SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
CHARLES JERMY: My name is Charles Jermy. And I'm the Associate Dean of this school. And last week, about 10 people came up to me and said, we don't know who you are. And so, now you do. The other thing that was interesting is Donna is the youngest of the series. And last week, Mike was the oldest in this series. And I figured out that Mike has lived almost three times the lifetime of Donna, which is quite extraordinary. And actually, today is his 96th birthday.
And when he asked what the lecture series-- what the titles were before and after his, I told him, "Sex and the Soul." And he said, oh, that one. Everyone will come to that one. So I'm glad you did.
Donna Freitas is an assistant professor of religion at Boston University and the author of several books, including most recently-- actually, not most recently, but almost most recently-- Sex and the Soul, Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America's College Campuses-- and that's Oxford University Press, 2008-- based on her national study about the influence of sexuality and romantic relationships on the spiritual identities of college students. I noticed, in looking at her titles, that you can almost, after you've read the title, believe that you have read the book.
For example, another of her titles is Killing the Impostor God, Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in his Dark Materials. Don't you feel like you've already read the book? Donna received her BA degree in philosophy from Georgetown in 1994 and the PhD degree from Catholic University in 2002.
A regular contributor to the Washington Post, Newsweek, Online Panel on Faith, the religion webzine Belief Net, and Publisher's Weekly, Donna has also written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Salon, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Christian Century and the School Library Journal. And she has appeared as a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. She is often called on to speak about matters involving religion on both radio and television, including many shows on NPR, CNN, and Fox.
Growing up, Donna could often be found in the wee hours of the morning, covered in flour, making pasta from scratch with her Italian mother and grandmother, listening to them pray to one saint or another. So it is no wonder that her first novel for girls-- and it is rated G-- is entitled The Possibilities of Sainthood. Two more novels will follow in the fall of 2009 and the fall of 2010.
Please join me in welcoming Donna Freitas, who will be speaking to us tonight about sex and the soul, juggling sexuality, spirituality, romance, and religion on America's campuses.
DONNA FREITAS: Thank you so much for coming tonight and for having me here as part of this lecture series. And I just want to mention that I am more than 1/3 that man's age. I may not look it, but I am. But he's close. So tonight I'm going to be sharing with you some different pieces of my experience putting together Sex and the Soul, based on many, many different interviews I did with students from all over the United States.
And whenever I talk about this project, which is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, especially because of its beginnings, which I'll tell you about, I guess, how I ended up doing this project. I always have a hard time deciding which of these students that I interviewed to tell you about. Because there were so many. And they're all so interesting.
And so, hopefully, the ones I chose to tell you about tonight you'll find intriguing. And I have to warn you, one of them you may not like. So anyway, hopefully, they will captivate you.
So first, I'm going to tell you why I did the study. Then I'm going to tell you two student stories. And then I'm going to raise some questions that I've had, having done this project, about what's going on with sex and religion on campus across the country. What do we do now that we have some of this information?
And some of the things I'm going to tell you, they're going to sound kind of depressing. But I would ask that you hold in mind that, even though some of this sounds like sad news for America's college students, there's lots of hope there, I think, in the students that I spoke with, and lots of possibility as well. So anyway, maybe some more of that will come out in the questions.
Just a couple things I wanted to point out before I go into the stories is-- there is a handout that I made with some of the findings I thought-- a little bit of background about the study, I guess; some of the other studies that are out there and how mine fits; and then, also, some of the more interesting findings that came out of the study that I thought, rather than just read to you, in lieu of the student stories, that you could just read on your own. And then, on the back, there are just some interesting quotations from both the student newspaper that I did-- that I'm going to talk about-- with my students and then, also, from some of the students I interviewed in the study.
And two more things-- one is, I'm going to define "hooking up" for you. Because everybody asks me this in every single interview for Sex and the Soul, What is a hookup? And unless you are a college student-- how many of you here are college students? Oh, a good number of you. Maybe I should ask you what a hook up is.
Hmm. Can anybody volunteer to define hooking up? I'm putting on my teacher hat now. So come on, somebody, anyone in the audience? You're not confessing to hooking up. You're just defining it. Any takers? Oh, come on. Oh, look. Here we go, right here in the front.
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] some other people. But randomly meeting or just meeting someone for one night. You don't really have to know them. And maybe, in meeting and sometimes sexual activities. I don't know. [INTERPOSING VOICES]
DONNA FREITAS: You just summed it up.
SPEAKER 2: OK.
DONNA FREITAS: You used both of the important terms, which is "random" and "sexual activity." So thank you so much. This is the first time I've been able to just ask the audience, what a the hookup? So anyway, a lot of what came out when I did this study was just hookup culture, hookup culture, hookup culture. We're in the middle of hookup culture. What do we do? How do we get out of it?
And shockingly enough, a lot of students are looking toward spirituality as a way to dig out of hookup culture. But anyway, a hookup, as I understood it-- I asked every single student I interviewed, what is hooking up? And basically, the things that define it are that it's random, casual, and it's generally someone you've never met before-- so random, casual. And then it involves some sort of intimate activity. And it could be anything from kissing to different types of sex. It depends on the person.
And the other piece tends to be it involves alcohol. So now, we all know about hooking up. And the last thing I'll say before I tell you these stories is that-- so let's see. The book's been out now since mid-April. And my dad-- this tells you something about me. My dad still doesn't know about this book. So I come from a very old-world Italian Catholic family.
We don't say that word in my family, the S word. So here, I find it really ironic that I have this book out and all my dad knows is that there is an Oxford book. And luckily, he's 71. I'm sure he'd be happy that I'm telling you that. But he doesn't go on the internet. I don't think he knows what Google is. But it is possible someone has told him that I have this book out, and he's just agreed that we're not going to talk about it.
So if any of you in here happen to know my dad just-- shh-- don't tell him. When I was driving here today, he said, where are you? And I said, oh, I'm on my way to Cornell. And he said, what are you doing there? And I said, oh, I'm giving a talk. And he said, about what? And I said, oh, you know, religion and stuff.
So anyway, I've had to do a lot of explaining lately, big-- why are you at the airport? Oh, I don't know. So anyway, without further ado, I will tell you the story of how I got into this business of sex and the soul, which my dad does not know about. On a cold March day in a tiny room in the basement of a classroom building, 21 college students began plotting a sexual revolution on campus. The unrest had been growing for a while, but the tipping point sticks in my memory.
It was just after spring break. A few of my students had done the low-key girlfriend road-trip to somewhere local or gone home for a quiet week with family. One went to see a longtime boyfriend. But most of them had returned, tanned and tired, from Florida and the Caribbean. They'd partied hard. They'd hooked up. They'd drunk until the wee hours of the morning and then dragged themselves onto the beach by noon, only to start the cycle over again.
Many were seniors. So Spring Break in its classic, alcohol-soaked, sun-drenched form was the beginning of one final season of partying that would last until graduation. I don't remember who said it first, that the campus hookup scene made her unhappy, even depressed, though she embraced it as if it were the best ever, just a normal part of the college experience. She thought she was supposed to like it. But to be honest, she actually hated it.
Her fellow classmates nodded their heads in silent agreement. Then the entire group set aside their willingness to remain complicit about peer attitudes regarding sex on campus and made confessions of their own. We're not happy with the hookup culture, they said. We feel a constant pressure to do things that make us feel unsettled. We want meaningful relationships that integrate spirituality, whatever that turns out to be, into our dating lives, whatever that turns out to mean.
We live in a community that says one thing and does another. This was at a Catholic college. We need to talk about this and not just within the walls of one classroom. Can we change things? --became our class reframe. My students decided they wanted to challenge the campus hookup culture with, of all things, theology. Somewhere in between our readings and discussions, their dismay about campus hookup culture and its lack of romance, according to them, took root and grew like a weed until they could no longer ignore it.
They wanted to stop hookup culture from dominating their lives. They wanted the right to demand more from their peers when it came to sex and relationships-- more joy, more satisfaction, more commitment, and less sex, maybe even no sex. Make no mistake. These students didn't suddenly become pro-abstinence and anti-sex. Nor did they deny that sex can be very pleasurable. Many of them knew this to be true from personal experience.
Nor did they believe that good sex was entirely absent from campus. Sure, some people were enjoying sex, especially in the moment. The problem was that hookup culture promoted reckless unthinking attitudes and expectations about sex, divorcing it from their larger value commitments, religious, spiritual, or otherwise. After a few years of living in this environment, they felt exhausted, spent, emptied by the pressure to participate in encounters that left them unfulfilled.
During class, we began to bat around ideas for confronting campus hookup culture-- holding a student led panel discussion? Engaging in a public debate? Writing an Op-Ed article for the school newspaper? In the end, we decided to produce our own newspaper, one devoted to sex, dating, religion, and spirituality. Their purpose was to challenge the sexual ethic on campus with both personal experience and religious wisdom, in the hope of making romance and relationships more meaningful.
The audience would be anyone and everyone who'd listen, the student body, the faculty, the administration, the college president. We would have to raise money to pay for printing. I had ideas for covering that. My students would have to find someone to give them a crash course in newspaper design. They would need to learn to write like journalists too. Can we really do this? They wanted to know. Yes, I agreed.
And with that "yes" began the most fulfilling and inspiring month in all my years of teaching. We debated titles. "Holy Sex" was a favorite. But I shot it down quickly. I told them, they may as well put the subtitle, please don't fire Professor Freitas. "The Missionary Position" was another. But I rolled my eyes and said, absolutely not. In a moment of inspiration, one student called out, "Dateline." And we all agreed it was perfect, appropriate and topical. And I wouldn't get in trouble.
So "Dateline SMC," which stands for [INAUDIBLE] was the acronym for the college. It was. The date we'd set for distribution approached. And the student could barely contain their excitement. They were nervous too. They'd put themselves out there. They'd bared their souls. What would everyone think?
And on the handout I gave you, on the back, there is the mission statement that appears right under the masthead. And this is the newspaper. I just brought it to prove to you, it's a real newspaper. So each of the students in the class picked one topic that they wanted to write about. And they each wrote articles about it. And it was pretty incredible on campus when it came out.
They convinced 22 professors on campus, from departments as far reaching as Biology and English Lit to Philosophy and Chemistry-- they convinced these professors to devote their entire day of classes to discussing the newspaper. And so, my students were very, very forward about getting the word out on campus that, if all 21 of them didn't like hookup culture, they suspected there were more on campus who felt the same. And so, they really wanted to transform the campus culture.
And this class and that experience, their passion for transformation, is what inspired me to really to do this project. And seven of the students who were going to be seniors after that year were my research assistants on this study. So when I first decided to offer a dating class in a Department of Religious Studies, I didn't think about whether it would be popular.
At the time, I also had no idea that this class would eventually effect the entire campus, not only the students enrolled. Nor did I have any inkling that it would transform my sense of self as a teacher, shake my concerns about college campus culture, and shift the direction of my future research into an area that shall not be named in front of my father. If there is one thing I learned from the experience it is that there's strength in numbers.
Alone and silent, my students felt uneasy about hookup culture and about admitting their longing to find meaning through spirituality. Even though the majority had been raised within a faith tradition, students thought that religion had nothing to say to them about sex and dating and that expressing dissatisfaction with hookup culture was somehow verboten, even at a Catholic school. But when a handful among them found the courage to speak out, the others found their voices. And what voices!
At first, I was taken aback by student's stories about the party scene and the degrading experiences that many of them endured regularly. I was even more surprised to learn exactly how powerless they felt to change this culture that made them so unhappy, at least before they realized that the person next to them and the person next to that person wished she or he could change things too. And somehow, they'd landed on spirituality as a potential way out of these circumstances.
The students' stories, discussions, and newspaper articles made painfully clear that hookup culture does not help young women and men discover the thrill of sexual desire or romantic passion, of falling madly in love and expressing this love sexually. Within hookup culture, many students perform sexual acts because that's just what people do; because they are bored; because they've done it once before, so why not again and again: : because they're too trashed to summon any self-control; because it helps them climb the social ladder; and because, how else is a person supposed to snag a significant other in a community where nobody ever dates?
Living within hookup culture, it means putting up an I-don't-care front about behavior; occasionally, if not frequently, submitting to unwanted experiences; and in many cases, slowly chipping away at personal standards, expectations, sense of self, and respect, until these are sublimated so fully that a student can't remember what they were in the first place.
Although sex could be good on campus, they found living with hookup culture far from healthy. It fostered a sense of unease in their daily lives. And it turned romance into a fantasy almost outside the realm of possibility. It forced many of them to ultimately feel ambivalent or disappointed or highly stressed about sex, often without fully realizing why and only occasionally happy and fulfilled.
As I looked through this new window into my campus community, I couldn't help but wonder if students at other schools felt the same way. I wondered if there were other Catholic colleges where religious affiliation didn't seem to influence the sex and party scene on campus or if there were colleges whose religiosity contributed to a healthy social culture or if social conditions were better non-religious schools.
Were there students like mine across America? --seeking spirituality but without much direction, trapped in a hookup culture that coaxed many of them into behavior that made them feel ashamed. Or was the experience about which my class spoke specific to our community? If other students felt comfortable enough to speak freely, would they express the same wish that mine did? --if only we could change things.
And I just wanted to make a note. It's on the handout I gave you. But the college types I went to were very specific. I decided I wanted to look at other Catholic colleges, like the one I was teaching at, to see if the students on campus expressed different thoughts about religion and spirituality than mine or similar ones. I went to Evangelical Christian colleges. I went to non-religious private, and then public colleges and universities as well. And so I really wanted to compare religiously affiliated with non-religiously affiliated institutions and the climate on those campuses.
So now, I'm going to move to the stories of some of the students that I interviewed during my study. And I've never talked about-- the student I'm going to tell you about now is-- all the students, I used pseudonyms for them. And I called him Tom Beecher. And he goes to-- went to-- a non-religious private university in the Northeast.
And a little background about Tom that's sort of interesting-- the funnier aside about him-- or maybe these are both funny asides. But when I was first working on this project and writing it up for Sex and the Soul, I had so many different students I was working with. I had to come up with many, many different pseudonyms. And so, the first two pseudonyms I came up with for the men I talked about-- and Tom is one of them-- I gave the names Zach and Josh. Josh is my husband. And Zach is my brother-in-law. And they were just the first two names that popped into my head.
And just coincidentally-- I swear, it was coincidental-- the people who I originally called Josh and Zach were probably the two biggest jerks I interviewed in the study. And when I realized that it was an accident, I told my husband. And I said, you know, the person named Josh in the book really sounds awful. And so does the person named Zach. And he said, you have to change that? And I said, you think? And he said, yes.
So then, my editor-- when I gave him back the manuscript, he said, what happened to Josh and Zach? And I said, I don't know. They're gone. So anyway, Tom-- part of why I'm telling you his story is because he is one of the students that everybody asks me about in the interviews I've done for this book. They seem fascinated with him. And maybe you'll know why. But he was also the person who-- when I was doing this study, I listened to so many different kinds of stories from students.
And some of them were funny. And some of them were just interesting. Some of them were boring. But some of them were shocking. And I really had to master the poker face. And Tom was someone who really challenged me in this department. And I think you'll see why. So this is part of his story, the sex part, just so you know.
So again, he went to a non-religious private university. And I would say that one of the things I have on that handout I gave you is that, overall, almost all students, both men and women, are not happy with hookup culture. And that was a really significant finding to me. So that was across-the-board too. It doesn't matter what college type you go to. Almost all the students don't like it.
However, there are the students who are responsible for hookup culture. They have to exist somewhere, right? It's not everybody that doesn't like it. And Tom Beecher is one of the proliferators of hookup culture. So he is one of the people who maintains it on campus. And maybe that's why so many people have been so interested to ask me about him. So I introduce you to Tom Beecher.
