Yesterday, I interviewed Donna Freitas, author of "The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy."
In our dialogue, we agreed that her book subtitle was accurate, but we disagreed as to the cause. Freitas, who holds a Ph.D. in religious studies, blamed it on peer pressure, the sex-drenched social media of young people and the ubiquity of pornography. I blamed three other culprits: feminism, careerism and secularism.
I was in college and graduate school during the heyday of modern feminism. And the central message to women was clear as daylight: You are no different from men. Therefore, among other things, you can enjoy sex just like they do -- just for the fun of it and with many partners. The notion that nearly every woman yearns for something deeper when she has sexual intercourse with a man was dismissed as patriarchal propaganda. The culture might tell her to restrict sex to a man who loves her and might even marry her, but the liberated woman knows better: Sex without any emotional ties or possibility of future commitment can be "empowering."
Feminism taught -- and professors on the New York Times op-ed page continue to write -- that there are no significant natural differences between men and women. Therefore, it is not unique to male nature to want to have sex with many partners. Rather, a "Playboy culture" "pressures" men into having frequent, uncommitted sex. And, to the extent this is a part of male nature, it is equally true of women's natures.
Another feminist message to women was that just as a woman can have sex like a man, she can also find career as fulfilling as men do. Therefore, pursuing an "M-R-S" at college is just another residue of patriarchy. Women should be as interested in a career as men are. Any hint of the notion that women want, more than anything else, to marry and make a family is sexist, demeaning, and untrue.
One result is that instead of trying to find a potential husband, young women are under feminist pressure to show that they couldn't care less about forming an exclusive, let alone permanent, relationship with a man. And this provides another reason for her to engage in non-emotional, commitment-free sex.
The third reason for the hookup culture is the radical secularization of the college campus. The concept of the holy is dead at American campuses, and without the notion of the holy it is very difficult to make the case for minimizing, let alone avoiding, non-marital sex. Sex, which every great religion seeks to channel into marriage, has no such role in secular thinking. The (SET ITAL) only (END ITAL) issues for students to be aware of when it comes to sex are health and consent. Beyond those two issues, there is not a single reason not to have sex with many people.
That's why colleges -- secular temples that they are -- throughout America reinforce the centrality and importance of sex as a mechanical act. There are "sex weeks" at many of our institutions of higher learning that feature demonstrations of sex toys, S&M seminars, porn stars coming to speak, etc.
Feminist teaching about male-female sameness; feminist teaching that women will derive their greatest meaning from career, not from marriage and family; and the complete removal of religious values and teaching from the college campus are, indeed, "leaving a generation unhappy, sexually unfulfilled [certainly most of the women] and confused about intimacy."
But this is not how Dr. Freitas sees it.
As Esfehani Smith wrote in her review of the book for the Wall Street Journal: "In the book's conclusion, Ms. Freitas says that she wants young adults to have 'good sex,' a category that can include, she suggests, hooking up -- as long as students recognize that casual sex is 'just one option among many.' Yet this jars with the nearly 200 preceding pages on the corrosive effects of casual sex."
Kudos, then to Dr. Freitas for delineating the tragedy. But I suspect that it is her very Ph.D. that prevents her from understanding either the roots of this human tragedy or its solution. Both would involve the moral and intellectual rejection of the very institution that granted it to her.