The lecture “Sex and the Soul” aimed to provide an open space for students to discuss their sexuality in relationship to their faith — a conversation that author Dr. Donna Freitas thinks is absent on college campuses across the country.
“Students often feel like they don’t have an opportunity to talk about sexuality and hookup culture in a real way like in a classroom or an intellectual environment,” Freitas said Oct. 7 in the Hemmingson ballroom. “I want students to feel empowered around their sexuality.”
Freitas is a research associate in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, and has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Boston Globe. She has also taught at Boston University and Hofstra University.
Freitas first realized that students wanted to discuss the topic of sexuality and dating when she was teaching a religious studies class. She always dedicated a part of her class to the topic, and she found it was the students’ favorite part of the syllabus.
She started her own separate class on sexuality and spirituality and was surprised to find that an overwhelming number of students wanted to join.
“I realized that there was a hunger to be in a space where we could reflect on these things,” Freitas said.
The class’s first 21 students were originally excited about hookup culture, but after one girl had the bravery to say that she didn’t like it very much, everybody else admitted they were lying.
“They started dealing with the reality that they were kind of acting like hookup culture was great but privately they didn’t really like it,” Freitas said. “I was really interested in how passionate they got about critiquing hookup culture once they realized they weren’t alone, and I wondered if other students felt that same way; if they felt trapped by hookup culture and wished they could speak out against it or change it.”
Freitas’ curiosity led her to begin a study that consisted of an online survey and private one-on-one interviews with students from colleges across the country. She was surprised by the students’ responses in regard to romance.
According to her study, 78 percent of students saw romance as virtually asexual, meaning that students often separate sex from dating.
“Apparently, romance is just marathon talking on top of a mountain with candles,” Freitas said. “As soon as you start kissing, the romance stops.”
Most of the participants who did identify kissing as romantic were either gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Freitas believes that this separation of sex and romance comes from the hookup culture’s tendency to make everything casual.
“Students don’t want to ‘catch feelings’ so they purposefully distance themselves from their sexual partner,” Freitas said. “It’s sort of a social contract. You want to stay disconnected so you don’t get attached.”
According to Freitas, this lack of communication is what causes blurry lines of consent.
“If you’re not supposed to talk and communicate and connect with your partner, how do you tell them what you like and don’t like?” Freitas asked.
Her study showed that students view hookups as merely efficient and less time-consuming than relationships.
“You just want to get it done so you can say that you did it,” Freitas said. “Hooking up is essentially emptying sex of all its meaning. I feel bummed that the best attitude to have about sex is an ambivalent one.”
Freitas learned that students don’t want hooking up to be eliminated from the college culture, but they don’t want it to be the only option.
“We long for more meaningful sex and dating options,” Freitas said. “At Catholic universities, we often talk about educating the whole person. So let’s talk about sexuality.”
Although these conversations have proved to be extremely important, they’re often absent on college campuses. According to Freitas, this hesitation is due to the vulnerability that comes with such discussions.
“It’s a very intimate thing and it makes us feel vulnerable and it’s scary to talk about things that make us feel vulnerable in public,” Freitas said. “I think it’s often easier for us to appear ambivalent about those things as a way to talk about them. To appear like we don’t care. It’s that vulnerability piece that really makes it a scary topic to talk about.”
Her book, “Sex and the Soul,” is full of stories from the interviews that she conducted during her study. She hopes that students will realize they’re not alone in their beliefs and will be more honest in their dialogue.
Freitas also encourages students to utilize the resources on campus while they’re still available.
“You’re never going to have as many resources in your life as you do right now. Use them,” Freitas said. “Be who you are and do what you want. Engage with sexuality while you’re here. Be empowered, not ambivalent.”