By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T

More and more single teens and young adults are “hooking up” instead of engaging in traditional courtship rituals, dating or cultivating platonic friendships with the opposite sex.

Instead some are meeting purely for sexual encounters with casual friends or even acquaintances with no intimacy and no strings attached.

In fact, when National Public Radio aired a recent report on this trend they interviewed students on a Philadelphia Catholic college campus, including young Catholics, who are engaged in this behavior.

This raises several questions. What are the physical, emotional and spiritual consequences of “hooking up?” How does it contradict the teachings of the Church? Are those involved in the behavior finding joy and happiness in it? What can be done to counteract the “hooking up” lifestyle, and how early should it be addressed?

To answer these questions The Catholic Standard & Times talked to Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia who spent four years as a chaplain at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster; Mary Jane Hurley Brant, a Catholic relationship psychotherapist; and Matthew Chominski, the education coordinator for Generation Life, a group that promotes chastity and healthy lifestyles among young people. Each was familiar with the NPR report on the hooking up trend.

“God has a plan for sexuality as a beautiful gift that was created as one of the blessings of marriage,” said Father Walsh. “When I was working at the school I heard about these so-called ‘friends with benefit’ relationships, or hooking-up mentality.

“I think its origins lie in the television, movies and videos the young people watch, which portrays sex as something only for pleasure. This has fostered this casual attitude about sex even among some of our young people,” he said.

Since men and women are created in the image and likeness of God they have innate dignity and freedom, enabling the capacity for self-control. Controlling one’s desires is the duty of all people, Father Walsh suggested, adding it is something that the hooking-up lifestyle does not promote.

“In the Church we recognize that priests and all religious must have sexual self-control,” said Father Walsh. “Yet we are all called to control our sexual desires. If a married person doesn’t do this they cannot be faithful to their spouse. If single persons engage in hooking up it will be easier for them to commit infidelity once they do marry. So, both married and single persons obviously have to control their desires.”

Brant is also concerned about the emotional well being of people hooking up, particularly of young women.

She said that it is unrealistic to separate one’s physical, emotional and spiritual selves into compartments. Though some attempt to do this, they often end up seeing some kind of counselor after they have become emotionally unbalanced or severely overwhelmed by the devastation of one of these casual sexual relationships.

The reason women are more likely to bear the brunt of the repercussions of hooking up is because women “tend to be more relational,” Brant said. Women often find that after a sexual encounter they are emotionally involved despite the fact that there is no committed connection, Brant said.

“You cannot split your body off from your spirit and your emotions because that is impossible,” Brant said. “Of course you can try. You can go along with the group dynamics … and feel that everyone in our dominant culture is doing it so you will be fine. Then there is a shock factor when you realize that you cannot separate yourself into parts.

“It’s horrifying. You feel a loss of personhood and self-respect. That’s when I see them – in the aftermath,” Brant said.

Chominski works for Generation Life, a youth movement committed to counteracting the current sexual trends with a message of sexual purity and chastity. He believes hooking up has evolved from a contraceptive culture. The result, he said, is a failure to value marriage and life itself.

“A contraceptive culture puts the emphasis on the physical gratification of sex,” Chominski said. “It actually cheapens the act that should be one of beauty and glory. It depersonalizes the act and makes sex into a commodity. This mentality then sees pregnancy as an unforeseen circumstance that puts the (couple) into a tailspin. So then the child conceived is now devalued and could be killed because both sex and a child have lost their value.”

Consequently, Chominski has on his team four Generation Life educators who make their rounds to high schools, colleges and community groups to discuss the importance of valuing both sex and life.

Parents, of course, are their children’s primary educators and serve as the best models and teachers for life and love.

“We have to begin to be more open about discussing these issues even with elementary school students,” Chominski said. “You don’t have to be as explicit with very young children, but the message of the effects of a contraceptive culture must be talked about.

“As Catholics we also need to hear this message at Mass. More priests need to discuss chastity from the pulpit because they have a great deal of influence,” Chominski said.

Brant feels that parents, too, need to discuss sexual matters openly with their children at an early age in an age-appropriate manner. She said the dialogue about marriage and sex should begin at least by seventh grade.

This is important, she said, because children are impulsive and many are already experimenting with sex by middle school.

“Waiting until they are in high school and college is too late,” Brant said. “You don’t always have to talk just about sex. Fathers can cherish their daughters and treat them in a way where they feel loved. Cherished daughters are less likely to go out seeking someone to love them in this way before marriage and they have more self-esteem to resist sexual advances or get involved in hooking up.”

Brant further suggested that fathers can also speak to their sons about how they are to treat women. Rather than looking at them as sexual objects they should see them as a child of God, she said. “They should not want to do anything to them that they would not want done to their own sister, mother or daughter,” Brant said.

If parents learn that their son or daughter has engaged in hooking up they should remain calm, added Brant. If they have not had a frank conversation about sexuality, it is never too late. They can even obtain counseling from a therapist or discuss the matter with a parish priest. Encouragement to go to confession to receive forgiveness and reconciliation should be done in a loving manner.

“If people are truly honest, hooking up brings pleasure only for the moment,” Father Walsh said. “It cuts you off from the deeper levels of love that one can experience in marriage or even experience in intimate relationships without sex.

“What brings lasting happiness is a deep love for God and a real love for those we have intimate relationships with according to God’s plan.”

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner.