Hooking Up: Learning From the College Front

Image of happy girl looking at her glass while young man pouring cocktail into it with friends near byI was recently part of a Pastor’s luncheon to discuss the Hookup Culture in the church and I’d like to  summarize my comments about college campuses potentially being a model to help churches understand how to address this issue.

If this is an issue for some of the people attending churches then it is certainly a widespread cultural challenge on college campuses.  Can we learn from how college parachurch ministries/Christian colleges are addressing this issue?  I believe that It is important to look at approaches in this area because graduating Christian college students will be the single young adults soon bringing their broken relational experiences to the church and to the counseling office.

What are similarities between college ministries/colleges and the local church in terms of approaches to hookup culture?  There are often groups of single young adults in a similar stage of life who are exploring their independence.  There is some formal or informal expectation of a “code of conduct” that may or may not be taken seriously.  Many young people show up to college or their local church primed by past experiences and intake of porn, alcohol, and drugs.  There is also a delicate sense of co-dependence: students want an education and the “college experience” and educational institutions have a responsibility to educate students but also need to maintain the stream of tuition to keep in business.  Similarly, young people want a church home and churches bear a responsibility to nurture believers but also want to maintain some level of commitment of attendance and contributions.  There can be a conflict of interest if educational institutions and churches lose their bearings and are tempted out of self-interest not to be “too imposing” or “old-fashioned.”

What are some differences between college ministries/colleges and the local church in terms of hookup culture?   College students have worked hard to be admitted so they are not likely to transfer to a different school; however, commitment to a local congregation may be much more fluid.  There may be more and more young people who balk at the traditional idea of church “membership” and whose commitment may be much more tenuous.  Depending on the demographics of the church, there may be an inter-generational mix of believers with a larger pool of more mature/integrated believers.  Whether these more mature believers can be a positive influence and guide for struggling young adults or whether they are able to connect to the younger generation remains to be seen.  This mix may also likely influence how much hookup culture is addressed in the church and whether it remains an underground taboo as opposed to a much more open and in your face issue on college campuses.

From a sampling of some articles (see the reference list below) on approaches to hookup culture, I’d like to summarize a few points that stand out.  One approach is to expand the conversation to educate students to think about sex on a much broader level to help students see that it really isn’t just an unemotional detached encounter.  Young graduates can easily see how a history of quick hookups leaves a trail of long lasting emotional scars.   At the least, the secular college can aim for the politically correct “consent” agreement between parties but then tend to take a hands-off anything-goes approach after that.  Obviously Christian schools can offer a much deeper view and help singles learn to have healthy, deeper relationships counter to the hookup culture and offer a picture of the secure, real relationships that most young people long to have.  Some schools are intensifying and integrating their approaches to address the co-occurring facilitating contribution of alcohol and drugs which characteristically reduce inhibition and dull the awareness of consequences of a hookup.  At some schools there is a definite institutional expectation that is shared by the faculty, staff, and student leaders who are all expected to model sexual integrity and to create a safe social environment. Students sign an honor code and on some campuses, there have been alcohol-free, single sex dorms with visitation hours.  Some college students clearly feel the hurt of their experiences and may need to redefine what it means to be celibate in terms of resetting their standard until they do get married.  Some schools are actively facilitating healthy alternatives to single people who will need to look for alternative ways to deal with their sexual urges.  Some researchers are advocating a kind of hookup “harm reduction” approach much like that used in alcohol and drug treatment, to teach young adults to slow down and to encourage them to take a break from the hook up culture to allow time to reflect on their decisions.

Colleges can definitely be a model for the local church and Christian college ministries and chaplains have their hands full ministering at ground zero.  Understanding someone’s experiences with the hookup culture in college can be a guide that allows young adults to heal from any hurtful experiences.  For more information consider some of the following resources:

Christian Colleges vs Hookup Culture Kimberly Thornbury, Christianity Today, Hermeneutics, December 2014.  (Sampling of different approaches by colleges to the hookup culture)

Hookup Culture is Good for Women and Other Feminist Myths Amy Julia Becker, Christianity Today, Hermeneutics, September 2012.  (A Christian critique on a feminist perspective on hookup culture.)

Loving Jesus and Hooking Up Mary Demuth, Mary Demuth Blog.  3/19/15.  (Blogger calls for sexual purity in the Christian church)

Sex on Campus  The Christian Century, 1/12/12.  (A survey of college chaplains on their approach to hookup culture on their campuses)

True Love and the Hookup Culture  Christian Standard. T.R. Robertson.  2/9/15.  (Summary of some of the research findings from Catholic sociology and religious studies scholar about student attitudes to the hookup culture.)

When ‘Do Unto Others’ Meets Hookup Culture The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, 9/10/14. (A non-Christian critique of the Christian views on sex and includes a thoughtful theoretical letter from a pastor to the incoming freshman class.)

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