Anyone who's been on a college campus lately will confirm the depressing report delivered by Vigen Guroian in this essay. As someone who does a lot of campus speaking, I've seen my fair share of posters announcing sex-toy workshops, transgender celebrations, and, on one Ivy League campus, an open invitation to a "naked party." What's a naked party? Anybody who wants can attend, but you have to take off all your clothes to stay.

It makes you want to weep for the children, for girls in particular, who deserve to be protected from this carnival of leering and molestation. Guroian hits the target in his demand that colleges do more to provide such protection. But what about the students themselves? How can we help them resist this expectation?

There are three typical strategies, and I don't think any of them works. The first is practical: We tell students to abstain because immorality leads to misery. But the libertines in the audience don't see evidence that this is so; they're having fun, for the most part, and it doesn't look like anyone is harmed. The second is romantic: We tell students that marriage is glorious. Once again, they don't see a lot of evidence of that, not in the lives of married people they know, perhaps especially in the lives of their parents. What they saw at the breakfast table for the last 18 years doesn't look that great, and what they did last night didn't feel that bad.

The third is our foundational premise that it's a matter of "objective morality." We regularly complain that young people have no absolute values; that, in Guroian's words, "There is no right and wrong." But this message is likely to strike hearers as irrelevant, speculative, and quaint. Not only that, but flat-out wrong. These students ...

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February 2005

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