Faith with Benefits: Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses

Jason King
Published by Oxford University in 2017

College Hookup Culture and Christian Ethics: The Lives and Longings of Emerging Adults

Jennifer Beste
Published by Oxford University Press; in 2017

In the context of the Moral and Faith Development graduate course I teach every fall, I am always surprised by my graduate students’ reactions to the topic of sex. I always end the course by requiring students to read a book about the sexual behaviors of college students. Before discussing the book, I ask students if they received sex education from their parents, schools, or church (including youth group). What continually surprises me is the lack of sex education in general, particularly in a church context. In fact, in my informal surveys, the church always finishes last. This fall, only two of fifteen said they had discussed this topic in a church context.

Still, the church, or at least evangelical churches and their colleges, must be doing something right. For six years, I asked students to read Donna Freitas’s Sex and Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College.[1] Her study provides an insightful look into the various sexual cultures on different types of college campuses. Freitas claims that two basic types of sexual cultures exist: (1) free-for-all cultures which she found on secular and Catholic college campuses, and (2) abstinence-only cultures prominent on evangelical institutions’ campuses. While she finds various faults with evangelical campus cultures, she remains impressed by the counter-culture they create that integrates sexuality and spirituality.

I have wondered which Catholic colleges Freitas visited, since I know from my own research that the University of Dallas and the University of St. Thomas are much different than Jesuit institutions.[2] I told my class that the sexual practices of students at Catholic universities likely varied more than Freitas acknowledged, with some institutions being closer to the practices of evangelical institutions.

Faith with Benefits

Fortunately, Jason King has now written a book that helps us understand the various nuances among sexual cultures within Catholic institutions. To do this, he asked a large sample of Catholic students to evaluate whether their institution was “very Catholic,” “mostly Catholic,” “somewhat Catholic,” or “not very Catholic.” Since only one percent of his respondents chose the last description, King determined that there really are three Catholic campus cultures. King then engaged in a second round of mixed methods research at two schools in each of the first three categories. Interestingly, King decided to let his student participants define “hooking up” for themselves. He found, “Hooking up—whatever it entailed—was defined by the absence of commitment” (1). Later in the book, King reports that students largely agreed that hooking up also involves sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse.

In general, King found that, in contrast to previous studies, fewer Catholic students had hooked up in the previous year (47%) than other studies have found of students in general (anywhere from 64 to 86% of students) (5-6). Moreover, King furthers Freitas’s initial exploration by contending there are actually four types of hook-up cultures among the three Catholic college cultures. First, he found the stereotypical Random Hook-Up Culture, in which students engage in sexual acts with strangers or acquaintances they meet at a party. Interestingly, King found only four of the 145 students he interviewed spoke positively about this kind of hook-up culture. They lament that often “people are used as objects instead of loved as another human being” (7). Oddly, even though this first hook-up culture dominates the cultural scripts overhanging college life, students are not happy about it.

The second group of students, those involved in Relationship Hook-Up Culture, usually hook up with friends and hope that a relationship emerges from it. King helpfully points out that this in fact is the dominant type of hook-up culture, with 65% of women and 45% of men hoping the hook-up results in a relationship. Yet, although it is the statistical norm, college students do not perceive it as the norm as much as the first type.

The third type of hook-up culture is the Anti-Hook-up Culture. These individuals elevate sexual abstinence until marriage as their ideal, tolerating their marginalized status, due to what they perceive as the costs of hooking up. In most surveys, a sizable minority of all college students fit this category (30%) but King found that this was the majority on Catholic campuses (51%). Unlike Freitas’s findings, the Catholic culture clearly plays some role in this difference.

Finally, the fourth type is the Coercive Hook-up Culture, which is the culture of sexual assault that has garnered many headlines lately, including those at my own university. Interestingly, students in King’s study seemed oblivious to this culture, or, perhaps, at least unwilling to talk about it.

King maintains that these cultures consist of four parts: 1) guiding frames and scripts; 2) thinking and behavior of students these scripts foster; 3) the socialization process into these frames and scripts; and 4) the institutions that support them. These sexual cultures then mix with the three different types of Catholic campus cultures mentioned previously—the very Catholic, mostly Catholic, and somewhat Catholic campuses—to produce their unique sexual culture.

