Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mindy Meier: Sex on Campus

It’s probably not surprising to learn that a hookup culture of casual sex exists on college campuses. What might be shocking are two discoveries made by sociologist Donna Freitas in her groundbreaking research and book Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses. After many years of surveying and interviewing college students, here’s what she learned: First, most students don’t want to participate in the hookup culture, but feel pressured to for lack of an alternative. Second, while many students identify themselves as “spiritual,” their spirituality has very little influence on their sexuality. Third, even though most students are frustrated and have been hurt by the hookup culture, they have very few places to openly discuss their concerns.

Freitas also interviewed students at evangelical colleges. While the hookup culture was not as prevalent, students still felt like they had limited ways to discuss sexuality on campus. There was intense pressure to be engaged before graduation (“ring by spring”) and students who were in sexual relationships didn’t have many people who they could confide in. Freitas concludes, “The prevailing religious message about sex among students is either to guard purity with one’s life or to see sex as irrelevant to one’s spiritual practices and religious commitments.” Because we must address this sobering sexual reality, I spoke with Mindy Meier, author of Sex and Dating: Questions You Wish You Had Answers To, about Freitas and her research.

Derek: Before we talk about Donna Freitas’ book Sex & The Soul, tell us about your work and what led you to write your book, Sex and Dating: Questions You Wish You Had Answers To.

Mindy: I work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational parachurch ministry that serves college students. Part of my job is meeting with students and the topic of sex and dating frequently comes up. I found that the same questions come up over and over again in student appointments and during Q & A sessions on sex and dating. I simply took these questions and gave brief 3 or 4 page answers to help college students think through theses issues. Each question involves a personal story of someone who is wrestling with the issue raised. Students are very busy and a book written in a Q & A format allows them to zero in on topics of interest and skip the ones that do not intersect their lives.

Derek: From your own experience, do you think Freitas provides an accurate picture of the sexual culture on today’s college campuses?

Mindy: Yes, I think Freitas presents a very accurate picture of the sexual culture on today’s college campuses. She interviewed students from a wide range of schools. The fact that she allowed students to answer in written form and also did personal interviews makes her research very enlightening. She is an academic researcher but also captures subtle nuances with colorful narratives used to describe the people she interviewed. I found her book very engaging to read. The student stories rang true with my experience on college campuses...

Read the entire interview in the spring edition of Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU (starting on page 6).

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