I'd say it's a reproductive thing, says Tom Beecher, a 20-year-old junior at a non-religious private university. Tom told me that girls idealize sex and that boys don't. He explains why this is. If you fertilize them, then hanging around isn't going to benefit you, he says. Tom Beecher seems completely unaware of how shocking and offensive his language is, perhaps because the way he talks about and treats women is normal among his friends.
Tom prides himself on living in one of the biggest party houses at his university and one of the coolest. Tom has been to lots of theme parties, which I will explain in more detail in a bit. Which he sees as an excuse for girls to dress up like sluts. That's his quote. Tom believes that theme parties have gotten so popular because the regular raging party is old news, been there, done that. Quote, "So you have to have the party again with differing clothes," he says.
And just so you know, theme parties-- and again, I'll speak about it more. Theme parties-- what I've called the "classic"-- I learned about these about five years ago now. But the classic theme party is Pimps and Hoes. Another big one is CEOs and Office Hoes. Let's see, what else? Maids and Millionaires. Professors and Schoolgirls. You get the idea. And the men are always in the power positions. They're the CEOs. And the women are always in the non-power position. So they're the hoes.
And they're pretty much on most college campuses. And the more I go around speaking to people, the more I hear about them from students. So anyway, we can talk more about that later. That's another thing people like to ask me about. Recently, Tom went to a lingerie party. All the girls wore really put-together lingerie stuff, he says with enthusiasm. When I ask whether hooking up with girls is a priority, his face light up.
Hm, Tom answers. Yes, it's a priority. Yes, it is. When I asked about the appeal of the random hookup, he tells me that it's a natural urge. But people don't hookup, he adds quickly, nearly as much as they should, especially women. Girls talk a good game about sex, Tom complains. But they don't put their words into action. I mean, they say they want it. And then they don't do much about it.
I would like a girl around more often, he continues, you know, like, for me. Is Tom talking about a girlfriend? Probably not. I'm fairly certain he means that he'd like a regular sex partner. I think that guys don't want to worry about having a girlfriend so much, Tom explains. It's like somewhat of a burden.
Tom divides girls into two types, girls he might date and girls he would have sex with but not date. He tells me he's pursued both kinds of girl at different points during college. But he's unsure which he'll pursue over the coming months.
The problem with this division of women is that women generally don't know about it. A woman whom Tom only wants for sex isn't told she is a sex-only girl. If the woman's desires line up with Tom's and she's in it just for sex too, then fine. But if she wants more out of the hookup-- and chances are she does, if the women I interviewed, who see random hooking up as the surest way to a boyfriend are telling the truth-- this can create problems for the woman. She is set up for disappointment. And Tom isn't about to enlighten her beforehand.
Tom is far more concerned about how, as he sees it, the fact that all women want are relationships creates problems for guys like him who have to deal with the sex-only girl's wish to be treated like a datable girl. They want you to call back and to call them up and to hang out. And it's not just after a party and that sort of thing. Like, during the day, he says. He said that so many times during the interview, I can't even tell you. During the day-- [GASP]
All girls, both kinds, both the datable and the sex-only, want to spend time with guys during the day, Tom says, as if this was a shocking expectation. I think it's easier for guys to just forget about the emotional stuff, Tom continues. The girls will idealize, maybe make expectations that the guy won't reach, like that it'll be a steady relationship thing. And the guy will be like, well, we did this. And now, I'm free again.
Tom reports that oral sex is common during hookups, because you can't get pregnant from it. And girls see it as a way to get around losing their virginity. In Tom's world, it's more acceptable for girls than for boys to be virgins. Because girls are, quote, "a more docile gender."
But it is terrible to date a virgin, because she can lead you on forever but never have sex. This happened to a friend of his. And they were all frustrated with the situation, thinking, jeez. Why won't the girls loosen up? Most of these are his quotes, by the way.
For guys, being a virgin is a sign that something is wrong with you, rather than something valuable. If you're a guy and a virgin, it's like, jeez! Get your priorities straight. After all this, Tom surprises me by confessing that he was in love once. He met her on his third day at college. As he tells the story, this alpha-male type who doesn't seem to have a romantic bone in his body, he suddenly becomes wistful and wide-eyed.
It was, like, very, very, very serious, he says. We were totally in love. It just really felt like the right thing to be doing with our time here on Earth. It taught him a lot about good sex too, meaningful sex. I think that sex, when done for the right reasons and sincerely, can be the most beautiful thing, he says. The relationship lasted through his first year at college and continued into his second.
But in her eyes, their relationship took an irreparable hit over summer break. Tom was willing to try to make it work during sophomore year. But she was always too busy. He doesn't notice the irony in this, that he was so dismayed that his ex-girlfriend wouldn't make the time to be with him just minutes after he had complained about how annoying it is when girls want to spend time with guys during the day.
When I asked Tom whether he is looking for another relationship like the one he had with his former girlfriend, he says, I would love a relationship like the one I had before. But I've been looking for that type of girl for a year and a half now. And I've gotten pretty much nowhere. He laughs uneasily.
I met one girl that seemed like a sure bet. But I couldn't get past the fact that she had, like, an extra 20 pounds on her. I still see her now. And she gets mad, because I only come home with her when we're at a party. She settles for hooking up with him. And that's as far as it goes.
So Tom, just so you know, was an anomaly in the students that I interviewed, as someone who spoke like that, as someone who was a big proponent of hookup culture. The vast majority of men that I interviewed talked about how, while they feel tremendous amounts of pressure to be like a Tom, to talk like that, to aspire to many different hookups and casual ones, to divide women or the people they're attracted to into datable and sex-only, most of them talked about how they were very unhappy with that kind of expectation.
And guys talked a lot about-- they use the term "player." They're expected to be players. And they talked a lot about how that really got in the way of getting what they wanted out of relationships. It really hindered them from having a relationship. But the way that men get credibility among other men on campus, I heard over and over again, was with conquest. So hookups, hookups, hookups.
And so, often they talked about how they would hook up, because they had to to have that credibility. They would lie about hooking up or how many hookups they had had to get that credibility. And by the time they were juniors and sometimes seniors, they had let go of that worry-- some of them. But it was very powerful. And so, most of the young men I interviewed were not like Tom.
Now, I'm going to tell you about Amy Stone. I'm going to tell you both, I guess, the side of her romantic dating and sex life that she told me about and also her religious background and her thoughts about spirituality. And Amy was a student who just-- across-the-board, she was an extraordinary student to talk to. And she really was an example of a student who touched on just about every question or topic I was looking at in this study. And so, that's why I've chosen to talk about her.
But also, I think what you can think about when I'm telling you about Amy is she had a run-in with a student like Tom, which really affected her college life. And I'm just going to tell you it briefly in an anecdote when I get to that part, because you can read the gory details, if you want, in the book. Because they are kind of gory. But anyway-- so I thought maybe they would be interesting to juxtapose together.
The girl who almost has everything-- Amy Stone is the kind of girl you see on the cover of college brochures, a tall, raven-haired, fashion model for real, whom you might expect to meet on the streets of New York City. Amy is dressed as if she just walked off a magazine shoot. She'd be a shoe-in for the most popular sorority at any Southern school, the lucky girl who always has a gorgeous date for the football game, unless she's dating the quarterback.
She could be the face of an ad for snowboards or ski wear. Maybe because that's her job, showing off clothes, accessories, and a dazzling smile for the cameras. By day, Amy adopts the uniform of the average college girl at her Catholic college. She describes herself as preppy. Going out at night is another story however. I like to look hot when I go out, Amy explains. I like to be looked at.
Amy's senses that looking hot gives her a sexual power over men on campus. Yet, she also insists that dressing sexy has relatively little to do with sex. This attention is not so people will desire me or want to hook up with me, she writes in her journal. By the way, students did journals for part of the study. She didn't just show me her journal.