Very Catholic Campuses

Leaders at the very Catholic campuses significantly supported institutional structures that nourished the institution’s Catholic identity. The core curriculum usually had three required theology courses, daily mass was always available, and residence hall directors (or priests) enforced visitation rules and were committed to the Catholic faith. These institutions had a higher percentage of Catholic students (81%), students had Catholic friendship networks, and the students experienced significantly more discussions about Catholicism in and out of class (especially through strong Catholic student groups).

On these campuses, the hook-up culture is primarily found among those who are not there for the Catholic mission, mostly athletes. In contrast to state colleges and universities where 70% hook up and 30% do not, King found the exact opposite at very Catholic campuses (74% do not and 26% do). What marks an important difference is that these students think theologically about sex. For example, Mia gave the following explanation for why she did not hook up: “I think, personally, people hook up out of the sense of not being fulfilled and are looking for love. They think they can find this feeling only this way, but I think that the only way you can feel true love is by turning to God” (35). Often in an Augustinian way, these students articulated that humans are made for God’s love and that we would not be satisfied until we find it. Additionally, students who participated in hook-up culture often articulated a conversion story about how they had been able to overcome their guilt from participation in it through Christ’s help. These two theological forms of reasoning proved unique to these cultures.

Another important key to the counter-hook-up culture involved elements of student life, such as the structure of the residence halls. In these colleges, they were all single sex, and the visiting hours were usually limited to the day. Rooms had to have doors open, and enforcement of policies from the residence hall director was involved. Although King does not highlight this point, these schools also appear to host events fostering theological dialogue with students. For instance, one school sponsors a “theology on tap” event at which a topic is set forth and students ask any type of question (including about sex). In addition, the anti-hook-up educational leaders as well as the students at very Catholic institutions emphasize a variety of alternative relational scripts that emphasize friendship, dating, and even courtship. They talk seriously about the human longing for meaningful sex. King cites one study that notes that 90% of students who hook up indicate that they are searching for something meaningful from these experiences. Yet, as King points out, other studies show that sex becomes more meaningful when a couple has known each other longer. The most meaningless and regret-filled sex is one-time sex with someone one has known less than 24 hours. Humans were not designed for quick hook-ups. Overall, through required classes and the availability of mass, prayer, student programming and other administrative actions, these campuses clearly supported a script grounded in the Catholic theological narrative.

Mostly Catholic Campuses

Interestingly, students hook up the most on mostly Catholic campuses (55%, with 60% of those hook-ups involving sexual intercourse). The Catholicism of these campuses was not characterized by theological beliefs, practices, rules, or what I would call hard virtues (sacrificial love, forgiveness, humility, and so on). Instead, it was associated with soft virtues, particularly being nice and non-judgmental. King found that students on these campuses “indicated that residence hall policies regarding visitation were enforced less than alcohol or drug policies” (95). Here, students used the “hook-up to get a relationship script.” The key problem King saw with these types of cultures is the “don’t judge” emphasis means students are not encouraged or taught how to critique this hook-up culture. Oddly, while these mostly Catholic campuses likely emphasize critical thinking in their curriculum, they fail to teach students this same skill with regard to their co-curricular sexual practices.

As opposed to Freitas’s awkwardly brief proposals for change, King’s proposals for this type of campus prove refreshingly realistic. For instance, he observes that what these students needed was relationship education, since many lacked the necessary knowledge and skills in this area. King then suggests these campuses could benefit from holding healthy relationship seminars to help students become aware of different relationship scripts upon which they could build their actions.

Somewhat Catholic Campuses

At somewhat Catholic campuses, less than half of students hooked up (45%), yet most perceived hook-ups as a pervasive activity. They had an “it’s just what college students do” mindset (122). Those who did not hook up did not view sex through a theological frame, and instead viewed hooking up as a symptom of the desire for close relationships with people. Indeed, one Catholic student noted the Catholic culture was “ignorable. It’s not all that encompassing” (128). One committed Catholic complained that his campus was 45% Catholic, but was Catholic “in name only” (128). King explains that many of these somewhat Catholic campuses downplayed their Catholic identity in order to receive increased federal aid and attract more students. Consequently, the somewhat Catholic institutions enrolled fewer Catholic students (67%), students had fewer Catholic social networks, and they engaged in hardly any discussions about Catholicism in class. Discourse about sex was completely secular, and few students dated.

