Countering ‘hookup’ culture
Evangelical students resist campus trend
By John W. Kennedy
According to new research, evangelical Christian schools are
unique in avoiding a 21st-century trend of immoral sexual behavior on campuses.
Hookup culture — in which students engage in
random sexual encounters — has become the pervasive method in which
collegians meet socially. Researcher Donna Freitas, author of Sex & the
Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s
College Campuses, defines hooking up as having a physically intimate encounter
with another person with whom you are not in a long-term relationship. Often
the participants are inebriated and have just met, for what used to be termed a
Many administrators and faculty at secular schools as well
as religious schools not in the evangelical tradition avoid dealing with the
hookup culture that pervades social functions on their campuses, maintains
Freitas. Her research included extensive in-person and online interviews with
more than 2,500 students at seven universities, including two evangelical
Many campuses today largely are devoid of one-on-one
traditional dating, romance and opportunities to form a meaningful relationship
with someone of the opposite sex. In their place, a no-strings-attached sexual
lifestyle weakens a person’s self-respect.
Freitas, 35, notes the only exception to hookup culture is
on evangelical campuses, where the atmosphere is much different.
“Students pray regularly, share certain Christian beliefs,
do Bible study, go to church on Sundays, went to youth group in high school and
hope to someday marry a good Christian with whom they can start a family,”
Freitas writes in Sex & the Soul. “A quest for purity and chastity reigns
supreme on these campuses.”
Focus is on a mate for life, not a sexual partner for the
Indeed, G. Robert Cook Jr., executive vice president of the
Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education, says a student’s decision to
remain pure starts long before college. He credits frank youth pastors and the
camaraderie of the abstinence movement for helping teens, both individually and
corporately, withstand a slide into depravity.
“The whole issue of spiritual formation is what sets us
apart from secular schools,” says Cook, 58. “Our faculty members are committed
to more than just academic development.”
Attendees at AG colleges and universities understand that
they have a responsibility to God, to others and to themselves on how they use
their bodies, Cook says. They realize that God has purity standards and that
the Holy Spirit will provide a way of escape from temptation, he says.
Although AG schools have eased restrictions from the days
when male-female conversation was verboten, specific codes of conduct of what
constitutes unacceptable behavior are in place to counter common practices on
secular campuses. North Central University in Minneapolis, for example,
excludes members of the opposite sex in dorms after 11 p.m.
“NCU expects all members of the community to refrain from
any form of sexual immorality, including but not limited to adultery,
promiscuity, any form of extramarital sexual activity (touching of intimate
parts with or without clothing), homosexual behavior or viewing pornography,”
the school’s sexual behaviors policy states. “Cohabitation is also considered unacceptable.
Discretion is expected in the public display of affection.”
Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pa., further
declares, “Lap sitting, resting one’s head on the lap of another person, and
extended periods of hugging and kissing are not appropriate.” When members of
the opposite sex are visiting student residence halls, the door must remain
open and the couple isn’t allowed to lie down on a bed.
Christian students certainly aren’t immune from changing
mores regarding sexual behavior. Cook believes television, movies and
especially the Internet are responsible for loosening standards of students
— and churchgoers in general — on everything from how much skin
they expose in public to wondering whether God really is against homosexual
Some Christian students now believe that anything short of
sexual intercourse really isn’t sinning.
“The ideas and thoughts of college students are completely
different from what they were only five years ago,” says Nate Ruch, university
relations executive director at NCU.
Large quantities of alcohol often fuel lecherous actions. At
numerous state universities and private colleges, drinking for hours on end has
become a ritual every weekend. Students gather for Friday night and Saturday
night parties that have multiple kegs on hand to go with scantily clad fantasy
costume themes such as pajamas or lingerie. Typically, women gain entrance for
free while men pay $5.
“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,” Freitas writes.
The party scene at many higher institutions involves
students drinking in residence halls before going to the bash, which is
publicized on Facebook or some other social networking site. Although some
teens are immersed in a party lifestyle while in high school, college days take
it to another level, according to Freitas, assistant professor of religion at
“Both men and women need to realize this isn’t a culture
that promotes human dignity,” Freitas told TPE. “These archetypes come straight
from the pornography world.”
