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Faith, campus relationships in a ‘hook-up’ culture explored at religious ed workshop

LOS ANGELES, CA (The Tidings) - Does the faith practice of college students influence their sexual decision making?

At the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Dr. Tom Beaudoin, assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, will present recent research on that provocative topic in his Feb. 29 afternoon workshop titled, “Spirituality and Sexuality in College Student Life.”

In a phone interview from Santa Clara with The Tidings Feb. 12, Beaudoin, a fellow in the American Psychoanalytic Association, said he will report on new campus sociological research, recent adolescent/young adult behavior studies and “fascinating” findings on the relationship between students’ faith and sexual decision making based on an upcoming book release, “Sex and the Soul,” by Boston University Catholic theologian, Donna Freitas.

Freitas’ book, due out in a few weeks, presents information gleaned from thousands of surveys of students at Catholic, evangelical, public and private universities. In addition, it features details from over 100 personal interviews of college students.

The latest sociological research on college campuses, says Beaudoin, shows a pervasive “hook-up” culture, where many students engage in short-term sexual encounters primarily presumed to be recreational with little or no expectation of commitment. “Many studies say the hook-up culture is setting the standard for sexual practices in college, including Catholic colleges,” said Beaudoin.

Ties between spirituality and sex

According to the professor, this hook-up reality provides special challenges for Catholic colleges and Catholic campus ministries in helping make clear the relationship between students’ spirituality and sexual decision making. Studies indicate Catholics may have a lot to learn from the way other faith communities handle this relationship, he says.

“What seems to be the case is that evangelical schools and ministries are much more interested in fostering a distinctive faith practice in students and talking frankly about sexual decision making,” Beaudoin pointed out.

“Many studies show that Catholic college students feel they do not have a practical spirituality that relates to practical sexual decision making in the real world. What we often find is their sexual vocabulary far outstrips their spiritual vocabulary.”

Beaudoin emphasized that college students “don’t come from nowhere” --- their past experiences, perceptions and religious training enter into their decision making. “There are multiple ways in which the relationship between spiritual practice and sexual decision making can work itself out. It’s beneficial to try to pay attention to what those ways are,” said Beaudoin.

In his workshop, Beaudoin will discuss the negative aspects of today’s hook-up culture which, according to several studies, is a culture based on men’s pleasure. Also, says Beaudoin, there’s evidence that sexual assault is too frequently a part of the hook-up culture and remains seriously underreported. A lead story in the Santa Clara University campus paper recently dealt with this phenomenon of underreported rapes on college campuses.

“Bodily integrity, justice and love in interpersonal relationships are central to Catholic teaching and Catholic identity,” said Beaudoin. “The Catholic Church needs to talk about the relationship between spiritual life and sexual decision making because it’s a part of every Catholic college student’s life whatever their practices are.”


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Tidings (, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.



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