King believed that encouraging other scripts at these campuses involved supporting the groups that establish counter-cultural scripts, including support for student groups and programming in residence halls. Some creative response came from two classroom assignments. The first was given by a business professor to encourage critical thinking about corporate culture. To help students think critically about group culture, this professor asked students to abstain from drinking at a party and make observations using the ethical tools provided in class. As a result, students started making important critical, ethical evaluations. The second professor asked students to go on an old-fashioned date, without any physical contact. She also provided them with questions to help their conversation and then, afterwards, students wrote about the experience. Overall, one provided students with the tools for analyzing hook-up culture and the other provided students with practice engaging in an alternative script.

Does Faith Make a Difference?

King concludes with four observations. First, on every campus, the hook-up script remained dominant. Students developed alternative scripts on two types of campuses: the “made-to-love” script (very Catholic campuses); and the “hooking-up-for-a-relationship” (mostly Catholic campuses). Second, students led the charge in creating and forming cultures around these scripts, but they do not realize their own power. Interestingly, King gives limited attention to how Student Life staff or other adults in general might help students direct and shape their passions. In fact, he only refers to the influence of “institutional structures.” The idea that adults on- and even off-campus (in the churches) might mentor students seemed outside of King’s scope. He mentions church teaching, but never mentions the idea of bringing adults from the church on campus to mentor students.

Oddly, King, a theology professor, does not emphasize the need for the two less Catholic campuses to find creative ways to help students think theologically about sex and marriage—one of the key elements to reining in hook-up culture on very Catholic campuses. After all, one of the benefits of faith that King does not discuss is Christianity’s help in our understanding of God’s faithfulness to us in the midst of our idolatrous wanderings. As God’s image-bearers, we are most fully human when we demonstrate self-control and faithfulness in our relationships both with God and with other people, including our sexual relationships. That a Catholic campus might help students learn this sacred script did not appear to be something King thought was realistic. He seemed to have little hope that creatively direct forms of biblical or church teaching could change students’ minds and hearts.

College Hookup Culture and Christian Ethics

Jennifer Beste’s College Hookup Culture and Christian Ethics: The Lives and Longings of Emerging Adults provides a wonderful compliment to King’s analysis. While King nuances how we think about hook-up culture on many different types of Catholic campuses, Beste provides us with deep insight from student ethnographies on two Catholic campuses where she taught. More than King, Beste emphasizes the positive role that theology can play. She correctly notes that her book is the first that combines engagement with theological perspectives with student ethnographies. A final difference is Beste’s clear definition of hook-ups as “sexual activity devoid of commitment and emotional investment” (1).

Part 1: Through Their Own Eyes

The first section of Beste’s three-part book uses undergraduate ethnologies to gain a first-hand look at students’ observations about hook-up culture. Whereas King identified the dominant scripts, Beste’s illuminating student ethnographies allow us to experience these scripts from first-hand observation of the hook-up party scene, which I should note is not always where one finds the relational hook-ups that King describes happening.

The journey through this culture begins in chapter 1 with students’ appraisals of provocative and depressive hook-up rituals. Before the party, both men and women drink to excess, but the similarities for most of the night seemed to stop there. Men spend 10 to 20 minutes getting ready, while women spend hours getting ready, asking other women which clothes make them look sexiest or sluttiest (these two words are used interchangeably). At these parties, alcohol takes effect and completely changes people. Shy and introverted people became “loud” and “horny” (39). Not surprisingly, most men became expectant sexual predators, while men who did not pursue sex were labeled “pussies.” Women who abstained from hooking up were “prudes” or a “freezer” (42). Often men schemed to go home with the drunkest girl, resulting in borderline, or outright sexually assaultive, behavior.

