Sex, drugs, and Catholic colleges in the US

You’ve probably heard the stereotype: Catholic colleges are in denial about their students’ sexual lives and alcohol use.

Indeed, it’s true that many Catholic universities traditionally ended the conversations on sex and underage drinking with a simple, “just say no!”

And yet, students attending Catholic colleges do not differ from students at other colleges, with sex and drinking nationally starting before college.

Recent surveys suggest the average age Americans start having sex is 17, and the average age of first use of alcohol is 14.

With 95 percent of Americans having sex before marriage, it’s safe to say there’s a bit of a gap between the official university policies and actual student behavior.

Moving beyond the stereotype, I suspect the traditional Catholic abstinence-only model isn’t as black and white as some people may have painted it.

I spoke the other day with a recently graduated R.A. from a Catholic college who told me the way he was trained to handle sexual issues on campus.

“Sex is not allowed at this school between unmarried students,” his Resident Director told him in training.

“But if sexual situations occur, including unwanted sexual acts,” he said, dropping to a more hushed tone, “there are some off-campus resources for you to give students including counseling and comprehensive health centers that I’ll email you.”

This workaround mentality, while well-intentioned, doesn’t seem that effective for students who may be uneducated about sexual responsibility, alcohol’s effect on the sexual experience, and the shame reaction that occurs after sexual assault.

With a recent poll claiming 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during college, the “sex doesn’t happen, but if it does, deal with it off campus” attitude seems to be a major pastoral missed opportunity.

This week’s video, however, proves this stereotype is becoming less and less accurate. Continue reading


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