Evangelical Christians versus Catholics on hook-up culture

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Article Sex and Sexuality Young Adults

What do non-evangelicals think of evangelical dating culture?

My students were shocked when they read evangelical books on dating. The idea that you would know your partner's religious affiliation, what made them tick, or what kind of family they came from before you had sex with them was unheard of.

They couldn't imagine how to bring religion or spirituality into relationships. It was way too intimate a question. It's something you get into after you had been with somebody for six months. What's really interesting is that you have a lot of people with extremely different value systems in long-term, serious relationships because the conversation happened way after the fact. Many serious relationships start only after a serial hooking-up that has taken place over the course of months where there is little to no conversation in between the hook-ups.

Among evangelicals you couldn't even think about whether someone was attractive before you knew whether or not the person was Christian.

What are other differences between evangelical college students and Catholic students?

I asked everybody why they came to their college and 90-some percent of the students at evangelical colleges said off the bat, "I wanted a Christian education." 

With the Catholic students, almost nobody said "I wanted to go to a Catholic college."

When you look at Catholic colleges, unless it's very conservative, a lot of them say, "We're Catholic, but so what?  Don't worry about that. We have a great basketball team!"

There's a lot of debate on campuses about how prominent Catholic identity should be. Some places there's a sense that if we show that we're too Catholic, then we'll scare people away.

You write about how evangelicals can be forgiven for things that they regret. Why don't Catholic students turn to Confession if they regret sexual behavior?

On an evangelical campus you have people all the time who are constantly interacting with each other in faith-based ways, so it's not weird to pray together for forgiveness.

There is a lot of religious intimacy, like sitting down every night to pray with your boyfriend for 10 minutes. It's very startling to someone who is not used to it. 

But for Catholics, religion is personal. One girl I interviewed told me that she had two sexual experiences that she would call spiritual, but she didn't discuss that with her partner. She experienced it by herself, and she would never tell her friends or the person that she was with about her feelings.

If evangelicals thought God had blessed a kiss, they'd probably thank God and pray over it. If you're always in a world that has an intimate, confessional aspect in it, then it's just natural.

But if everything is very private to you, it's much scarier to go into a confessional and confess your sex life to somebody who's probably much older than you are.

Are you proposing evangelical schools as a model for other schools? If not, what is good about the other schools?

The biggest problem I found with evangelical schools was that everybody's stressed out with regards to sex. Even evangelicals sometimes think the purity culture is like a straitjacket, especially for the women. They feel so stressed about where the lines are.

You have more sexual freedom and acceptance of diversity outside the evangelical world and I don't think that that's a bad thing. One of the best things about other schools is what I call "the ability to say yes," the ability to try to figure out where the boundary is.

It becomes a problem when it turns into essentially the opposite of chastity, which is hook-up culture. These schools play up diversity and how they value it, but they don't do anything with it. Religious diversity is a taboo topic. Everybody is afraid to have an opinion.

I think some of the things that the evangelicals hunger for are present on non-evangelical campuses, but they're just not tapped into in a way that's really productive for the student. There's so much potential at these schools except there's also so much fear about taking advantage of it.