It is simply to give me a confidence boost and help me feel good about myself. As Amy understands things, dressing sexy is about her feeling empowered and not about pleasing guys or allowing them to dictate what she wears. Amy studies hard and plays hard. The party usually begins in the residence hall with pre-gaming, drinking before heading out to the real party. As the night goes on, girls drink as much as guys, because-- Amy tells me-- alcohol is the catalyst to finally making something into an intimate relationship.
When I ask why, she explains, alcohol just makes it easier. You would never just walk up to someone and just start making out with them if you weren't intoxicated. It makes her inhibitions go. Sometimes, Amy goes to theme parties, events where students dress up according to a particular set of stereotypes-- pimps and hoes, CEOs and office hoes, and golf pros and tennis hoes-- that's another one I forgot before-- to name the most popular. Girls where as little as possible, sometimes nothing more than lingerie.
Like many students I interviewed at Amy's Catholic college, Amy says theme parties are a campus tradition. Current seniors went to theme parties when they were first years. And now, it is their right and privilege to carry on the practice by holding their own. Amy often stumbles upon these events, as she puts it. Though she doesn't intentionally dress the part, she says, Amy worries about getting a reputation, since the, quote, "girls who are going to go all out and have everything hanging out and showing at a theme party, those are the girls who are going to be labeled as easy or a slut."
It doesn't occur to Amy that the premise of a hoes party is that all the girls who attend adopt the role of whore. By their very design, most theme parties are about sex and power, with guys in the dominant positions-- the CEOs and the sports pros-- and girls acting the part of the sexually submissive, sexually suggestive, sexually available, and sexually willing hoes at their beck and call.
During our conversation, Amy's concern about being labeled negatively comes up repeatedly. Girls have to work harder academically, she explained, since they are expected to have good grades. Girls have to look perfect. Girls have to be the responsible ones. Girls have to hook up, because that's the only way to get a guy. But every time they do, they risk social ruin by imperiling their reputations.
Girls also have to live with an apparent contradiction. They want committed relationships. But they think boys do not. And the important part is they think boys do not, because boys actually do. Guys have it easy, Amy says on three separate occasions. All boys worry about, she adds, are sports and partying.
As it turns out, Amy doesn't dress sexy just for herself but is trading sexiness for male attention. She has known only disappointment when it comes to sex and romance. There is one major thing that the girl who seems to have everything is missing-- a boyfriend. Amy thought college would be all about falling in love with the guy she'd be with forever. But she, in fact, has never had a boyfriend.
You hear about my parents' generation who met the loves of their life in college, who had this great whirlwind relationship and decided to get married and have kids, Amy says wistfully. Excuse me. Then I got here. And I said, oh my god, it's totally not like that at all. People don't want to have relationships. Almost everybody is single, Amy explains, especially the first-year students and sophomores.
Amy really wants to find a boyfriend, someone who will love her. She's tried everything she knows-- hooking up, friends with benefits, playing hard to get. Nothing has worked. Most of her efforts have produced only heartache. Amy is still a virgin, she explains, though she has performed oral sex on a number of boys. But what worries Amy and makes her ashamed is not her experience but her inexperience.
Being a virgin, even a popular beautiful one, is difficult. Quote, "It puts a mark on your head," Amy says. Amy's virgin status made her the subject of a bet among members of the most popular male sports team on campus. Who would be the first to persuade Amy to have sex? And this is the story that I'm not going to give you in detail. But this sounded to me like something out of a book or a movie.
But there was a bet on the soccer team, because Amy, in a moment of intimacy, during a hookup, had confessed to someone that she was still a virgin and that she wanted to wait till she got married. And this person told the whole soccer team. And the most popular guy on the soccer team decided that he was going to be the one to, as he put it, to take her V-card, her Virginity card. That's the way she talked about it.
And anyway, he actually sort of tried to get her to have sex with him. And one of the soccer players felt bad for her. And he was giving play-by-plays to the guys in the locker room. And one of the soccer players finally felt bad for her and told her. And so, that's how she ended up getting out of that relationship. But she was rather devastated about it.
Amy Stone can win the admiration of the entire campus in all sorts of ways. But she can't win at love. Despite her pull on the social scene, Amy is powerless to change her peers' expectations about dating and sex. So she goes with the crowd, while at the same time clinging to the hope that she'll find one good guy somewhere.
Amy is unsure whether she will save herself for marriage. She used to think she would be a virgin on her wedding day. But now she just hopes that her first time won't be something she regrets, that it will happen with someone who at least respects her, even if he doesn't love her. Her experience with the soccer player has made her leery about trusting guys. Sometimes, she even lies about the fact that she is still a virgin.
I mean, she says, if the soccer player was talking about wanting to take my V-card, you never know who else is thinking that. If that is, for some bizarre reason, a priority for guys, to take someone's virginity, then knowing that I'm a virgin is not necessarily going to be a good thing.
Now, this is Amy's faith life. As our interview turns to religion, I press Amy to talk more about being a Methodist at a Catholic institution. Her religious affiliation doesn't make her feel uncomfortable or out of place, she says, because she can barely tell that the school is Catholic anyway. Quote, "I don't feel like I'm at a Catholic college so much as I feel that I am at a place where you can explore your spirituality," she says.
"Obviously, when you're walking across campus and you see a priest, you are reminded you are at a Catholic institution. But I don't think every day, oh, I'm at a Catholic school." This laissez-faire attitude about Catholicism might make her college's administrators blanch. But Amy's views are common. Whatever Catholic culture there is at the Catholic schools I visited is subtle or bordering on non-existent, at least according to the students.
Though Amy says she is Methodist, she adds that she is more spiritual than religious. She thinks of religion in terms of doctrine and constraints, which is very common among almost all the students I interviewed. To me, spirituality is who you are as a person and what guides who you want to be, Amy explains. Religion is more about following a certain set of beliefs. I think that is why I veer away from it a little, because I don't agree with everything that a certain church might say is right or wrong.
What exactly does Amy believe? To start, she believes that faith-- your belief in God, your sense of spirituality-- are personal things that you don't really share with friends. Just because you go to mass only sporadically and don't stick to, quote, "one organized religion," doesn't mean that you can't cultivate a vibrant spiritual life. Spirituality begins with a turn inward. And it speaks to whatever you are confronting at a particular moment.
I look within myself for my spirituality and to answer the meaning of life, Amy writes in her journal. She also relies on such resources as popular Christian books and the Bible, unlike most students at her Catholic college. In fact, Amy is the only student I interviewed at this Catholic school who mentioned having a Bible on her bookshelf.
Faith in God is a major part of Amy's spiritual identity, though, like many believers, she struggles with doubts. Sometimes, I long for God to touch me and point me towards religion and say, this is the way, she writes. Sometimes I feel that, maybe, I'm missing the boat by not being Catholic or Jewish. But then I remind myself that this life is a life given to me by God to do good. As long as I am doing good and growing into the best person I can be, I am good in His eyes.
I am not sure what is in store for me when this life ends, but I have faith that it will be good. God is the man-with-the-plan, Amy tells me at several points during our interview. Believing that God has a plan, not only for the world, but also for her particular life comforts Amy. Her relationship with this man-with-the-plan is intense, intimate, and constant, everything that her relationships with boys are not.
Amy turns to God for just about everything, good and bad, large and small. Now that she is at college, though, she keeps her faith hidden. Sex is a popular topic of conversation among just about everybody at her school, Amy says. But religion and spirituality are not. And whereas God might indeed be everywhere for Amy, He is clearly not very social. God doesn't have much to say about Amy's sexual and romantic life either.
And this was common. Aside from the Evangelical students I interviewed, every single person in the study almost-- I only had a very few students who identified as atheist and many, many students who identified as-- I don't know if you've heard the term-- spiritual-but-not-religious or just spiritual. And many of them wanted to find a connection between spirituality and sexuality. But they had no idea how to do so or they couldn't imagine what one could have to do with the other.
So it was very, very common for students to split religion or spirituality from their sexual practices, their dating lives. And in fact, one of the things that was really interesting is it seemed like sexuality or having sex or having sexual desire was one of the catalysts that shifted students away from the religion that they grew up with. Once they became sexually active or they started to experience sexual desire, the message from their religious tradition was, you can't do that. You can't have that.
And so, that's part of why they would begin to leave their tradition and turned to a more amorphous unmoored spirituality. So when Amy talked so explicitly to me about her sexual past and present, her spiritual leanings aren't even a whisper. God disappears from our conversation. For Amy and for many of her peers, keeping prayer private and spirituality personal amounts to the separation of religion from their social lives.
When it comes to her stories about sex, Amy's intense spiritual identity and devotion to God simply go missing. Amy confesses that she doesn't have any idea what the official Methodist stance is on sex outside of marriage. We didn't talk about it in Sunday school, Amy says, when I asked what, if anything, she learned about dating and sex in her church community while she was growing up. It wasn't preached in sermons. We didn't talk about practical issues at all.
And almost universally, the Catholic students that I interviewed for this study, when I asked them, what did their faith tradition teach about sex when they were growing up, they had the three-word answer, which was, don't do it. And that was it. So often, when I asked them what it meant to them, they would laugh in my face. So there was a lot of anger and sarcasm coming from the Catholic camp about about teachings on sex. Or the other thing they would say is, don't be gay. That was the other teaching.
To Amy, the girl with the strong relationship with God, who prays all the time and sees God everywhere, sex is a personal choice that each individual must face without reference to religion, a decision, she imagines, she must face without the help of the man-with-the-plan. This choice is not entirely devoiced from God, however, since Amy believes that sex and dating can affect a person's relationship with God.
I really think that all experiences will affect your spirituality in some way, she explains. Whenever my self is affected, my relationship with God is affected too. Because I am leaning on him for different things and asking new things of him. Amy also thinks that sex can be a sacred or spiritual experience in certain circumstances. And she has experienced sexual intimacy, though not intercourse, as a spiritual connection with certain boys.
Quote, "When you are hooking up with someone and you are staring into their eyes," she says, "you can almost see the connection drawing from eye to eye. I think that that can be very spiritual." Though Amy can speak of two moments in her sexual history that she not only considers positive but significant enough to call spiritual-- because they include an emotional aspect-- neither of these occurred in the context of a committed relationship.
Fearing that the kind of romance she once expected isn't in the cards, she is trying to put the best possible spin on her hookups. Although Amy may privately identify a sexual encounter as, quote, "spiritual," in retrospect, neither she nor her hookup partner openly labeled their experience together as spiritually significant. This part of the story, the spiritual part, Amy cut from her friends too.
Navigating sexuality in relation to spirituality, as Amy Stone is struggling mightily to do, is, for most American college students, a private affair. But unlike most of the students I interviewed, Amy has found, in her personal spirituality, at least the beginnings of a resolution to her search. It may not be perfect. But at least she can see a way forward, however dimly lit and lonely it appears to be.
And a couple of comments before I conclude and then we move to questions-- I wanted to make clear that when I went to do this study, which was, again, inspired by these students that I worked with that semester, and seven of whom-- they all helped me develop the questions that I was going to ask when I went out to speak with these students and that were on the survey that went out all these different colleges.
And so, they had a lot of questions they wanted answered. And so, we worked together to come up with a series of questions that would reach out to their concerns in addition to the ones I wanted to ask, et cetera. And one of the things that was really interesting, I thought and I tried to make very clear as I've articulated this project and Sex in the Soul, is that I didn't go looking for sob stories or sad stories or unhappy stories about sex or religion, for that matter, when I went on this study.
I simply asked open-ended questions that invited students to talk about their different experiences. And the vast majority of stories I got were unhappy. And so, it's very concerning, I think-- and whether it was with regard to sex and dating; or I'm having too much sex and it's not meaningful; or I want to date, and no one dates on campus to, I feel, when it comes to spirituality, I'm very alone, I have no one I can talk to; it's embarrassing; it's too intimate to talk to with my friends or faculty members-- it was such a common experience across-the-board.
And so, I spent a lot of time and people have spent a lot of time asking me, well, what's going on here? Why are students so alone in these matters? And why aren't there forums? Or where are the forums where students can reflect on these things? And so, these are just some of the questions that I have, having done this study and that we can talk about after. You can ask me other questions too.
But-- so where to? From some of these students-- Amy and Tom, which are just two of the many students I talk about in the book. So to conclude-- one day during the semester that I taught my dating class at St. Michael's College, I was in the faculty lounge getting coffee. A professor I'd never met introduced himself and asked what I was teaching.
So you're the professor who's teaching dating, he interrupted me, unable to mask his skepticism when I told him. The tone of his voice turned condescending. What do you do in there? Gossip about boys? I'm aware that it is unorthodox for a college to add a dating class to its course catalog and that a professor who happens upon such an offering might, at first, be startled, even quizzical, as to its content and purpose.
But one might also imagine that a colleague would move beyond his initial puzzlement to, at the very least, a basic curiosity, perhaps even to the respectful demeanor of a professor addressing a colleague about her area of expertise. The professor's insulting comments and dismissive attitude embody what many academics believe about inviting the personal into the classroom and reveal common biases about what some see as feminine subjects, such as relationships and spirituality, areas of inquiry that, when not ignored altogether, are usually relegated to gender studies or women's studies courses; considered the domain of psychology, a discipline often dominated by women majors; or occasionally taught, often by female faculty, in selected literature classes.
Like theme parties that have college boys dressing up as professors and college women showing up as school-girls, academia is still a man's world. It prizes the objective over the subjective, distanced observation over personal reflections, and traditional male values over traditional feminine ones. To this day, many faculty members teach students that the personal pronoun "I" is verboten in papers and on tests, because inserting oneself into a discussion of research diminishes its value.
The overarching message-- the personal is not rigorous enough to warrant a place in the curriculum, space in the syllabus, time in the classroom, or room on the page. People wonder why even the best colleges in the country harbor Animal House behavior. But the reason is simple. There's a thick wall between the classroom and everything else.
Brilliant students may hone sophisticated reasoning abilities in their courses, but they don't seem inclined to take those abilities with them once class ends. They either don't know or haven't been offered the tools to apply what they learned to their personal lives. It was rare for a student to speak of a member of the faculty or administration as a mentor to whom he could turn for anything not on the syllabus, never mind a talk about sex or spirituality-- and/or.
Few students felt that their coursework should be challenging, much less changing, their behavior in arenas beyond the classroom. Why do so many colleges tacitly support this culture by refusing to question it? Who was responsible for determining and enforcing the view that addressing subject areas via the personal is not a rigorous method of intellectual inquiry?
How does academia's own set of ideals affect the college student's ability to mature, change, and grow intellectually, relationally, and spiritually? To become a contributing member of society? What does this dismissal of the personal into the realm of the private convey to students about what counts as serious scholarship?
Finally, why is it so rare for colleges and universities to offer courses that explore dating, sex, and romantic relationships? Their intricate and complex histories and attendant psychologies? Their effect on how we understand gender roles and sexual orientation and how these relationships affect religious and spiritual identity?
My former colleague at St. Michael's College may have sneered at such a course offering, but given the centrality that sex and romance, religion and spirituality, have within our individual and social lives, it is important to give serious thought to the deeper reasons for this glaring omission in higher education, including identifying what is behind the fear of and resistance to these subjects. Plainly, sex and the soul matter intensely to the overwhelming majority of human beings, no less during the college years, and regardless of sexual orientation and religious or spiritual background. And so it has been for millennia.
Why do colleges and universities resist tackling these topics directly and explicitly inside the classroom? And obviously, that's not true 100%. But it is pretty true in a large way. One answer to these questions is that religion and sex are private matters. Yet, this approach results in a campus conversation about sex that is often vulgar and uncritical and almost entirely uninformed by faith.