Chapter 2 explores students’ motivations for their actions. According to her students’ ethnologies, Beste finds two clear reasons for this behavior. First, similar to King, Beste finds that students act this way because they assume this is the script by which they are supposed to live. Men are supposed to try to out-compete one another to get sexual favors from women. Of course, in the process they lack regard for the women’s overall well-being. One student tells the story of a male who got a girl drunk, took her back to his place, but because she started vomiting (which occupied most of the night), he went to bed and left her alone to vomit the night away. Girls are expected to be skinny, sexy, and submissive. One student described a group of guys actually pulling one male away from a conversation with heavier girls, since it did not look good on them.

Second, something King did not emphasize enough, Beste explains that students act this way due to excessive alcohol consumption (57). Most of her student ethnographers noted how it was socially awkward to be sober and, therefore, out of their guiding script. The alcohol allowed students to escape a sense of responsibility for their actions, while the dominance of the hook-up script means that the opposite behaviors are socially counter-cultural and risky: “Opting to remain sober at a party, choosing ‘non-slutty’ clothes as a female, expressing zero-interest in casual sex, and trying to initiate honest, deep conversations at parties are all socially-deviant decisions” (68). In other words, living on the edge involves defying the hook-up culture’s norms.

Chapter 3 reports the results of Beste’s request that her students explore the power dynamics at these parties. The reported power structure should be of little surprise, which Beste summarized in this order: 1) athletes; 2) white males; 3) white females; 4) black males; 5) black females; 6) LGBTQ persons; and 7) other minorities. Students explained that both the men and women at the top of these social structures have different kinds of power. Beautiful women get into parties for free, have alcohol brought to them for free, and enjoy extensive attention. Not surprisingly, the majority saw men as having the upper hand. As one student straight-forwardly explained, “Crassly put, a woman’s power is largely reduced to tempting men with the potential for sex and who will use her vagina and who will not” (91). All these observations lead Beste to conclude that a decline in equality between men and women in intimate relationships has occurred. As one female student reflected, “when boys in high school would stop me in the hallway and asked if I wanted to go to see a movie and grab some dinner on the weekend, they seem to have more nerve than college boys. Once college started, boys quit wanting to date altogether” (119). In college, men clearly have the upper hand in negotiating for sex, so why date when one can hook up?

Despite what would appear to be a male-fantasy situation, chapter 4 presents ethnographic research from students that Beste argues demonstrates that both women and men, and not just women, are unhappy with this culture. She finds all students have three regrets. First, they regret using others or being used by others. Second, they report still feeling a loneliness or void in their lives after the hook-up. In particular, women often hoped the hook-up would lead to a relationship. This leads to a third regret: hooking up becomes a habit that is hard to break. Like a drug, it provides a short-term high followed by a big emotional crash. How would students change things? Interestingly, her list of changes that students suggest struck me as similar to how the Christian community desires for relationships to develop. She explains:

They would: (1) change how females are expected to dress and act at parties; (2) change how males and females relate to one another; (3) be accepted for who they really are and be part of a college community that genuinely embraces diversity and inclusivity; (4) be freed from the norm of needing to drink to have a good time; and (5) be freed from the hookup norm and witness a return to dating in committed relationships as the social norm. (113)

Beste’s students’ ethnographies reveal that deep down, students really desire relationships characterized by modesty, authenticity, acceptance, security, and freedom—virtues that one would hope characterize Christian community.

Becoming Fully Human

The second part of Beste’s book begins with chapter 5 that explores undergraduates’ reflections on what it means to be more fully human. To explore what the “more” might involve, Beste asked her students to read Johann Metz’s Poverty of Spirit.[3] Students found Metz’s suggestion that our identity must be grounded in our relationship with God and then with others attractive. The attraction stems from their struggle to establish their worth through accomplishments or peer acceptance. In fact, students self-reported that 86% of their worth comes from those two sources. Not one student said the majority of his or her worth came from a sense of inherent worth or dignity. Students also find their identity in material possessions. “Poverty” is a fearful word, one to avoid: one student shared that they “are taught that we are worth nothing without achievement, success, power, money” (138). The party scene amplifies this outlook. One student claimed, “The party scene is all about selfishness. People are taking pictures probably just so they can put them on Facebook, or wherever, and show everyone how much fun they are having” (137). These students appeared primed to learn about an ultimate, unchanging source of value.

