Let's Talk About Sex (Responsibly)

Sometimes the most radical ideas are the most sensible For instance, take the recent decision by John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to phase out co-ed dorms, returning to single-sex residence halls.

Garvey presented a fairly practical case for the move: Not unlike many colleges, there is a drinking problem on campus. And as Christopher Kaczor, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, whom Garvey cites, has surmised: Increased binge drinking in co-ed living situations may be explained by a "'party' expectation that students fulfill. College males want to get females to drink more ... College men themselves drink more as 'liquid courage' to approach women and as part of the process of encouraging female drinking (for instance, with drinking games). In order to demonstrate 'equality' with male students and so as not to seem prudish, college females drink more than they otherwise would. Single-sex residences reduce this binge-drinking dynamic."

Single-sex dorms also, as you might expect, might just cut down on campus hook-up culture. A 2009 study in the Journal of American College Health found that students in co-ed dorms have more sex and more partners.

And, if you want to get even more practical, W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, points out: "Needless to say, binge drinking and casual sex tend to distract students from their studies. For instance, young women who engage in such activities are more likely to be depressed, and tend to do poorly in school when distracted by drinking and sex."

And so, of course, given our litigious age, CUA may be sued for its absolutely sane and sensible plan. A professor at nearby George Washington University says he plans to bring legal action, complaining the move would be sex discrimination.

"I think there are probably plenty of well-meaning folks out there who want the goods -- less hooking up, less drinking -- but believe heartily that any goods like that ought to be entirely an act of will, completely volitional amid the options to choose otherwise," says Mark Regnerus, co-author of the book "Premarital Sex in America."

He's also "not really surprised" by the lawsuit threat. "To some, anything like this is a signal of a 'return' of sorts to a past that its antagonists find stifling, constraining, etc. ... They fail to realize that people are very much social creatures in their decision-making, and that putting up some reasonable barriers like this one can be helpful toward reaching the goals they claim to want."
In New York City's SoHo, young people have been gathering Tuesday nights this summer to discuss Pope John Paul II's book "Love and Responsibility." They are 20-somethings looking for an alternative -- for the improvements that Regnurus mentions. They see the inherent dignity of individual human beings, and want to treat themselves and others with respect. They want to challenge themselves and expect more. This group convenes in the courtyard of a closed Catholic school. But old St. Patrick's has become a new school for a culture wanting more.

And it's not quite a turning back of the clock. The attendees are all good-looking, talented, well-dressed -- many of them likely cultural creators. This crowd tends to fit in well in the trendy neighborhood. But these young men and women want to pursue their success in terms of eternity; they want their every action to reflect a greater purpose and love. They don't just talk about love and feelings, and they don't want to get drunk for courage. They want to know how to truly have integrity, and how to use and keep it in a life beset with temptations.

As for the lawsuit against CUA, according to a memo prepared by Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney at the Alliance Defense Fund: "Catholic colleges should not feel compelled to maintain co-ed dorms simply because a lone attorney in D.C. is threatening to sue. No court has ever held that a college must maintain co-ed dorms. And based on well-established law, it is very unlikely that a court would do so."

"The sexual revolution has lowered the price of sex," Jennifer Roback Morse, author of "Love and Economics," notes, "so that it is harder for women to refuse, even good, well-brought-up young women who want to refuse. CUA's move will create a less toxic environment for women, making it easier for them to resist the pressure for sexual activity. This in turn can create space for young adults to cultivate other non-sexual aspects of relationship and friendship." It's the topic of Regnerus' book and it's what is driving the real experts, those young people in SoHo, to a pope who died when many of them were still quite young.

It's not "No sex please, we're Catholic," though that happens to be an easy beginning to a conversation introducing Catholic sexual teaching. And it's certainly not an exercise in discrimination. It's about human dignity. The Carrie Bradshaws of this generation don't think their Manolos are made for walking from hook-up to hook-up. But they also need a little encouragement, the gals and guys alike. John Garvey answers that generational cry for help with good ol' common sense. And it happens to be an appropriate conversation-starter for a lesson in sexual integrity.