And if you look on that handout that I gave you, 80% of the students on average at all the colleges and universities I went to identified as religious and/or spiritual in some degree and talked about college as a place for spiritual Questing many colleges foster communities of young people who not only see religious and sexual identity as private but are typically incapable of confidently, comfortably, and respectfully communicating their desires and beliefs on these issues, even if they feel desperate to do so.
What happens when what a college sees as religious tolerance really amounts to embarrassed silence? When sex is degraded and young women along with it? Why shouldn't we expect students, faculty, administrators, and clergy on campus to engage these subjects with as much intellectual rigor as they do any other?
Colleges that insist on enforcing a wide divide between academic life and student life, between what happens during the day in classrooms and what goes on after dark in the residence halls, are-- at least in effect if not in intent-- denying their students that education of the whole person so many institutions like to boast that they offer.
Much academic work, however esoteric, has practical relevance to the way we live our lives. Why restrict students from asking, alongside their professors, how relevant this intellectual material is to their lives? Thank you very much.
Do you all have any questions? I can see you. Um--
SPEAKER 3: How do you find [INAUDIBLE] interviews at these different colleges-- do you, like, have an announcement that I'm coming in and I'm talking about these issues? [INAUDIBLE] contacts? [INAUDIBLE]?
DONNA FREITAS: First, I sought contacts at the different colleges and universities who were willing to sponsor the study on campus, so that they would help me connect with the students. And I had to go through all the human subjects review boards on all the different campuses and go through, make sure all the questions were OK. It was a very long process.
And the way it worked was the campus contact that I had would then-- if it was a small college, so small being 5,000 students and under, then there was an online survey that was very long. It took about an hour and a half for students to take. And I have enough data to last me for the rest of my life. But it went out to the entire campus. And it was an invitation to take the survey. So it was all volunteer.
And then at the very end of the survey-- because nothing was required-- if you got to the end, it said, are you interested in having a longer conversation about these topics? And then you could leave your information. And I had over 2,500 students take the survey. And my goal was to get a couple hundred students to take the survey. And I ended up with 2,500. I had to shut it down at campuses. I was so shocked by how many students were answering.
But also, originally I was only hoping for 40 students to interview. And I ended up with almost 600 volunteers. And so, I had to select from there. And so even just those figures show, I think, a lot of appetite just to talk about the subjects. But that's basically how it went.
Oh and then to take the online survey, I dangled money. Like, on each campus, there was $100 prize, like one random person. So you could gamble on getting the $100. But it's always good to have an incentive. In the back?
SPEAKER 4: So you spoke about talking to students and faculty and how we don't really have an education for sexuality and things for students. But did you ever consider speaking to student affairs professionals? Like, I served as a resident advisor here for three years. And that's something we tried to tackle every year. I'm wondering if that's something you've looked into your research as well.
DONNA FREITAS: I actually worked in student affairs for six years while I was getting my PhD. That's part of where this project came from. I lived in residence halls, first-year halls, for four years. And I guess-- I hate saying upper class, I don't know-- sophomore, junior, senior housing for two years. And I'm going to be a faculty-in-residence next year at BU.
So yes, I speak regularly with student affairs professionals. I think that student affairs-- it is the most open area of university life to talking about these issues, even though I've found that many student affairs professionals are nervous talking about religion and spirituality. Though I have been invited to different student affairs areas of universities to talk about how to talk about spirituality and religion with students. Because they know that students are interest in these topics. And even if they're not sure about how to talk about it-- you know student affairs people-- they want to meet the needs of students.
So yes, I have thought about that. Though, I don't think it's enough. And if you've been in student affairs, you know that there's a lot of conversation about the "divide" between faculty and student affairs. And that really exists. And one of the things that I learned very clearly in the dating class that I taught was that my students were dying to talk about things like dating and romance and spirituality in the classroom, not just more informally in the residence halls or in specific programs they didn't create.
One of the things I was saying earlier when we were having dinner was, I think a lot of faculty-- it doesn't occur to them that, for example, you can teach Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and have a wonderful reflection in the classroom about behavior on campus and dating and respect, et cetera, like, how does this all work? And students are really hungry to do that if you give them the opportunity. So I think both are important.
SPEAKER 5: Did you inquire about, perhaps, religious service attendance? And if you did, if you found out there were any correlation between that and sexual activity. I know that's a more rigid, a very statistical fact, but--
DONNA FREITAS: I have all that data, yes. And one of the things that-- for this part of the project, I focused on the qualitative research, so the stories. I really wanted to tell the stories of the students. And so generally, religious attendance, it was all over the place. And so, we did some correlations-- what was it?-- that we haven't published yet. But I think it was-- OK, we thought this was bizarre.
I've been working with some people who know how to run statistical data on this, because that's not my area. But the most sexually active group that we found across-the-board were the male students who identified as the most traditionally religious. And I remember, the psychologist that I was working with called me up. And he said, guess who's most sexually active? And he's like, basically, the boys who are most Catholic.
So anyway, that's not a full answer to your question. But that was one category we found interesting. Right there.
SPEAKER 6: OK, I'm curious about your finding that 78% of the students felt that romance was asexual and that [INAUDIBLE] into sex terminated romance. Could you expand on that?
DONNA FREITAS: Sure. I've been asked over and over again what do I think-- what are some of the most interesting findings from the study in my opinion? Or what was the most surprising? And one of them was this issue with romance. And so, there's a huge percentage of students on college campuses-- and this is Evangelical colleges aside. So most of the stuff I've talked tonight about-- I bracketed Evangelical colleges. Because I figured, I was at Cornell. I may as well talking about college experience you might see and hear at a place like Cornell.
But across-the-board, regardless of whether you were Evangelical or not, and regardless of whether or not you were a man or a woman, I asked students just to talk about their sense of romance. What was their romantic ideal? And almost all of the students-- when I started looking at the answers, I wasn't even particularly interested at first. I just started looking through them. And I thought, huh, look at this! There's no sex.
And then I started really looking at them. And over and over and over again, talking, just talking-- and that word "just," "just talking," as in, we just talked. We didn't do anything else. And it was talking under a starry sky or talking on the football field after all the lights went out or talking on the beach. So talking over dinner. It was a million different scenarios that involve talking, talking for hours, ideally for-- I don't know-- eight hours of talking.
And then, occasionally-- and then we kissed, like in the movies. And there was a few kisses, almost no kisses though. So just a few kisses, movie star kisses. And yeah, so one of the things that led me to ask is, well, what happens then when they're having all of this sex, if their sense of romance is so, so chaste essentially?
And I don't know if this is partly why the attitudes I encountered about sex were just so sad. They were very-- I mean it's not that there isn't good sex. And it's not necessarily pleasurable. Students will talk about pleasure in a very literal sense. But when you ask them to talk about sex, most of the stories that they tell are very unhappy.
But then, when they talk about romance, they think of communication. And what that makes me think about is that alcohol-soaked thing with Amy Stone, who talks about, well, nobody would start making out if they weren't drunk. And so, if hooking up is the norm or is really how people get together and what happens is you just happened to see somebody at a party, you're already drunk, how much communication, like, just talking-- you're not going to talk for five hours about what your hopes and dreams are. You're going to go home and-- I don't know-- hook up.
So I don't know if that's part of where this desire is coming from or where this definition is going toward. And it's just both men and women. So the same thing. And there are very, very few answers that included sexual intimacy in any sort of extensive way. And those, too, were, (SAPPY EXAGERATED VOICE) and we lit 1,000 candles and made love. (NORMAL VOICE) So they were very specific.
And one of the descriptions-- I think I had six answers total that included some form of sex. And one of the students who answered that her ideal sense of romance was having sex with her husband. She was a married Evangelical student. So one of the students was married. Yes.
SPEAKER 7: How open were they about sexual
DONNA FREITAS: How open-- what do you mean by that?
SPEAKER 7: Were there participants that were homosexual? And what kind of feedback did they give to you?
