Strings Attached: Why the “hook-up culture” affects you
by Guy Chmieleski
The hookup culture — this “no strings attached” paradigm toward casual sexual encounters — has become the new normal among many Christian collegiates in America. According to Relevant magazine, “Eighty percent of young, unmarried Christians have had sex. Two-thirds have been sexually active in the last year. Even though, according to a recent Gallup poll, 76 percent of evangelicals believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong.”1
Yes, college students are having sex at alarmingly high rates, but truth be told, everyone is not doing it. One out of five young Christians have never had sex. One out of three haven’t had sex in the past year. If you haven’t had sex … you’re not alone. If you have, and you’re ready for a fresh start, now’s the time!
NOT JUST A MATTER OF FAITH
In February of 2012, U.S. News (on msnbc.com) reported that a group of students at Yale University were taking a stand against the “sexual obsession” on their campus. Standing in sharp contrast to Sex Week (which boasts more than 50 programs), the group “Undergraduates for a Better Yale College” hosted “True Love” week as a distinct alternative. With only a handful of programs, the group was hoping to promote love and relationships as part of a sexually active life. (OK, they had me up until that last sentence where it talked about being sexually active). But this group of students isn’t motivated by their faith. They’ve simply seen enough of the hookup culture to know that it’s not healthy, but rather deeply damaging — and they want their friends and peers to reconsider. So these non-Christians are taking a stand against a sexually-obsessed culture, at least to a point.
Engaging in sexual activity without a true understanding of what it’s doing to your hearts and minds — or your ability to have a healthy, monogamous, committed relationship in the future — is killing the souls of this generation of young people. We might be wise to take some cues from these well-intentioned students — but all the better if we consider how faith is supposed to inform this area of life.
Can I talk to you guys for just a moment? Gentlemen, it’s time for you to step up. I know you don’t know me, but know that this comes from a pastor’s heart and a parent’s heart, and I only want the very best for you.2
1. Everyone isn’t doing it. Yes, I know your hormones are raging right now. I know that the culture — even some of the Christian voices within our culture — are telling you “everyone’s doing it,” but they’re not. And while having sex right now might temper some of those internal urges that seem so out of your control, you’ll find yourself strapped with a whole new set of unexpected struggles and uncertainties should you choose to go through with it — or continue to engage in it. God always offers us an out, and a chance at redemption. But you have to choose Him.
2. Sex isn’t the answer for what ails you … God is. And that doesn’t begin to take into consideration what you’re doing to the hearts and minds of young women when you make them feel like they have to “give it up” in order to “earn” your love. You’re crushing them when you do this. You’re making them think that in order to receive love, they have to have sex with you. You’re communicating to them that their highest value comes through a sexual act. And while the raging hormones inside of you might lead you to actually believe such a thing, consider whether or not you’d believe such a lie about your mom. Or your sister. Or even your future daughter. Do you think their greatest value is offered through sex? What would you say to a guy who claimed that of them? Don’t be a hypocrite. You can’t have one set of standards for yourself and your situation and an entirely different set of standards for everyone else. “Be self-controlled in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity” (Titus 2:6b-7a).
ALL THE LADIES
Now I’d like to talk to you ladies for just a moment. If you were my student, and you asked for my advice, I might offer two general pieces of advice before we got situation-specific:
1. Respect yourself, because you can’t count on your male counterparts to do so. When it comes to sex and sexual temptations many young believers will allow their faith to be over-ridden by their sexual urges. They’ll compartmentalize their faith from their sexual desires and use every bit of influence they have to get you to do what they want you to do. You do not need to have sex in order to receive love. As much as you might not want to hear it … wait. Wait for a man who will respect you for waiting. Wait for a man who cares enough about his own relationship with God that he’s willing to fight the battles of sexual temptation now … because it’s a pretty good indicator that he’ll continue to fight those same battles throughout his adult/married life and not give into them.
2. Be mindful of how you dress. It shouldn’t matter, but it really truly does. Be aware of why you’re choosing to wear what you do, and consider how the guys in your life might be impacted — as the visually stimulated gender — by what you’re wearing. I’m all for looking one’s best, but please take time to consider what you’re revealing and why. Simply put, if you want to “help” your male counterparts out, being mindful of their struggles with this matter goes a long way. Solomon said, “Young women of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (Song of Songs 8:4).
WHAT GOD REALLY WANTS FOR YOU
God wants you to use these formative college years to learn how to delight yourself in Him (Psalm 119:35). He wants to shape you and mold you to be more like Jesus through the ways you think and live (Romans 12:2). He knows that when you’re focused on Him, the rest of life comes into better focus and takes on proper perspective — which helps you to make sound choices (Psalm 119:11). I’m sorry we (as the church) have not done our part to instruct you and train you up in all the right ways. I’m sorry if this has caused you undue pain, confusion, or struggle. Know that there’s a God how wants to set things right … and a number of adults (and peers) who want to walk with you as you continue to navigate these challenging times. Seek them out and watch God work in ways that only He can!
1. Tyler Charles, “Almost Everyone’s Doing It,” Relevant magazine, September/October 2011, 65.
2. Note: I’m speaking in broad generalities here. Individual men and women may experience something other than what I’ve identified for that specific gender. This is meant to be a general guide for common issues between the sexes, not an exhaustive list.
Guy Chmieleski is the university minister at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where he lives with his wife and four small children. He blogs regularly at faithoncampus.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @guychmieleski.