Sex, Culture, and the College Student

When parents think about the pitfalls of popular culture for their kids, they usually focus on their younger children, the innocent ones for whom it gets harder every day to shield from an onslaught of sexual themes in everything on television and the radio, including the commercials. Throw in the Internet, and it’s surround-sound sex.

Even things that some adults might see as relatively harmless — models marching around in underwear in TV ads for Victoria’s Secret, or Jessica Simpson tempting a teenage boy for Pizza Hut like she’s a mozzarella-bearing Mary Kay LeTourneau — are what others see as more proof of sexuality creeping into every crevice of the boob tube.

But parents should also worry about their children even as they leave for college, pulling their knees out from under the family table to navigate the world on their own. It’s impossible for parents to keep up with the moral atmosphere of most American colleges and universities today. Oftentimes, the "collegiate culture" focuses less on majoring in English literature or theoretical physics and more on free-flowing beer and casual sex.

That was a theme of Tom Wolfe’s recent novel "I Am Charlotte Simmons," which chronicled a not-so-fictional world in which a brazen campus transforms a bright-eyed Christian freshman girl fresh from the South. John Derbyshire of National Review saw Wolfe reporting on an "oppressive cult of coolness," and coarseness, a world in which God is dead and "the soul is of no importance or interest to these kids because their elders believe it does not exist — one of Charlotte’s lecturers tells her this in so many words."

The evidence is all around us, as college faculties press "transgressive" notions of sexuality, and students discover that the campus culture encourages them to turn their pursuit for recreational sexual conquests into an intellectual cause.

 The Associated Press reported that Yale University held another bold experiment in "Sex Week," just as they did in 2004. The lecture halls were cleared to make room for a sales talk: "a middle-aged sex-toy saleswoman demonstrates her technique and hands out free products to an eager crowd." Sessions also included "a panel of porn stars and stripping lessons from a Playboy Channel hostess." No one asks much about how this educates rather than titillates. The student sponsors insist they were promoting "sexual awareness," not sex.

Newsweek reports that DePaul University in Chicago recently announced it’s offering a new minor in "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Studies." That may sound "transgressive," but it’s even more shocking in that DePaul was founded by the Roman Catholic followers of Saint Vincent DePaul, who majored in God (and in aiding the poor). One speculates safely that he didn’t minor in "queer studies." Newsweek reports this in the typical way, with students arguing that this is a happy step for "free inquiry."

Pope John Paul II offered his flock a "theology of the body," but it’s a worldview that’s the polar opposite of the collegiate consensus, an antithesis of the campuses who dance to the vogue of "queer studies" and Eve Ensler "Vagina Monologues" stagings and "Sex Week." The "pro-sex" evangelists would claim they’re simply in favor of sex, and frank sex talk, of a human body and mind at peace in persistent sexual experimentation and release. But they are advocating, at bottom, the worship of sex, the indulgence of the body and the infallibility of its desires, which can never be wrong.

This is a powerful message for college students. This is the most sexually liberated of ages, recently freed from parental inhibition, and in TV land, it’s a demographic that’s largely forgetful of how wild sexual media content can affect the young.

So it’s not surprising that Nielsen Media Research announced it will include college students in its national TV ratings early next year, marking the first time that the company has added viewing outside the home to its calculations. The company will measure viewing for students living in dorms, sorority and fraternity houses, and off-campus apartments.

 Hollywood and its sex-pushers are no doubt thrilled. The obvious result of this change is to goose the Nielsen numbers for every "O.C." orgy and MTV "Spring Break" marathon, not to mention what it will do for sophomoric sex-themed cartoons on Comedy Central or Cartoon Network’s "Adult Swim" hours.

How ironic. Children leave home to experiment with the culture of sex in college, and now, albeit indirectly, they will be encouraging more inculcation of their newfound values through television.

Parents need to worry about the effects of popular culture on their children after their sexual maturation, and not just before. The cultural commissars in the colleges and entertainment factories see it as their duty to pound out every "primitive" inhibition out of college-age youth that parents spent 18 years trying to instill.