DONNA FREITAS: I had lesbian, gay, and bisexual students that I spoke with. They pretty much lined up with, I guess, their heterosexual peers in very, very similar ways. And so, they complained about pressures to hook up. Some of, I guess, the distinctions that I heard were, with some of the young lesbian women I talked with, they talked about how they had aspirations, for example, to wait until they were in love to first have sex. So they held a very common aspiration that many students held.
However, they talked about how, to prove your credibility as a lesbian, you had to have multiple sexual partners. Because there are so many people experimenting with lesbianism on college campuses, they would talk about that, if you just hook up with one person, nobody really believes that you're a lesbian. So they talked about how they weren't allowed to wait. Like, in order to really become part of the lesbian community on campus or to prove their worth, they felt like they had to really prove that they were lesbians. And so that was a common discussion that came up.
And just in general, there was a lot of anxiety among some of the gay students I talked to who hadn't had a sexual encounter for some of the same reasons. Are you really gay if you haven't had sex with someone? Or, I heard a lot of gay guys are slutty. You have to be slutty if you're gay. That kind of thing-- so very similar responses.
But with romance, their responses with romance-- the one thing that was very distinguishing was public displays of affection was the romantic ideal. And so, it wasn't just talking. It was talking and holding hands and kissing in public, because that meant you could be proud of being with this person. Somebody new? Somebody new? So right there. In the-- yeah.
SPEAKER 8: Most of the Eastern campus has a Catholic church, while most of the campus in the West don't. Do you think [INAUDIBLE]?
DONNA FREITAS: It's hard to hear [INAUDIBLE]. I'm sorry.
SPEAKER 8: Most Eastern campus have a church.
SPEAKER 9: Eastern United States? Eastern United States?
SPEAKER 8: Yeah, in the old campus.
SPEAKER 10: There are churches on campus in the Eastern US.
DONNA FREITAS: Oh--
SPEAKER 10: [INAUDIBLE] in the West, there's lots of campuses that don't have a church.
DONNA FREITAS: I would say that most campuses period have places of worship, regardless of religious affiliation. So most schools, including public universities, will have worship available to students on campus in some form or another. If you are at a religiously-affiliated campus, often the place of worship is very prominent on the campus. But I would say, certainly, almost all colleges try to cater to multiple traditions and worship traditions and provide space for that. In the back.
SPEAKER 11: Can we assume these children bring this behavior from high-school?
DONNA FREITAS: Oh, that's a great question. I was actually just talking about this today. I think that--
SPEAKER 12: --question?
DONNA FREITAS: Oh, I'm sorry. She asked about-- can we assume that this behavior is starting in high school or coming from high school? Yes and no. So certainly, yes, this exists in high school. And we all know that in high school, even if there are parents at home or parents with rules-- I mean, I grew up with crazy rules, as you can imagine, since I have a book out called Sex and the Soul my dad doesn't know about.
So anyway, some people have rules. And there's always ways around the rules. We all know that, et cetera. However, one of the things that seems distinct about what happens when you go to college is the fact that students don't quite know what they're getting into with hookup culture. That's one of the things that I heard a lot about. They're a bit blindsided by it and how pervasive it is on some campuses, especially small colleges.
Believe it or not, small colleges are much more difficult for students to navigate than bigger colleges. A lot of students talked about how-- sorry-- if you didn't want to participate in hookup culture, you had more possible other groups that you could blend in with. But at a small campus, you were dead. Like, that was it. Like, it was hookup culture or you were the kid with dreads running the radio show.
Well, sorry to be stereotypical. But it was kind of true. So anyway, one of things that happens is, especially first-year students who-- imagine. You're going off to college. If they leave home-- so many students leave home. So you leave parents altogether. And then, not only is your first Friday night at college-- you're going out to your first college party. But that party is a Maids and Millionaires party. And this is what people do.
And so, becoming a part of the social culture, especially at small colleges, can often mean deciding, am I going to do this? Or am I not? And more often, the decision is-- students don't even think about it. They just go. And so one of the things I found was that first-year students and sophomores just got swept up in the hookup culture before they even knew it. And then it wasn't until they were juniors before they were sitting down and thinking, whoa. What's going on here?
So I would say it's much more extreme and unmonitored. And one of the biggest issues-- because everybody keeps asking me, well, what do you do about hookup culture on campus if students are unhappy with it? And obviously, I start out all my classes now, regardless of whether or not they have to do with sex, by telling the students, like, by the way, just so you know, I did a study. And you all think you're supposed to want to hook up with each other. But really, probably, almost all of you want to date each other. So go ask each other out.
So I tell them all this. And then, they're like, really? We have a conversation. But we also talk about theme parties. I talk about that with all my classes. But in many ways, it's as easy as what happened in the dating class I taught. One student says, I don't like hookup culture. Then, they all realize they agree and they don't want to be part of it. And then they're like, OK, let's give up hookup culture! Let's tell the whole campus. Let's change the campus. We'll defy hookup culture.
But the problem comes when the administration-- one part of dealing with hookup culture, addressing it-- even if students are not happy with it or they want something different-- is that, when you address it, you acknowledge that it's there. And if you're on a Catholic campus, for example, you don't want people to think hookup culture is on your campus.
And so, one of the biggest obstacles to addressing these issues on campus, I think, is just simply fear of scandal and fear of saying, yes, we have this happening on our campus. But we're dealing with it. Because if you say yes, then people get all nervous. People are afraid of sex and talking about it. Down here.
SPEAKER 13: What happened at SMC after you came out with "Dateline" and [INAUDIBLE] that you talk about it?
DONNA FREITAS: Um--
SPEAKER 13: Was it positive?
DONNA FREITAS: It was overwhelmingly positive among the students and among the faculty. People were really excited that students were so motivated to take it upon themselves to do this. They admired their courage. One of the things that was really interesting was my students became, sort of, celebrities on campus. And almost all the students in the class were juniors and seniors. And so one of the things we talked a lot about after the paper had come out-- I mean, they literally were like, extra, extra on campus passing it out.
They were stationed in the cafeteria. They went door-to-door. They went door-to-door to the faculty and to the residence halls. They tried to get the president to take a copy, but he wouldn't. So they wanted to leave them in downtown Burlington. And I was like, no! That's another "please don't fire Professor Freitas move."
But one of the things that was happening was, because so many seniors had written for it and were critiquing hookup culture, all of these first-year students were really empowered by the fact that seniors were giving them permission to say no to hookup culture. And so, there were students walking up to the people in my class and saying-- you know, who they didn't know, but they knew who they were because they'd written this article-- there's a picture of all the students on the back-- and saying, I'm not going to hook up this weekend because I read your article.
And they talked about how, over and over, that was happening to them over the course of the week that it came out. So it was very positive. And then it led to this project where these students-- I'm still in touch with all of them. So they all have copies of the book. And it's dedicated to them actually.
SPEAKER 14: Do you have any data on hookup culture and Greek life and the relationship between the two?
DONNA FREITAS: I didn't specifically look at Greek life. I feel like Greek life is sort of ubiquitous-- well, here's what I would say, is that the stereotypical stuff with Greek life that you hear about, that you see in the movies, et cetera or-- I don't know. What is that show that's out? Is it called Greek now? I don't watch it. But anyway, I see the commercials. And it makes me roll my eyes.
But I would say that what people used to sort of put in the corner as, oh, that's just the fraternity culture and sorority culture, has just completely permeated social life, period. And so whereas, maybe, once upon a time, it was just frat parties who were having Pimps and Hoes parties-- I don't know-- now, it's everybody. So now, it's like, frat-boy culture has been exported to everybody. Yay!
So I'm not sure that just looking at Greeks is significant. Because it just seems like that kind of behavior that we associate with Greeks is just-- it's all over the place. So if you go to college, you'll probably encounter it. Unless you go to an Evangelical college, where you won't. In the corner--
SPEAKER 15: How much does media affect this hookup culture [INAUDIBLE]?
