Hofstra professor addresses ‘Sex and the Soul’

By Brandon Desiderio
October 5, 2011

For many college students, penciling in meaningful sex in between chaotic, often conflicting schedules of school and work is nearly impossible. Instead, it’s much easier to participate in the casual hookup culture and screw it all – sometimes literally. That is Dr. Donna Freitas’ two cents on the matter, anyway.

A professor of religion at Hofstra University, Freitas came to speak candidly to Cabrini students on Wednesday, Sept. 21 about sex. Primarily a follow-up conversation for the honors freshmen enrolled in Dr. Leonard Primiano’s Search for Meaning course, who read Freitas’ “Sex and the Soul,” earlier this semester, the discussion nonetheless required little from its participants aside from a healthy curiosity about the sex lives of college students.

Freitas began her work on “Sex and the Soul,” after having been approached by students who were interested in so-called “hookup culture,” as well as deviation from that culture. “I was always the professor tapped for forbidden topics,” she said.

In addition, she noted, there was a debate among students at the time of whether or not condoms should be sold on campus.

Sex and the Soul,” is a collection of one-on-one interviews that Freitas conducted during a nationwide study of hers, which examined the effects of sexuality and romance on the spiritual lives of college students throughout America. Aside from these interviews, some participants of the study kept journals or participated in online surveys. “I underestimated how much interest there would be on college campuses in this project,” Freitas said.

Over 2,500 students in total contributed to the study, 55 percent of whom were female, with an overall 10 percent, both female and male, identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual. After analyzing her research, Freitas said, “There was a lot of distancing between romance and sex. It was very perplexing to me.”

According to her study, college students are expected  to have a casual attitude about sex. Her data was gathered from private, public, secular, Catholic and Evangelical universities. Out of all of those types of institutions, only students from Evangelical colleges spoke of saving sex for after marriage.

In order to further illustrate her point, Freitas defined “hooking up” with three criteria. First, she claims, there has to be a level of sexual intimacy involved – whether it’s kissing or making out, or various different types of sex. Second, the “hookup” must be brief – as brief as 10 minutes, or as long as a one-night encounter. Lastly, the hookup must be purely physical. “People are terrible at this sort of separation of body and soul,” Freitas said, referring to the last criteria.

Since “hookup culture” doesn’t include romance, she says that it is teaching students that having “meaningless” sex is the only way to have sex. “College students don’t have enough time for intimate, meaningful sex – they squeeze it into their schedules,” Freitas said.

Despite this, Freitas claims that students at these universities – aside from those at Evangelical universities, which she regards as “a whole different lecture” – remain very interested in having sex and are nevertheless interested in continuing to be sexually active, although they’re all the while looking for more “meaningful” sex.

In relation to religion, she recalls her own sex education. “I grew up in a very Catholic family and we never talked about sex. We just didn’t,” Freitas said, stating that she and her father have never even directly spoken about her “Sex and the Soul,” project.

Her conclusions at the end of the project were, for the most part, directed at her own experiences, herself having been an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, a predominantly Catholic institution. As for how sex is concerned in Catholicism, Freitas cited three “three-word” teachings that she believes are at the heart of the Catholic Church’s thoughts on the matter: “One, don’t do it; two, don’t use condoms; and three, don’t be gay.”

“As Catholics, we often think of ourselves as exporters of social justice,” Freitas said. “But what happens when all of that social justice teaching is exported? Where’s that social justice on the weekends on campus, when you’re at that party?”

“Given this centrality of sex on college campuses,” she concluded, noting the fact that conversations such as the ones included in “Sex and the Soul,” are happening everywhere, “we must ask that big question: what is good sex?”


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Brandon Desiderio

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