WASHINGTON -- If you're younger than 30 or maybe even 35, you may not recognize the word "date" as a verb. But once upon a time, dating was something men and women did as a prelude to marriage, which -- hold on to your britches -- was a prelude to sex.
By now everyone's heard of the hook-up culture prevalent on college campuses and, increasingly, in high schools and even middle schools. Kids don't date; they just do it (or something close to "it," an activity that a recent president asserted was not actual sex), and then figure out what comes next. If anything.
As one young woman explained "hooking up" to Washington Post writer Laura Sessions Stepp (author of the book "Unhooked"): "First you give a guy oral sex and then you decide if you like him."
This conversation took place in the family room of the girl's home. Immediately after that definition was served, the mother offered Stepp a homemade cookie. And we thought cluelessness was for teenagers.
Too often what follows the hook-up is emotional pain and physical disease, the combination of which has created a mental health crisis on American campuses.
That diagnosis comes from Miriam Grossman, author and psychiatrist at UCLA and one of five women, including Stepp, who spoke recently at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center about sex on campus.
Grossman is most concerned that politically correct ideology has contaminated the health field at great cost to young lives. As Grossman sees it, when the scientific facts contradict what is being promoted as truth, then ideology has trumped reality.
Speaking to a packed room of mostly women, Grossman noted that while some in the audience had attended college during the free-love days, the world is far more dangerous now. Today there are more than two-dozen sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) -- 15 million new cases each year -- some of which are incurable.
The consequences are worse for young women, says Grossman. In her psychiatric practice, she has come to believe that women suffer more from sexual hook-ups than men do and wonders whether the hormone oxytocin is a factor. Oxytocin is released during childbirth and nursing to stimulate milk production and promote maternal attachment. It is also released during sexual activity for both men and women, hence the nickname "love potion."
Feminists don't much like the oxytocin factor, given the explicit suggestion that men and women might be physically and emotionally different. But wouldn't a more truly feminist position seek to recognize those hormonal differences and promote protection for women from the kind of ignorance that causes them harm?
Physically, young women are getting clobbered by STDs with potentially deadly results. If a young woman begins having sex as a freshman in college, there's a 50 percent chance she'll have the human papillomavirus (HPV) by her senior year. While most cases of HPV are harmless, the virus causes nearly every case of cervical cancer, says Grossman.
Stacey, one of the college students featured in Grossman's book "Unprotected," contracted HPV even though a condom was used. But HPV, like herpes, lives on skin that may not be covered by a condom. An HPV expert tells college women, "You'd be wise to simply assume your partner has HPV infection."
Your partner. What happened to your dearly beloved? He -- and she -- disappeared with coed dorms and the triumph of reproductive health ideology. While coed dorms replaced obstacle with opportunity, ideologically driven sex-education programs promoted permissiveness and experimentation.
Because sex ed is based on the assumption that young people are sexually active with multiple partners, kids have been led to believe by mainstream health professionals that casual sex is OK. That's a delusion, says Grossman, because scientific data clearly indicate otherwise. Casual sex is, in fact, a serious health risk.
Rather than spread that word, sex educators have tweaked their message from urging "safe sex" to a more realistic "safer sex," any elaboration of which would defy standards of decency. Interested parents can find out for themselves by visiting one of several university-sponsored sex advice Web sites, such as Columbia's GoAskAlice.com.
To all good and bad, there is an inevitable backlash, and casual sex has lost its allure for many students. Having learned painful lessons from their elders' misguided altruism, they are seeking other expressions of intimacy.
At Duke University recently, Stepp asked how many in her audience of about 250 would like to bring back dating. Four out of every five raised their hands.
It would seem that young people are not hook-up machines, but are human beings who desire real intimacy and emotional connection. Toward that end, parents might buy Grossman's book for their children -- and themselves.
Serve with cookies.