn’t that what they’ve been taught?
Freitas also asked students about romance. Two thirds of the students who responded, “understood romance as primarily talking: talking for hours upon hours, in a beautiful setting. Any talk of sexual intimacy, even kissing, was virtually absent from their descriptions.”
In short, on campuses today, the joy of sex has become the job of sex, one more duty along with memorizing the periodic table and completing problem set number 38.
Freitas’ solution is more sexual experimentation, but of a different variety. “Today,” she writes, “sexual experimentation might be getting to know someone before having sex, holding out for dates and courtship focused on romance rather than sex. From where I sit, meeting a student confident enough to say she’s not hooking up and is proud about that is as experimental as it gets.”
She’s onto something, but doesn’t go far enough. Experimenting with abstinence, or dating, or romance is simple pragmatism: experimenting in the hopes that sooner or later we’ll press the right buttons and then we’ll really be happy. But there’s no need to experiment, the Christian faith clearly teaches that human beings were created for something better.
We were designed to freely offer to each other and receive from each other the unconditional gift of self. This giving without holding back results in a communion of persons, that is, the deep intimacy we crave. While this communion of persons does not need to have a sexual element, when it does, it happens in the lifelong male/female covenant of marriage.
This giving of self is the polar opposite of the consumerism of hook-up sex and the Bible addresses this. Couples who hook up or commit adultery “lay with” one another. By contrast, married couples are described as “knowing” one another. We can’t help but know this, something the students demonstrated when they wrote about romance. It’s hours of talking, that is, of getting to know one another.
One student in Freitas’ study, a male senior, wrote, “I sometimes feel as though my partner has taken advantage of me, even if I first approached her. I feel my actions arise more from a desire to please my partner and a desire to not spend that night alone more than anything else.”
The challenge today is to communicate to students like this one, first that taking advantage is all hook-up sex has to offer. You, however, were created to love and be loved in a mutual giving of self. And second, because God knows “it is not good for man to be alone,” he has supplied a solution to our loneliness. He calls us to a communion of persons in which we reflect the image of God who is himself a community of persons — Father, Son, and Spirit. Marriage is the solution and sex is the expression of unity and fruitfulness within marriage.
That is, we need to communicate that the Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage is not an onerous, out-of-date burden, but the good news that the sexually exhausted and disillusioned men and women in our culture long to hear.