Sex and College Kids

What will happen to your sons or daughters when they go off to college, and how do you keep them from risky behavior?

To find out about the moral scene on campus, Fathers for Good spoke with Cassandra Hough, who is head of the Love and Fidelity Network, which promotes chastity and healthy lifestyles on college campuses.

Fathers for Good: I think the #1 question parents have when they send their son or daughter off to college is – Will they be safe? In terms of sexual atmosphere and expectations, how safe is the average campus today?

Hough: To be honest, from a protective father’s perspective, no secular campus, and only a select few religious campuses, are “safe.” Premarital sexual activity is often seen by college health officials, professors, and students alike to be a normal and healthy part of one’s sexual maturity. Premarital abstinence, modesty, and chastity are conflated with lack of self-esteem, sexual repression, and excessive prudishness.

From the dorm room to the classroom, there is a casual, “anything goes” attitude toward sexuality and relationships. Young men and women are expected to have few, if any, standards in their sexual conduct, and this expectation creates a substantial amount of pressure to conform to the sexual culture.

In short, your sons and daughters are not safe from being exposed to this. However, it is up to them whether or not they choose to conform to the campus sexual culture once exposed to it.

On every college campus, there are pockets (some large, some small) of students who choose an alternative lifestyle – one of chastity, where sex is meaningful and has a proper context and purpose. Your sons and daughters CAN find these communities of support. What is more, they can arm themselves against the sexual culture by being confident in their commitments and learning to articulate the reasons they hold those commitments. Being “armed” with confidence and with arguments is precisely what the Love and Fidelity Network strives to offer its students.

FFG: Are there stats as to how many college kids contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) during undergrad years?

Hough: There are different statistics out there depending on age, sex, class, ethnicity, etc.  Some more common statistics are that 1 in 4 teens will contract an STI each year, and 1 in 2 sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25. However, many young people feel immune from this risk with “safe sex” messages dominating their sexual health education.

They’re being told that consistent and correct condom use will protect them from being infected. This is certainly true for some kinds of infections. For other infections, like human papilloma virus (HPV), the condom has little effect. Not to mention the fact that “consistent and correct” condom use is actually quite rare. The only real protection from infection is sexual abstinence. However, in order to achieve this, young people need to understand both the benefits of abstinence, and the habits and dispositions that make choosing abstinence and chastity possible.

FFG: We hear so much about a “hook-up” culture. What does this mean to college kids? Is the culture tougher on females than males?

Hough: A “hook-up” describes any physically sexual contact (from kissing to intercourse) between persons who are not in a relationship. Some studies have shown that young men and women perceive that hooking-up is more prevalent than it actually is.

It is certainly true that the casual attitudes characterizing the “hook-up culture” are quite widespread, even if the actual prevalence of hook-ups are difficult to measure.

Regardless, for both young men and young women, the hook-up culture trains them in habits and attitudes that make it difficult for them to exercise trust, selflessness, commitment, and authentic intimacy when they finally decide to settle down and take their romantic relationships seriously (not to mention, when they attempt marriage).

For women, the emotional and physical consequences of hooking-up can be quite substantial.  Physical intimacy (and sexual intercourse in particular) triggers the release of oxytocin in women, a hormone that inclines them to bond with their partner. You can imagine the emotional turmoil a woman faces when she’s hormonally bonding to someone to whom she has no plans of commitment. With everyone else seeming to enjoy casually hooking-up, she feels as though something is wrong with her for wanting some sort of relationship, friendship, or recognition after a night of casual intimacy. Two great books on these topics are Unprotected by Dr. Miriam Grossman and Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp.

FFG: What can a father do to prepare and protect his children from the college sex scene? How effective are parental advice, warnings or example?

Hough: There are many things fathers can do to protect their children. The first thing they can do is be committed and loving to their wives and their children. Children reared in a stable, intact family are more likely to delay sexual activity. If that family attends a religious service together on at least a weekly basis, the children are even more likely to delay sexual activity.

Fathers can protect their children by setting an example of commitment, love, and faithfulness within their homes. Young men and women will be more likely to see the hook-up culture as empty if they’ve seen for themselves the real meaning of love in their parents’ marriage.
As for giving advice and warnings, this can certainly be helpful if it is done well and at the right time. There is a fine line between lecturing your child with don’ts and shoulds, and explaining to your child what they’ll likely face in college and how to handle it.

Most of all, young men and women going off to college need to know that they can come to their fathers in their achievements, struggles, and failures. If they make a mistake, their father will still love them. And if they make the right decision but feel alone making it, they need to know they have their father’s support.

Finally, perhaps one of the best pieces of advice to give to your child is to find good friends who make him/her a better person. We naturally take on the habits of those around us. I certainly learned so much from my friends at college, and relied on them during good times and bad.  Encourage your child to cultivate healthy friendships with those who will be supportive of your child’s beliefs and commitments.
The Love and Fidelity Network will be launching a new website in late September with resources for college students and parents on these topics. 

To learn more, visit the Love and Fidelity Network online.