Beste discovers, however, that even though most of her students were Christian, Christianity has not had near as much influence on their sources of worth as peers, school, family, and popular culture. Amazingly, she writes:

Not a single student who grew up in a Christian community expressed (even when encouraged to consider the issue explicitly) that his or her community criticized the status quo mentality of grounding self-worth in achievements, materialism, or social status. Not one student reported his or her religious community offering effective countercultural space in which to form a primary identity based on the notion that one is made in the image of God and is in relationship with God. (144)

Perhaps it is no wonder that students turn their living places into “animal houses.” They do not know who they are. Beste suggests that students have imbibed the American gospel of self-sufficiency and market capitalism. In this story, hook-ups are the most rational way to approach relationships, since anything deeper requires one’s time, energy, and productivity.

In chapters 6 and 7, Beste discusses what it might take for students to break from their false selves and learn how to love their true selves authentically. Once again drawing upon Metz, she maintains that the first step is to help students learn to embrace “the limitations and vulnerabilities of our human condition” (155). Our model is Christ, who most fully experienced the poverty of human existence “in the dark robes of frailty and weakness” (157). Beste then shows how students struggle to accept the frailest and weakest part of themselves. Instead, alcohol helps students at parties to overcome their weakness and frailty. Yet students find in Metz’s outlook a way forward without this crutch, a freedom from being slaves to their anxiety and the false medicine that alcohol provides. Chapter 7 explains what Metz describes as “fully human love exemplified by Christ” involves. In short, this entails three steps: (1) “letting go of one’s false, ego-driven self; (2) becoming vulnerable and authentic in our relationships; and (3) pursuing justice and solidarity for and among our neighbors both near and far” (186).

Sexual Justice: A Call to Action

Part III examines what sexual justice might look like on a college campus in light of these three points. Chapter 8 lays out Beste’s source for a Christian sexual ethic that might restrain one’s false, ego-driven self. Unfortunately, instead of setting forth her own contribution informed by what she has discovered in the first two parts of the book, she draws on Catholic ethicist Margaret Farley’s work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.[4] The Vatican described this work as having “grave problems,”[5] and I can easily see why. From this point forward, references to God, Jesus, the Bible, and even marriage largely disappear. In fact, it is hard to see where the Christian is in Farley’s ethics if one relies on Beste’s description. At most, Farley’s ethical worldview, and apparently Beste’s as well, appears to be a mixture of Kantian and secular feminist ethics.

According to Beste, Farley’s ethics rest on the two pillars of human autonomy and sociability. Humans have freedom to make choices, but they are also deeply social beings. This creates a connected relationship that Farley describes thus: “We cannot grow in freedom except in some nurturing relationships; and freedom ultimately is for the sake of relationships—the loves, the relationships we finally chose to identify with our deepest selves” (216). To find the right balance, Farley sets forth seven principles for just sexual relationships. Most of them are generally agreed upon in the Western world such as number two: “free consent to sexual activity is essential in order to relate to others as ends in themselves and respect their capacity for self-determination.” Others, however, are much more debatable, such as number four: “equality of power is an essential condition to avoid harm and make possible free consent in mutuality.” Whereas the Bible speaks about the need of those in the relational positions of power to show agape love and submission (Ephesians 5), it seems that Farley’s ethic requires equality of power (so only athletes can date athletes?). Again, it is striking that God, faithfulness, love, and marriage are nowhere to be found in these principles.

Beste then asks her students to wrestle with ways Farley’s ethic shapes their view of the hook-up culture. The beauty of this approach is that it forces students to bring a moral framework to their own and their peers’ sexual practices. As a result, it fosters critical moral thinking about sexual practice that one usually fails to find among young emerging adults.[6] Certainly, this exercise was missing from King’s mostly and somewhat Catholic campuses.