“Sexual immorality is often the consequence of something a
person would never do if not inebriated,” says Cook, a former college professor
who notes that alcohol is banned on AG campuses.
Ruch says students with overprotective parents sometimes are
susceptible to the party scene because being away from home for the first time
gives them the first opportunity to explore previously prohibited behavior. On
the other hand, teens whose parents have been uninvolved — relying on
institutions to set the boundaries — also may be in for a shock.
“Kids who have no family rules on morality often adapt to
their peers’ views on sexuality,” Ruch says.
Both Cook and Ruch say healthy dialogue exists on AG
campuses about sexuality in venues such as chapel services, academic classes,
dormitory small group devotions and campus seminars. AG faculty, administrators
and student leaders instill boundaries for students plus provide a scriptural
sense of right and wrong, according to Cook and Ruch.
Ruch, 37, says AG schools must be proactive in training not
only because of the media but also because of pro-homosexual groups such as
Soulforce visiting campuses trying to alter fundamental thinking about
“Boundaries will keep being tested,” says Ruch, a former
youth pastor and college professor. “If AG colleges aren’t proactive in
addressing what’s going on in culture, the dominant morality of the age will
become the dominant morality of our students.”
The pervading faith atmosphere and common values on
evangelical campuses help students solidify their walk with God, Freitas found.
Unlike secular schools, which advertise tolerance of virtually any kind of
behavior, Freitas says evangelical schools are specific in their commitment to
making sure Christian standards are integrated into a student’s life.
While there is an expectation of high moral standards,
Freitas found that 17 percent of students on evangelical campuses have a
disconnect between what they claim to believe (sex outside marriage is always
wrong) and how they act. As opposed to secular schools, where young people
often brag about their sexual activity, those at evangelical schools keep quiet
about their exploits, fearing both ostracism from peers and disciplinary action
from the school.
Christian students who mess up sexually are more likely to
feel remorse because, unlike non-Christian students at secular schools, God is
part of the equation. Students who fail are susceptible to a crisis of faith.
Yet those who truly seek repentance will find forgiveness in
the body of Christ, Cook believes.
“There always will be some self-righteous people with
pharisaical attitudes around, but the church believes in the doctrine of the
second chance,” Cook says.
Freitas says students with faith who attend a secular or
nominally religious institution quickly learn to compartmentalize their beliefs
because spiritual views aren’t welcome on campus.
“The average college student, male or female, is still
ashamed to admit to being a virgin,” Freitas says. “This is especially true
during the senior year.”
On the other hand, students immersed in the hookup lifestyle
often end up carrying baggage with them after graduation. Some are confronted
with an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease. They must contend
with the fact that adult relationships in the real world don’t consist of
drinking themselves into a stupor every weekend as a prelude to sexual
Some AG students vow not to date anyone until marriage and
to only socialize in groups, which vastly improves the odds of remaining pure.
Yet the notion of young people saving themselves for marriage is gaining
momentum at even some of the nation’s most liberal universities in response to
the prevalent hookup culture. For example, undergraduates at Harvard and
Princeton have banded together to form purity clubs.
Instead of being deemed nerdy or old-fashioned, virgins
today are viewed as counterculture chic on many campuses. Students band
together by making abstinence pledges, wearing promise rings and holding each
Freitas, meanwhile, finds herself as the messenger to make
naïve parents aware of the need to change hookup culture. She says it’s
imperative for parents of prospective students to ask questions about the
dating scene and sexual behavior while touring a campus. There won’t be
anything in campus promotional literature about students taking their clothes
off at drinking parties.
Since her book’s publication last year, Freitas has lectured
on the topic at three dozen other schools. She has found theme parties are more
ubiquitous than ever. Yet Freitas believes she is making progress. Everywhere
she visits, she finds students wanting to escape the disrespectful hookup
lifestyle and the accompanying lack of meaningful relationships.
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).
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