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Does hookup culture differ on Catholic campuses?

(The Conversation) Daniel is “free-spirited and open-minded” about hooking up. As one of the 70 percent of students who do so each year on U.S. college campuses, he embraces hookups and their culture of students having sexual encounters without expectations of any feelings, much less relationships. Hooking up, according to Daniel, is all about “fun,” “gratification,” “curiosity,” “party culture” and “hormones.”

As Catholicism teaches abstinence before marriages, there is a common perception that Catholic schools would be places without hookup culture.

But, are they?

Different types of Catholic cultures

In fact, all of the previous research indicated students on Catholic campuses hooked up just as frequently as their peers on other campuses, and maybe a bit more often.

Daniel was one of the students who spoke to me as I surveyed 1,000 students on 26 Catholic campuses between 2013 and 2015. As I started my research in 2013, I greatly increased the number of students and campuses being studied.

My first finding was there wasn’t any one type of Catholic campus – but three.

Some students described their campus as “very Catholic.” Mason, a sophomore, described his strongly Catholic campus by saying, “People identify with it and are drawn to it… . The Catholicism resonates through all the campus.”

There were different types of campus cultures.
CSU Monterey Bay, CC BY-NC-ND

Campuses that students described as “very” Catholic had similar characteristics. Approximately 80 percent of the students identified as Catholic; everyone was required to take three classes in theology; and residence halls were segregated by gender.

Then there were the “mostly Catholic” campuses. On average, 75 percent of students on these campuses were Catholic, and everyone was required to take two classes in theology. Their dorms were mostly were coed. Students described this culture as Catholic because it was “very nice” and “very hospitable.”

Finally, there was a third category – the “somewhat Catholic” campuses that I found. Students like Brooklyn, a sophomore, described this Catholic culture on her campus as being “there if you want it but is not in your face.” On these “somewhat” Catholic campuses, around 65 percent, on average, identified as Catholic. Students took one class in theology, and every residence hall was coed.

Different types of hookup culture

My second finding was that each of these Catholic cultures generated a different response to hookup culture.

On the very Catholic campuses, fewer than 30 percent of students hooked up. As one student put it, their school was “not like going to a state school because we don’t have parties here.” Instead, these schools were more like evangelical colleges, with hardly any hooking up. Even though the schools did not require an abstinence pledge, the Catholicism, to use Mason’s term, “resonated” throughout the campus bound students together in a common opposition to hooking up.
On mostly Catholic campuses, 55 percent of students hooked up, a number that is lower than the 70 percent of campuses in general but also higher than 30 percent of very Catholic schools. While the Catholic culture of these campuses was not strong enough to oppose hooking up, it was strong enough to transform it. The “friendly” Catholic culture changed hooking up from something with “no-strings-attached” to “a way into relationships.” A majority of students hooked up because relationships made hooking up seem ok. As one student said, “Hooking up is just a way to get there.”

Catholic campuses have many different cultures.
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While one might expect somewhat Catholic campuses to have the highest rates of hooking up, this was not the case. Fewer than half of the students – 45 percent – hooked up. Not quite as low as the 30 percent on very Catholic campuses, but 10 percent lower than on mostly Catholic campuses.

When I asked students on these campuses about hooking up, they said, “I can’t really say, but I would assume hookup culture exists everywhere” and “I am mostly oblivious to it.” Students still resisted the “no-strings-attached” hookup, but they were left on their own to do so. The “not in your face” Catholic culture of these campuses neither made hooking up as rare as on very Catholic campuses nor made it as acceptable as on mostly Catholic campuses. As Jackson, a senior from one of these somewhat Catholic campuses, said, “In my group of friends, hooking up does not exist. In certain cliques, in certain social circles, it does.”

The ConversationOverall, fewer students hooked up on Catholic campuses than on campuses in general. However, it wasn’t simply that a more Catholic culture meant less hooking up. It was just that a Catholic culture had an impact on the ways in which students thought about hooking up.

(Jason King is a professor of theology at Saint Vincent College. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article)


  1. Do you mean religious people, heterosexual people, and young people can be all three of those things AND sluts?

    Goshes, Mr. rogers. I’m so surprised. Nah, not surprised. Shocked. SHocked! I tell you.

  2. Religiously conservative parents of daughters often seek to send them to religious-based colleges in hopes it will preserve their virginity if it still exists. The article indicates while this works sometimes, the mileage may vary. I would have expected nothing else.

    Interestingly he does not name which Catholic colleges and universities fit into each of his three categories. I suspect this is in order to avoid any legal action, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I suspect Notre Dame would be in the “somewhat” Category, and Fordham not too far behind. I don’t have that much knowledge of that many other Catholic institutes of higher learning, but, being familiar with the two in my hometown of San Antonio, Our Lady of the Lake and St. Mary’s, I would think both of those would be in the “somewhat” category, although it’s possible neither had any participants in the study. St. Mary’s has the only law school in San Antonio and most of the lawyers-to-be there are not Catholic.

  3. Could academia+Catholic/(x,y,z)Denomination=Babylonian Harlot?

    Tried to bring teen sex to church discipline process. Govt medical system & @ELCA agreed medical confidentiality ruled against it. Excommunicated. Used Watchtower Sept. 87 for opinion re: medical professionals mandate to bring to church sins like fornication, when they become aware of them in practices.

    Told one Catholic to confess to priest her desire to be on birth control & report back. Church hierarchy in
    detente re: fornication and any discipline process.

    Fornication on campus foundational practice in interest of career development.

  4. I know several graduates, professors and students from Catholic Georgetown University in DC…it would make the most secular university envious…

    Georgetown has Sex-Positive weeks, Adult-Lifestyle clubs (the respectable name for Swingers), Georgetown provides same-sex partner benefits for employees, even the clergy is pro-LGBT…and Sandra Fluke with her fellow students get free birth control on campus – that of course, will not help with virgin-birth !!

    Recent university poll indicates 72% of Georgetown students are sexually active and 28% of females have a vibrator. The Vagina Monologues was a big hit at Georgetown and there are so many pro-choice feminists on campus that the bishops are concerned. More sexy Catholic info about the Hoyas…

    But, some Catholics are outraged — or jealous 🙂 …

  5. Galatians 5:16 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. These are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are revealed, which are these: adultery, sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I previously warned you, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Of course the purpose of the article isn’t to discuss the fallout from the “hook-up culture.” It doesn’t tell you about the std’s, the unplanned pregnancies, the loss of respect, the guilt from disobedience to God, the broken relationships, the emotional/psychological damage. Nope – just that Catholics don’t “do it” as much as others. Which doesn’t tell me much.

  6. Reading articles like this make me glad I came of age in the 80s, when there was still some beauty in youthful romantic relationships, and not today. The campus hook-up culture sounds unbelievably dreary.

  7. Lol. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and went to college in the mid to late 70’s and never heard of the phrase with its current meaning until recently. And having grown up on a farm “hook-up” even now has an entirely different meaning to me: like “Go hookup to that wagon and lets go get a load of hay.” Yup. The times they are a changin’.

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