Oddly, though Beste encourages theological thinking about self-worth, her approach to sexual relations does not draw specifically upon the Christian tradition or the Bible. This approach does have an advantage, since it appears accessible to most students. According to Beste, most students believe applying Farley’s basic ethic of equal, mutual sex reins in even the worst features of the hook-up culture. Under this ethic, only a minority of students thought hook-ups could be just (18% of women; 27% of men). Additionally, using her students’ insights as well as those from other research, Beste claims that students generally desire the type of equal and mutual sex that Farley’s ethic produces.

Chapters 9 and 10 continue by providing sobering overviews of the topics of sexual assault and sexual victimization, including both students’ perspectives as well as the institution’s role in dealing with these matters—topics not addressed as extensively by King. Not surprisingly in light of her ethnographies, Beste notes that studies find that drinking alcohol is one major factor in sexual assault. 72% to 81% of cases of male rape on college campuses occur when the female is drunk (258). The second major factor is participation in casual sex. She notes that 78% of unwanted penetrative sex takes place during a hook-up (259).

Expectedly, men commit most of these rapes (98% on females; 93% on males, according to one study she cites, 259). Once again Beste’s chapter adds power by sharing a student’s story, one who asked to talk to her after one class. This student, “Matt,” is a hook-up artist who raped a girl the previous year when she was so drunk that he had to hold her up in the bathroom. Now, he feels extremely guilty. The past summer, he met a girl from another school who he liked and hoped to remain in relationship with, but when returning to campus, he could not remain faithful due to this hook-up habit. Instead, he broke off his promising relationship. Since Matt is a cultural Catholic, Beste admirably suggests he engage in restorative justice through confession, but Matt is unable to follow through. The latest she knows, he continues his old hook-up lifestyle. Richard Rorty once claimed, “Utilitarians like myself think that morality is the attempt to decrease the amount of suffering among human beings. This attempt has very little to do with sex.”[7] It is too bad Richard Rorty never read this chapter. Indeed, every student, faculty member, and administrator should read this chapter to gain an idea of the emotional, physical and spiritual costs of hook-up culture.

Beste also guides us through some of the problems she found with peer responses to sexual assault, since peers often downplay assault and blame the victim. Administrators fall into the same trap and fail to punish the perpetrator appropriately. Moreover, they fail to consider structural sins that may undermine the implementation of best practices for preventing assault or bringing about justice. Consequently, many survivors drop out of college: addressing sexual assault requires changing these institutional habits.

A short final chapter addresses ways to create a sexually just campus culture. Beste’s three major suggestions involve: “(1) an endorsement of an affirmative sexual-consent policy; (2) an embrace of a culture of zero-tolerance for sexual violence; (3) a conscious, collective decision among undergraduates to free one another from the constrictive sexual, gender, and social norms of typical party and hookup culture” (291). Unfortunately, for the first two, Beste mirrors the Religious Right, albeit from the Left: she is ready to legislate consent (that is, she claims that a proposed California bill that would have required colleges and universities apply the affirmative consent law was “exciting, meaningful progress,” 293). Only in the last case does she see religious communities or colleges playing an initiative role. She wants them to abandon their judgmental stances and “focus their energies on sharing their rich and distinctive theological resources to encourage critical deconstruction of dehumanizing, reductive narratives of sex, relationships, success, and happiness” (303).

Overall, after reading the first two parts of the book, I thought I would want my teenage sons to take Beste’s course. She asks students to engage in and acquire the Christian critical thinking I want them to develop in college. She creates a class that connects robust Christian theology with the everyday issues students experience. One can see clearly from the raw, ethnographic material that her approach struck a chord with students. Her chapters about finding our identity in Christ and learning the realities of sexual assault are exactly what my boys need to hear in college.

I would encourage my sons, however, to challenge Beste’s claim that Farley’s approach is a Christian ethic. It is not. There is no Christian faith or faithfulness discussed in this sexual ethic. Instead, Farley’s ethic is meant to appeal to everyone: one needs no faith or theology to apply it. While it attempts to focus on others’ dignity, the ethic makes no explicit biblical claims (such as being made in God’s image to be loving and faithful in response to the scriptural descriptions of God’s “steadfast love”). Moreover, there is no mention that when God uses sexual or marital metaphors to critique Israel, he talks of Israel’s unfaithfulness to a covenant (such as in Isaiah 1; Jeremiah 2-3; Ezekiel 16;  and Hosea). While Beste makes reference to “commitment,” she apparently considers Christian faith and faithfulness irrelevant for both great sex and a Christian sexual ethic. Additionally, addressing marriage as an important covenant is nowhere to be found. The title of her book should instead be Hookup Culture and Basic Ethics.

