Dawn Eden has a fascinating take on where modern youth are — and where they are headed. I recently wrote a story for OSV about the alarming “hookup culture” developing on college campuses, and spoke with Dawn Eden about the phenomenon. That interview, in full, follows.
What’s so different about this phenomenon than the 1970s?
What’s different is that back in the 1970s young people had some idea of a normative relationship. They had some sort of model before them of a lasting marriage—usually that of their own parents, but, if not, those of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others close to them. So they felt that if they ‘sowed their wild oats,’ as their older generation might have put it, they could still come back, eventually, to the point of being able to have a happy marriage.
Today, young people are surrounded by broken families, and so to them the normative relationship is a relationship in which they are looked upon not for who they are but only for what they do.
That’s why hooking up seems natural to them.
You’ve been there.
My own experience is that I came from a family of divorce. And when I was in college and in my 20s during the period that I write about in my book, I felt groundless. I felt that I had no base of unconditional love in my family from which I could then understand that I had value for who I was. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t love me. But children of divorce for many reasons feel, whether this is in fact true or not, that they have to in some way earn their parents’ love. For example, a child may feel that their parents broke up because the parents didn’t love the child enough to stay together. There’s always that feeling that ‘if I were a better kids, then my parents would still be together,’ or ‘my father would be willing to see me more often.’
What does this do to women — and men — emotionally?
In my book, I talk about the hook-up culture, particularly as it relates to women. Since then, what I’ve tried to stress more which I don’t see stressed so much in the media is that it is extremely damaging to women and to men. It’s true that it damages them in different ways, but I think that the media, by focusing on the damage to women, is in some way unintentionally doing men a disservice and also feeding into feminist accusations against conservatives.
The reason I say that, is that feminists will often accuse abstinence proponents of having an idea that women should be perfectly pure, whereas men are just naturally going to be brute beasts. I think, unfortunately, certain conservative writers have in fact propagated this idea, such as George Gilder, who in his book Sexual Suicide, which he later rewrote as Men and Marriage, argued that one could not expect men to act civilized unless women would civilize them by withholding sex outside of marriage. So I think that in the face of such an accusation from feminists, it’s even more necessary that we stress that hook-ups damage men as well as women.
With men, hookups damage their ability to maintain a faithful, committed relationship and put them in the habit of objectifying women. It’s not as if a man can go from having hookups to then just having a happy marriage. In the marriage, he is going to be emotionally stunted, lacking the ability to be giving of himself and faithful to his wife.
For women, hookups are similarly damaging, in that they train one to objectify oneself and others, and they also train one to be unfaithful. For women, the damage goes deeper in that women biochemically tend to be affected on a deeper level by the connection they feel in sex, so that it’s much harder for them to separate afterwards.
In both men and women, nature causes the human body to release hormones that create a feeling of bonding during sex—because if a child is conceived, the child will be most likely to thrive if its parents remain together. That’s simple biology; one can be a Darwinist and understand that. The chemical produced in a woman that enables this feeling of bonding is oxytocin—the same one that is released during breastfeeding and helps facilitate the bonding feeling between the mother and her child.
Now, where Darwin and Aquinas agree, is that humans can, unlike the animals, choose to overrule the feelings that their hormones produce. I know this from my own experience as a woman. That’s why I try to warn women of the danger of trying to follow Helen Gurley Brown’s dictum to “have sex like a man. As bad as it is psychologically for men to force themselves to separate their emotions from sex, it’s worse for women. After repeatedly attempting to separate her emotions from what she’s doing sexually, a woman can lose not only the ability to bond that will allow her to remain bonded for her partner, but her ability to be bonded to anybody, which is a terrible thing to lose when one hopes to be a mother.
Articles always point out that alcohol plays a huge role in this phenomenon.
I’ve never been much of a drinker, so alcohol was not a determining factor in my own experience. I think anybody can say that alcohol intensifies the risk of bad behavior across the board; it intensifies the risk that one is going to make poor judgments. If kids were properly taught about the true meaning and value of sex, and why it has to be reserved for marriage, then there wouldn’t be so much of the risk that, upon leaving home for college, they would proceed to get drunk and have sex.
I think parents are making a huge mistake by leaving it to other people to teach their children about sex. In particular, their huge mistake is assuming that sex can be taught outside the realm of healthy relationships.
Before the 20th century, when “sex education” became an obsession, Catholics traditionally learned about sex through witnessing the processes of birth and life and death in the home. They would learn about it first and foremost through the natural affection that they would see between their parents, and so they would develop the understanding that whatever transpires between parents once they close their doors for the evening is the proper flowering of a healthy relationship. While the physical act of sex was rightly private, the love, commitment, and fidelity that undergirded it was present in every aspect of the parents’ lives.
Even today, parents who perhaps feel that they are in no position to teach kids about a healthy relationship, because they themselves are divorced, are really selling themselves short about what they can share with their kids. Anything a parent can model to a child in terms of true respect for others and true respect for the marital relationship is going to teach kids far more than they can learn anywhere else.
Parents seem to feel like, if kids learn about sex in church or in their church school, by a speaker on chastity or the theology of the body, then they’re ‘covered.’ It’s simply not true—and I say this as one who has given over 100 talks on chastity. Even if kids are getting the holiest presentation they can get outside the home, it will not give them anything approaching what they could learn from the godly example and teaching of a parent. And this in fact is what the magisterium has said and continues to say, that a child’s education in everything pertaining to the Christian life—including relationships, marriage and what transpires in marriage—should begin in the home.
[Thanks again to John Norton for letting the Register site steal some of his thunder. The article over at OSV including other sources and more statistics is here.]