DONNA FREITAS: That's another great question. Of course, media has a huge effect on people's perceptions of sexuality, people's perceptions of women. I would say, theme-party culture is huge-- I mean, you know, there's celebrity-- we all see what's happening in [INAUDIBLE] weekly. There's all sorts of images of women that are promoted-- movies, et cetera.
I am not-- I know this is going to be unpopular with some of the younger folks in the audience. But I think that the Judd Apatow movies are the bane of women's existence. That's like, Knocked Up and Superbad. And somehow, I don't know, I know now I'm expected to go and sit through a movie and laugh the whole time at what I encounter as extremely vulgar comments about women. But yet, all of my students feel like it's just they're supposed to be able to tolerate all of that.
So I think that, again, that's the exportation of frat-boy thinking. I'm being very stereotypical, by the way, about frat boys. But it's a term. So it's like the exportation of frat-boy culture everywhere. And then, somehow, we're all supposed to enjoy it. But one of the things in particular is-- so theme-party culture is coming directly from the pornography industry. It's like the pornography industry has just been exported onto the campus near you.
And those archetypes-- pimps and hoes, maids, millionaires-- those are porn archetypes. And if you think about-- I don't know how many of you know about pop stars. But Christina Aguilera, for example, and Britney as well, some of their-- what do you call them?-- their packagers-- so, so many pop stars today have packaging, like, people who package them as, like, a brand.
And they hired people from the porn industry to "make" Christina Aguilera and "make" Britney Spears. And so what you have is you have this blurring of the line between what was once a very marginalized-- you know, porn used to be very marginalized. Of course, now it's all over the internet. And now, it's just permeated all over the place. And it's really, really, in particular, affecting-- I think-- young women on campus. So I think that also is part of it. So yeah?
SPEAKER 16: To what degree do you think that the quality of sex education [INAUDIBLE]. What is the effect that you think this has on the phenomenon that you've been discussing tonight?
DONNA FREITAS: Well, I think-- let's see. One of the things I think is very clear is that-- this is going to sound really conservative of me. I'm actually a liberal feminist. So I think comprehensive sex education-- and in general, students, they know everything about the mechanics of sex. And they also know about preventing disease, even if they don't practice it. So they know it, backwards and forwards. That's not an issue.
But remember that whole thing about communication? So what they don't have is communication skills. And this is where the romance comes in. They have no idea how to-- I had a student last semester who told me, it would be much easier to have sex with someone than to ask them out. So communication is really challenging. And so, it's great if you know a lot about sex education and preventing disease. But all of that knowledge really doesn't matter if you can't communicate it.
And they talk about how, oh, it's too intimate to talk about that stuff with the person I'm hooking up with. So I think that there's really a breakdown there. And it's almost like-- and this is where I'm going to sound conservative and anti-feminist-- but you need, like, relationship education. You almost need to practice how to say these things or when they should come up in conversation. Because that is really absent.
So I think I'm just going to take one more question, if that's OK. So-- oh, maybe two. I don't know. But there is-- I don't know if you in blue, do you still have a question?
SPEAKER 17: Yeah.
DONNA FREITAS: OK.
SPEAKER 17: I was just wondering about the general opinions of women concerning the parties, like the theme parties. Because I feel like a lot of times, it's so much the norm now that they don't really think about how demeaning it is.
DONNA FREITAS: You are right. And that is why we discuss them in all of my classes. So I learned about theme parties in an interesting way. I learned about theme parties five years ago or so. And of course, a gender studies course I was teaching-- it was Women and Religion. And one of the things that we did right at the beginning of the semester was we put up typical societal dichotomies.
And I just put a line across the chalkboard. And it's in a religion class. So we'd do God, humanity-- we'd put all the power positions on top of the line and all the disempowered positions on the bottom of the line. So we'd do God-humanity, man-woman, rational-emotional, heaven-ear-- I don't know, whatever-- public-private, that kind of thing. So we'd do all these different typical dichotomies.
And in one discussion that semester-- so I had drilled this into my students head all semester. And we kept putting up all these categories. And one day, we were discussing this issue of images of the divine. And we were talking about how, almost across-the-board, in Western traditions in particular, people image the divine as male, to the point where they forbid imaging the divine as female, if you're going to personify God.
So we were talking about, how does that impact women's self image? And we were talking about this idea. If God is always imaged as male, then men become gods in society. And that's where you have men in all the power positions in society. And I had a student. And she raised her hand. And she said, oh, you mean like at the parties on campus. Men make themselves into gods.
And I said, what do you mean? And she said, you know, the theme parties. And I said, what theme parties? And she said, you know, Pimps and Hoes, CEOs and Office Hoes. And I said, what?! And this was before I realized they dressed up. So then that was my introduction to theme parties.
And I was so startled when this student made this connection of, oh, men are making themselves into gods in our party culture basically, like, they're taking all the dominant positions. They're on the top of the line. And we're still on the bottom. And then what we did in that class and now I do in all my classes, we make a diagram with all those societal dichotomies. And then I add all of the theme parties.
And the students laugh and they laugh. And then we talk about it. And I talk about how, isn't it interesting the way you are a marketing major and you want to be CEO someday but, when you go to this party, you dress up as an office ho. So why are you doing that? Why aren't you dressing up as a CEO? Or why are you dressing up as a maid? Think of all the class implications of that.
And most of the women in my class who go to them talk about how they really want to have opportunities to dress in a sexy revealing sort of way, that theme-party culture is their only opportunity to dress like that, they feel, without repercussions, without getting called a slut. And then, when I say, well, but aren't you being called a whore when you go to the party? They say, well, but it's only for the night.
And so, we spend a lot of-- one of the things I'd talk about was, if you're conforming to this paradigm and you really-- it's fine, regardless. This is apart from how you dress. I'm not making a decision about how short your skirt is or how low your blouse is. If the issue is you want opportunities to dress like this, then don't you realize that you're hindering your ability to do this by conforming to "when the guys throw a party, then I'll be able to dress like this then, but if I dress like this to class, my reputation is ruined." I said, so you're actually hindering your ability to dress however you want whenever you want.
So yes, I think most people don't reflect on it. And most professors don't seem to know that this culture exists on campus. And I would hope that in business schools, which are often more than 50% women enrolled, we would be having discussions about these kinds of parties. And there are so many different relevant classes in which you could be talking about these paradigms these students are subscribing to in the party culture.
So this is going to be the last question. So I know you all have been so wonderful. And I'm sure you want all to go home. But right here in the front.
SPEAKER 18: Why is it that, after having a hookup night, it doesn't work out? Like, is it because there's no trust involved after that activity or-- I mean, I know it's [INAUDIBLE].
DONNA FREITAS: Well, I think that's the question that a lot of the students I interviewed were asking. And one of the things that I found was, especially with women, the vast majority of women were going into hookups hoping for something more, so hoping for it to turn into a relationship, a committed relationship, and feeling like they had no other option to get into a relationship other than through a hookup.
But then you have men who, even if they want a relationship, are pressured to hook up and not get into one, because that hurts your credibility. So you have this really unfortunate scenario, even if both people want relationships. If a guy capitulates to a woman that he hooks up with and gets into a relationship, then his friends think that's lame. And then he's giving in to what the woman wants. And you know, women are apparently submissive on campus, given these paradigms.
And so that means the woman gets what she wants. But then, women feel like they can't even find a relationship if they don't somehow capitulate to hookup culture, because everybody is hooking up and no one's dating. So it's really this chicken-and-egg sort of situation. But behind closed doors, everybody talks about-- except for Tom Beecher-- talk about how what they really want is a relationship. Though, I suppose he did as well a little bit. But thank you so much for coming out tonight.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Today's college students often find that their religious upbringing has not given them the resources to navigate an often destructive social environment. How do these young people reconcile their spiritual longings with the sexual freedom on campus?
Donna Freitas, assistant professor of religion at Boston University, explores this question from a research perspective. Sponsored by the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.