Worried about Sex, Again

They call it “gender neutral housing,” an ironic term, since it’s anything but gender neutral.   According to the news accounts I’ve read, Rutgers University is trying a pilot project the coming Fall semester in which students can choose roommates of either sex.  In this new arrangement, people will be able to live with their partners (gay or straight) or have roommates of the same or opposite sex based on any other consideration they choose.  As a guy, I could choose a female roommate who is not my girlfriend, or she could be my girlfriend.  As a guy, I could choose a guy who is my boyfriend, or not.  Any way is OK.

The appeal for this change came from the GLBT community and, from their perspective, it makes perfect sense.  It allows for the expression of the most equitable roommate arrangements with regard to as wide a range of sexual expressions as possible.  I see their point, but I’m worried about other consequences.

Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, has studied and written about emerging adult sexuality and, if you’re any kind of Christian (liberal or conservative; pick any label you wish) his findings should be a matter of concern.  (To get a sample of his work, go to www.changingsea.org/regnerus.php.)  One study shows that only 16% of adults between the ages of 18 and 23 have not had sexual intercourse.  In the same age group, among those who are romantically involved, only 6% are not having sex of some sort.

As Regnerus points out, this news is really not new news.  In fact, most of us who work with young adults are sick of hearing about it, because we feel 99% hopeless that we can change these statistics.  Aside from the occasional sex-and-dating stuff that some campus ministers still try to do, we have largely abdicated this field.

But the idea that there is not a cost for this approach to sex among college students (to limit my emerging adulthood reference to my work context) is false and dangerous.  And I’m not merely talking about the utilitarian consequences (e.g. STDs) of sexual activity.  I am talking about the emotional/spiritual wounds.

(At this point in the blog, I feel the need to say, “I’m not a prude.  This post is not about pining away for some purer, simpler time, nor is it a right-wing diatribe.”  There, I feel better.)

Another author has written of the “no regrets” mantra of young people (Christian Smith, Souls in Transition).  In interviews, young people, after describing some of the most painful, heartrending experiences, commonly say something like, “But I have no regrets.  It (the painful experience) has made me what I am today.”  Many of the “its” have to do with sexual activity leading to unhealthy relationships, unwanted pregnancies and a list of other collateral damages.  It starts with sex, but it does not end there.

Back to Regnerus: serial monogamy is the thing.  Students are generally not promiscuous.  The free love days are long gone.  They still want to get married (even though they’re marrying much later than earlier generations).  They have one partner at a time and they still have a sense of loyalty and boundaries while in that relationship.  But virtually all are having sex with that partner.  Sexual intercourse.  So, it turns out that sex still is more than just recreational.  It’s relational.  And when the relationship breaks up, it can be and usually is soul-searingly painful.

So, rather than just going with the democratic flow, like Rutgers has done, I think it’s high time for colleges and universities to re-examine our housing practices.  I know.  We are not in loco parentis, but I think this excuse is really a dodge.  We in higher education are held responsible in a million other ways for our young charges, even though we’re supposed to stay the heck out of their private lives.

I don’t have an answer, but I see the problem and we in higher education need to start talking about it.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

Comments

  1. Bryan Butz says:

    Amen, Uncle. Well said, I had not heard about thi mat Rutgers. As a parent of children who I hope will be headed to college in 6 or 7 years, this is alarming. I wonder where we will be at that time. Is there such thing as home colleging?

    • Steve Rankin says:

      I’m no good at reading tea leaves, but I’m guessing that many colleges will do with Rutgers is doing. I saw a piece about the U. of Michigan considering the same thing. Schools like SMU will eventually be pressed to follow. It will be exceedingly interesting to see what kinds of conversations we might start having here. Schools like Baylor (explicitly Christian) will likely say no. I was just there and they still have visiting hours.

  2. Steve! Thanks for sharing this post.

    I think it’s incredibly sad when we, as institutions, make decisions (or allow them) that can only lead to pain, confusion and frustration for our students in the future.

    Our home is supposed to be one of the few “safe places” in the world… and I think a move like this will change that.

    Regarding your quote from Smith about students laissez-faire attitude towards their sexual experiences, and history, I think it’s a bunch of baloney. I think our students have learned the language of “accepting” their “mistakes” without really calling them “mistakes” or “owning” the responsibility that those mistakes bring about. They’ve had it modeled for them by our pop-culture and hollywood celebrities that have to do this kind of thing on a regular basis. I wonder how different our students might think/act if others were really honest about the hurt and pain (both in the moment… but also in the years that followed) their experiences brought about.

    I wonder if this might be something that drives more students (and/or parents of students) towards Christian universities in the future… knowing that they will likely never yield to this trend?

    What do you think Steve?

  3. If we accept a few notions now popular in our culture:
    – There are more than two genders since gender is not merely a matter of biology, but of orientation;
    – All relationships can be seen as potentially sexualized;
    – Any actions that are performed with the consent of those involved and that do not cause harm are permissible;

    then moving in this direction makes perfect sense. Sure seems like an impoverished world to me, though.

  4. Clay Knick says:

    This is excellent. I just learned about your blog and I’m having fun (really!) reading many of your posts.

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