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Sexual climate change

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If our society is going to come out of the sexual suicide dive we are currently in, we need a social climate change we can believe in. The place to start is on the campuses.

Kevin and Marilyn

College, once an oasis for intellectual development, has become an incubator of sexual hook-ups. What can we do to shelter our youth (and they are youth) from an increasingly crass climate, the slimy wetlands they are exposed to? Barring a massive shutdown of cable television and lewd advertising, are there practical acts that can have consequences for the college experience our students will have?

At their peak of sexual development, away from home, and surrounded by plenty of the-other-gender, college students could not be more vulnerable. Since campuses now host 60 percent girls to 40 percent boys, the boys are the ones who benefit in the hooking up derby. They are coming to college to learn new things, but why conflate so much learning in a short period.

Peter Wood and Michael Toscano examined the social life of Bowdoin College students. Their findings show that about 75 percent of the students were hooking up. The exact definition was left to the discretion of students who answered the question, but there is little doubt about their understanding of the sexual nature of their dating.

No long ago we interviewed a group of seniors from a nearby Catholic college. One rather jaded student remarked, "They (the dorm counselors) are more concerned if I smoke in my room and how much beer I bring into my room than how many women I've brought in." He noted with a smile that he benefitted from the relaxed sexual climate.

Free thinkers who read Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" may think virginity is just a "social construct," as a Dartmouth student recently said in an interview in the college newspaper. She arrived at this conclusion after announcing she had "lost her virginity." Students are sometimes taught that marriage is just another social construct. That is, that an idea or a notion has no true and stable reality, but rather is an invention, something that a social group has made up. (Welcome to today's higher education!)

The current social climate around sexuality is not the result of simple experimentation; no, it took a combination of feminist advocacy, the gay rights revolution, modern technology, and liberated college campuses to create fertile soil for a sexual license.

If our society is going to come out of the sexual suicide dive we are currently in, we need a social climate change we can believe in. The place to start is on the campuses. Policies make a difference.

First, colleges and universities should eliminate mixed-sex dorms. That seems like a no brainer. American campuses have gone from "in loco parentis" with strict, but sensible hours when students had to be in their residences to now, when there are few or no regulated hours. This seems a casual policy which serves students little. Colleges can reinstitute dorm and housing closing hours, which would likely give the reluctant sexual adventurer an excuse to end a date.

Single-sex dorms are in the interest of many who would be reluctant to address the topic. John Garvey president of Catholic University took a bold stand to start eliminating co-ed dorms. This year the campus restricted freshman dorms to single-sex living. What is keeping other campuses from following suit and ending mixed-sex dorms?

Still on the dorm scene, one practice has inconvenienced many students. The boyfriend, or girlfriend moves in with his or her partner. This is, of course, of grave annoyance to roommates whose privacy is compromised and who did not choose this extra person to be living in their room. In these cases the aggrieved party should be encouraged to confront the issue and, if not corrected, report this arrangement to campus authorities.

Second, counselors on college campuses would likely find their work lightened and hearts broken less frequently with less sexually permissive policies. Possibly the number of rapes and assaults would reduce with policy reforms. Colleges can support their policy changes by publishing statistics after they are implemented. Colleges in the past have been reluctant to give a true picture of real assault cases fearing bad publicity.

Student services on campuses are all-too-often complicit in promoting casual sexuality. Most campuses freely provide birth control pills and devices. Ending this policy would help the sexual climate improve.

Since colleges set the standards for high schools, both academically and socially, there will be a filter down effect on high school behaviors with these new college standards. After all, most parents are as concerned about the moral and social climate at school as they are about academic standards. But colleges have to hear about our concerns. Letters and forums are necessary to make parents' fears known.

Third, colleges are supposed to be teaching institutions, where wisdom is available. American's young are in dire need of sexual wisdom. On-campus forums on sex, drugs, alcohol and dating are time well spent. New students need to be informed about the toxic combination of sex and drugs. Parents like to think they have prepared their teens for college, especially about alcohol and sex, but the learning curve is quite steep.

Taking bold initiative always takes courage and group support, especially in matters of human sexuality. Parents need their religious counselors to step up to the plate. We can ask our priests and ministers to speak more forcefully on chastity and the consequences of pre-marital sexual activity. They have heard the stories and witnessed the pain. They are only too aware of the lives ruined by promiscuous sexuality. It's time parents to find their voice. It's time to lean on colleges and churches to lend a hand in this campaign.

Our youth are worthy of a sexual climate change.


- Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.

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