- - Monday, November 13, 2017

My two eldest children are in college, and listening to them talk about intimate relationships among their peers can be frightening. These days, young men and women seem to relate to each other chiefly in superficial, anatomic ways, too often fueled by heavy drinking. Disturbingly high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, rampant pornography addiction and casual sex that leaves girls feeling used and depressed are the most obvious results. But students have also lost ineffable things like the rites of romance and courtship that used to make the years of dating a sweet interlude on the way to stable marriages and happy families.

Not all undergraduates are willing to settle for the sleazy new normal. They believe they might be meant for nobler things than pornographic superficiality — like fidelity, exclusivity, permanence and, dare I say it, sacrificial love. These countercultural students are forming groups that act as safe spaces, communities of like-minded people protecting themselves and each other from the pressure to participate in soulless hook-ups and their sad consequences. They are creating associations like Love Saxa, a campus group at Georgetown University that promotes healthy romance and sexual integrity. Although their aim is simply to support young people who wish to engage in wholesome dating and safe relationships that lead to marriage, they have come under attack from a radical and intolerant fringe for their countercultural views.

Love Saxa just won its battle to exist as a fully accredited student association, but if the students who were demanding its members be ousted had succeeded, it would not only have been a triumph of intolerance, but also a sad loss for the whole student community. That’s because the counterculture love warriors are right, and their message needs to be promoted and amplified, not chilled. What they are proposing is a grander, nobler understanding of love and identity than what the sexual revolution of the ‘60s preached, and one that promises rich benefits like healthier and safer relationships based on sexual integrity and a better chance at successful, lasting and fruitful unions.

Love Saxa and similar groups at other universities argue that today’s rampant sexual libertinism is the result of a mistaken understanding of the human person and his or her fundamental needs. Today’s college students have been taught that self-expression and self-determination are direct roads to happiness, and that a fulfilling life is one of comfort, pleasure, bodily health and endless choices. They’re been taught they have the right and, in fact, the positive duty to reinvent themselves continually, untrammeled by vows, by moral or ethical rules, by their natural human obligations to family and society, or even by biology. They have been taught to live in a sickening cyclone of libertinism, and told that they are nauseous because they aren’t spinning fast enough.

The cure for the nausea, Love Saxa would teach them, is understanding that men and women can only find true happiness in authentic, loving relationship with others. As St. John Paul II wrote, “Love is … the fundamental vocation of every human being.” And each person “bears both the vocation to love, and the need to be loved by others.” The only truly human way for one person to relate to another, the only way that truly satisfies us and fulfills our deepest, most fundamental needs, is loving the “other” as “other,” desiring their good as we desire our own. St. John Paul II calls this the “particular portion of human beings.”

In this reading of human nature, sex is the most intimate and vulnerable expression of love, and in its noble fullness, gives us children who enrich our lives and binds us mightily to our spouses.

When it is trivialized as a pastime, sex dehumanizes, abuses and demoralizes us, creating a cascade of ugly consequences with which college students are too familiar. We are most emphatically not relating to the other with love, and instead are using the “other” for a passing pleasure. Disease, loneliness and broken hearts are all signals of just how wrong this approach is.

Furthermore, men are meant to be chivalrous and upright, protectors and guardians of the dignity and integrity of every one who crosses their path, the very opposite of sexual predators. Women are meant to know the treasure of their persons, to know they have the right to demand true love as their portion, and not just one-night stands.

These are heady concepts and robust challenges to what passes for love and sex in college dorms across the country. To repurpose a perfect phrase from G.K. Chesterton, sexual liberation is “the grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom.” Love Saxa wants to deliver Georgetown students from the sexual decadence that wounds them physically and emotionally. The intolerant fringe who sought to shut them down are tyrants who can’t bear to think that happiness and fulfillment might be found in the old familiar places, and in the old familiar ways.

• Grazie Pozo Christie is a policy adviser for the Catholic Association.

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