With yet another sex scandal rocking Capitol Hill, it’s easy to think that we are losing the culture war. The D.C. Madam is just the latest in a long stream of unsavory sexual exploits. Last year it was “Foleygate,” featuring emails between a Member and Congressional pages, before that it was Hill Staffer Jessica Cutler’s steamy Washingtonienne blog, and the list could go on. Cable news features a drum beat of bad behavior, from teachers molesting students to the antics of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears.
It isn’t just celebrities and politicians that are affected by the current sexual mores. The situation on college campuses isn’t much better than it is in Hollywood or Capitol Hill. When adults hear that an on-campus relationship is more likely to resemble a drunken Cancun spring break hook up than the traditional courtship of the past — they are often shocked or depressed. But adults shouldn’t give up on the younger generation just yet.
Not all students are satisfied with the hook-up culture that dominates campus life. Earlier this week popular Loveline radio host Dr. Drew Pinsky took to Capitol Hill to educate local interns, students, and young professionals on how to navigate the intense social pressures of campus life. His message: Trust your instincts.
“If hooking up is so great, why do you have to be drunk to do it?” he asked the crowd. The silence that followed drove home his point. If they were sober, they’d make different decisions. If given a choice, they’d prefer to be in an emotional relationship.
The crowd’s response was consistent with the landmark study published by the Independent Women’s Forum on the campus social scene, Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right. Women perceive three options for on-campus relations: a “hook-up,” a “joined at the hip” relationship, or “friends with benefits.” The first is a purposefully vague term for a commitment-free physical encounter (including anything from kissing to having sex). The second is a rapidly developing relationship which skips the critical courtship phase. As Dr. Drew says, “there is no evaluative process involved.” The third often “looks good on paper” but is invariably bound for failure. Many college students, particularly women, look at that list of options and aren’t satisfied.
One woman at the conference said that you have to get drunk before hooking up because it is so unnatural — hooking up is akin to abandoning her core self. Dr. Drew confirmed that this is a common response from females: “Emotional instincts run counter to the hook-up experience, so women medicate them away.” If they were sober, they would make different decisions. A young male in the crowd said he needed to get drunk before a hook-up to medicate the anxiety associated with closeness and rejection. It is clear from this conversation that college students know that this isn’t healthy behavior (both emotionally and physically), and yet they aren’t sure how to change the culture.
Conversations like the one led by Dr. Drew are an important first step in changing the culture, helping student realize that they aren’t alone in their desire for something different. But parents also have to be a part of this message.
The sad truth is that adults often shy away from talking about these issues. Parents constantly underestimate the influence they have in their children’s lives. This is entirely the wrong approach. We need more, not less, people talking about these important issues.
It’s easy to think that the culture wars are a lost cause. But getting young people to talk about these issues is the first step towards a less course culture. This week’s discussion on Capitol Hill was a step in the right direction, but we should all do our part in bringing this debate into the light.