Culture challenge of the week: Young women's vulnerabilities
The day is fast approaching when you'll drop your little girl off at her freshmen dorm. After lugging her stuff to her new room, meeting the roommate, and exchanging hugs all around, the hours will have sped by and you'll be driving away, alone, all too soon.
For her, it's the beginning of a brand new world of lectures, libraries, meal cards, parties and guys. Unfortunately, it's a world that's increasingly likely to include sex, but not dating, relationships or even healthy male-female friendships.
Welcome to the "hookup culture." Free and easy sex — with no emotional ties — is the supposedly sophisticated choice on campus these days.
Why would a girl willingly embrace such a social scene? A recent article in The New York Times, "Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too," offers one explanation. The writer, who spent months interviewing young women from the University of Pennsylvania, reported that college-aged women prioritize resume-enhancing activities over time-draining relationships. Never mind the men who won't grow up and commit to a relationship, these young women are so driven for career success that they have no time, interest or energy for real relationships.
Only time for meaningless sex.
Kate Taylor's article doesn't hide the ugly sides of the hookup culture. Many of the young women she interviewed confessed that they could only hook up if they were intoxicated. In some tragic cases, girls become too intoxicated to say "no" if they had a change of heart. (According to one survey cited in the article, nearly 14 percent of women have been victims of sexual assault on college campuses.)
Do these sound like empowered young women?
Some radical feminists would say yes, because they believe that the hookup culture is "all about figuring out what you want and what you need." Hanna Rosin's 2012 article in The Atlantic argued that "women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don't get in the way of future success."
The problem? It's just not true.
How to save your family: Tell her she's made for more
Our teenagers and young adult children need to hear the truth: We are made for love — not transient sexual relationships. And when we ignore that truth, we will be hurt, often badly.
Dr. Miriam Grossman, a veteran campus psychiatrist from UCLA, spent years treating countless young women who sought help for depression, eating disorders, anxiety and low self-esteem — all fueled by the hookup culture. Worse, she realized that teachers, doctors and sex educators had utterly failed to level with these young adults: No one had ever told them that the hookup culture would wreak havoc on their physical and emotional health.
Dr. Grossman, whose best-seller "Unprotected" revealed the toxic sexual climate on college campuses today, has written an excellent pamphlet for older teens and college students titled, "Sense and Sensuality." It's short, compelling and will give your daughter — or any college-bound student you care about — the information that no one else will tell them about the hookup culture and its real effects. (The pamphlet is available as a free download on miriamgrossmanmd.com, or may be purchased in hard copy for a small fee.)
It's not enough, however, to give our young adults accurate information about the consequences of casual sex. We must let our daughters (and sons) know that they were made for more than the pursuit of a pleasurable "fix." They are made for love — to experience the limitless love of their creator and to respond with love in return. This deep experience of his unlimited love will empower them to build a healthy, giving relationship capable of becoming a lasting marriage.
Our children have a wealth of opportunity ahead of them. Let's keep them moving forward, encouraging them to build healthy relationships that lead toward enduring friendships and — with the right person — a happy marriage.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.