The student newspaper of the University of California, Santa Barbara (my home town) is called the Daily Nexus. Once a week, it runs a student-written column called with the "Wednesday Hump." Recent columns addressed anal sex, animal fetishes, fellatio, girls kissing girls, group sex, sexually transmitted diseases, virginity, and¡Xwell, it's a veritable A through Z of sexual immorality. No wonder UCSB is informally known as the University of Casual Sex and Beer.
My guess is that the paper's sex columnists haven't read Unprotected by Anonymous, M.D. (It was published when they were freshmen.) Which is a shame, for the book exposes the mental health problems that often affect students--especially women--caught up in the hookup culture of the modern university campus. Sadly, the health centers on those campuses often aid and abet this hookup culture, rather than providing sound medical and psychological advice.
Not long after Unprotected was published, Anonymous, M.D., outed herself on the Dr. Laura Show as Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist at UCLA¡¦s student counseling center. Each chapter in her book begins with an anecdote about a student whom she has counseled (names have been changed to protect privacy, of course), then segues into a larger discussion of the physical and emotional consequences of casual sex. Most of the anecdotes involve young women, but a few involve young men as well. The research behind the physical and emotional consequences of casual sex is documented in the footnotes. Finally, each chapter points out how campus health information often ignores or downplays this well-known medical and psychological information.
What are some of the specific consequences Grossman addresses?
X How human papilloma virus (HPV) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) affect young women (chapter 2) X How medical professionals treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) differently than they treat other public health crises (chapter 3) X How public health information about the transmission of HIV among heterosexuals is misleading and unnecessarily panic-inducing (chapter 4) X How abortion can cause short- and long-term emotional problems for some women (chapter 5) X How chlamydia--the most common STD--can reduce a woman's chance of having children (chapter 6) X How delaying childbirth into late adulthood reduces the likelihood that a woman will have a child (chapter 7)
Despite these well-known consequences, campus health professionals openly promote experimentation--as long as condoms are used, of course--and openly criticize judgmentalism toward other people's sexual choices. For Grossman, this is "political correctness" run amok. Modern thinking about sexuality, reflected in how campus health professionals deal with student sex, is technical rather than moral. That is, it asks, "How do I have the best sex possible with the fewest unpleasant side effects?" A moral perspective on sex would ask, "What is larger purpose of sexuality, and does a casual sex culture achieve this purpose?" Campus health professionals push condoms, condoms, condoms. But as Grossman wryly notes, "there is no condom for the heart."
Criticisms of Grossman's book seem to center around two issues: First, she's creating a moral panic, as if every sexual encounter results in depression and disease. I think this criticism is misguided. Grossman's point is that in a casual-sex campus environment, there is enough depression and disease for campus health professionals to start questioning their all-too-easy support for the notion that sexual experimentation is essentially harmless.
Second, critics say, Grossman is trying to turn back the clock on women. When Grossman warns how HPV and Chlamydia can negatively affect a woman's future childbearing chances, critics say that she's scaring professional women away from fulfilling careers. When she warns that abortion may be emotionally damaging to some women, critics say she's scaring them off from an essential part of reproductive freedom. And when she warns that delaying childbearing for the sake of a career may make it harder to have kids later in life, she's again implicitly criticizing the notion of professional working women.
To be perfectly honest, this second set of criticisms more or less proves Grossman's point, doesn¡¦t it? Sexually transmitted diseases can negatively affect childbearing capacity in some women. Abortion can cause depression in some women. Forty-something professional women who decide to have a kid find it's not necessarily easy. These are factual assertions. Grossman's critics offer political answers.
(And it's not even that Grossman disagrees with aspects of those answers. This is not a brief for the little missus in the kitchen while the breadwinner goes off to his job in the big city. Grossman is a professional woman, after all. She¡¦s simply trying to answer questions raised by her patients, some of whom are grad students who delayed childbearing for career and find themselves unhappy with a career but no kids. Shouldn't a mental health professional at least deal with that apparently common problem?)
Which brings us back to the moral question I mentioned earlier. What is the larger purpose of sexuality? How does it contribute to human flourishing? How does it form and sustain human community? These, it seems to me, are the important questions that Grossman wants us to ask. Unfortunately, I don't see any of the "Wednesday Hump" columnists asking them. Then again, college students aren¡¦t exactly known for long-term thinking.