Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sexual Assault on Campus and the Curse of the Hookup Culture

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sexual Assault on Campus and the Curse of the Hookup Culture

Article excerpt

Survey students about the problem. Train victim advocates. Urge bystanders to intervene.

You can find these suggestions - and other equally sound ones - in the report issued this month by a White House task force on sexual assault at U.S. colleges. But here's a recommendation that you won't find in it: Challenge the hookup culture that dominates undergraduate life.

There's still a perception that college is about sex, and that you can't have one without the other.

Although about 40 percent of female college seniors report that they are virgins or have had sex only once, many others are engaging in sexual activity. At colleges nationally, by senior year, 4 in 10 students are either virgins or have had intercourse with only one person, according to the Online College Social Life Survey.

The culture is marked by a lack of commitment and especially of communication between partners, who rarely tell each other what they actually want. So it has also brought with it an appalling amount of unwanted sex.

Consider a study of 2,500 college students published last year by Donna Freitas. She confirms what we already knew: Many students engage in casual sex. More than that, though, the book shows that students feel a great deal of pressure to keep the sex casual; that is, to remove themselves emotionally from it.

"It's just something that I feel like as a college student you're supposed to do," one woman told Ms. Freitas. "It's so ingrained in college life that if you're not doing it, then you're not getting the full college experience."

A double standard still governs here because a woman with too many hookups can be deemed a "slut" or worse. But both sexes are supposed to keep their feelings out of it, as best they can.

"My college friends . are constantly warning me about guys getting too attached, or keeping myself at a distance," another woman told Ms. Freitas. "They advise me to hold my cards close and play them strategically to get what I want."

What most students of both sexes really want - as my own students often tell me - is a long-standing, romantic relationship. But the hookup code works against that, encouraging them to remain isolated and detached.

And a good way to do that is to get drunk. According to a 2007 study, more than half of college sexual encounters with someone who is not a steady partner involve alcohol. …

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