Also, from a Christian perspective, while I find Farley’s principles basic and Beste’s emphasis on sexual justice helpful, both fall far short of the Church’s highest ideals. While Beste asks religious communities to share their resources, she fails to share their sexual resources. Speaking as a Christian man, I think that asking a college male to achieve some sort of equal sexual justice without the context of God’s creation ideal of marriage, marital faithfulness, and Christ’s agape love leaves them without important moral resources. In order to get sex, men easily deceive others, including themselves, believing that their actions are mutually agreed upon or considerate of the other (even when the other is under the influence of alcohol). Moreover, men are more likely to commit infidelity.[8] As Beste’s research reveals, men hold more power in these relationship contexts. In these situations, an appeal for sexual justice will likely capture only a certain segment of men; men like those Beste profiled who have firsthand experience of sexually assaulted friends or family members.

But more insensitive alpha males must be confronted with the heroic virtue of faithful and sacrificial agape love. What Christian scholars and colleges owe men like Matt—who actually deeply longed for a loving, faithful, romantic relationship—is a presentation of a Christian ethic that fosters a faithful approach (a virtue not even listed in Beste’s index). If we are made in God’s image, one of the dominant themes of the Bible is God’s steadfast love (repeated 127 times in the Psalms alone). Reminding Matt about God’s steadfast love is the first step to teaching Matt about what it first means to be a faithful Christian friend and then what that commitment looks like in romantic relationships, which may lead to marriage. Ultimately, sacrificing one’s short-term desires requires trusting in and drawing upon the power of the Spirit of the God and Savior who sacrificed for us.

Overall, both quantitatively and qualitatively, these two books provide us with brilliant insight into the sexual lives of Catholic college students. Their empirical insights alone move the field forward tremendously. In addition, both authors give insights into what might work in helping students critique and counter the hook-up culture. They clearly want to understand students and their culture, but also engage them in realistic ways for students to learn how to critique their culture.

What seems odd, though, especially for books written by a Catholic theologian and Christian ethicist, is that both authors appear to believe that the Bible and Christian theology provide only limited help in forming students’ sexual ethic and marriage philosophies. Although marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church, these authors rarely mention it. Their reminders that God provides us with worth and made us for love prove powerful. Moreover, Beste’s work provides students with an example of how Christ dealt with human weakness and frailty, which can serve as a model for them in their friendships and romantic relationships. Yet if one wants to learn about how other parts of God’s story might help scholars make sense of college students’ sexual lives, particularly stories about God’s steadfast, sacrificial love, one will have to lead students to other sources.[9]


[1]Donna Freitas, Sex and Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[2]Perry L. Glanzer & Todd C. Ream, Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[3]Johann Baptist Metz, Poverty of Spirit (New York: Paulist Press, 1998).

[4]Margaret A. Farley, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (New York: Continuum International, 2006).

[5]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Notification on the Book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M.” http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20120330_nota-farley_en.html.

[6]See Christian Smith, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[7]Richard Rorty, Julie A. Reuben, and George Marsden, “The Moral Purposes of the University: An Exchange,” The Hedgehog Review 2.3 (2000): 110.

[8]Wendy Wang, “Who Cheats More: The Demographics of Cheating in America,” Institute for Family Studies, https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america.

[9]Most recently, Bryan Sand’s book Everyone Loves Sex, So Why Wait? A Discussion of Sexual Faithfulness (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press, 2017) provides a helpful popular approach that talks boldly about “sexual faithfulness,” agape love, and marriage.

Cite this article
Perry L. Glanzer, “Hookup Cultures on Catholic College Campuses—An Extended Review”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 48:1 , 85-97

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.