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Flight From Love
By Kate Burch

There are a number of conditions of contemporary life in America that disturb me.  One that I find almost unutterably sad is the “hookup” culture on our college campuses.  Even at many religiously-affiliated colleges, participation—usually alcohol-fueled—in numerous and casual sexual encounters with strangers or mere acquaintances has become normative behavior.  Those who do not engage in hooking up are often viewed as odd or even disordered.  There have been tales of students being referred for psychological counseling because they retained their virginity beyond the age of eighteen.  Hooking up cannot be considered to be a variant or refinement of courtship behavior, because the people who are “partners” in a hookup very often avoid any further casual contact or even behave with frank hostility toward one another.  Their coupling is not an expression of love or even of caring.  There is no interest in the other person beyond the linking of genitals; there is no willingness to be involved—to be vulnerable—to be known. 

To probably most people like me who were fairly well formed before the sexual revolution of the sixties, hooking up is shockingly immoral and self-defeating, particularly for young women.  Indeed, it is young women who appear to be most wounded by this behavior.  Studies show that most young women who have engaged in uninvolved sex admit to regretting it.  Regrets are less commonly admitted among the young men.  It’s possible, I suppose, that the biological imperative to fertilize might partly explain the difference.  Consider, also, that self-reports of regrets may be skewed by the desire to answer in conformity with what is socially expected and acceptable in one’s peer group.  We do know that the numbers of female adolescents and young women today suffering from eating disorders, addictions, anxiety, and depression are at all-time highs, and that the level of suicidal behavior among female adolescents has tripled over the past fifteen years.  The two most-prescribed medications in college health services currently are oral contraceptives and antidepressants.

So, why does the public supinely accept what must, to any honest observer, appear to be a truly disastrous and damaging situation?  Relatively little is written about the hookup culture.  The outrage and the frantic drive to identify and punish wrongdoers is focused instead on an invention:  the “rape culture” on campus.  Bureau of Justice statistics show less risk of sexual assault for students on college campuses than for non-students, and that the risk of sexual assault on campus has actually declined over the past two decades.   There is, actually, no “rape culture” on our campuses and the college campus is one of the safer environments that a young woman may inhabit.   Of course, it is far more likely that a politician’s career will be advanced by identifying victims and perpetrators and then prescribing and imposing new rules and regulations to address the contrived problem, than if he or she honestly spoke about the existence of a spiritual and moral crisis.  

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