In 1980, Roger Ebert reviewed a coming-of-age movie called Little Darlings. The movie starred Tatum O'Neil and Kristy McNichol as summer campers who embark on a bet to see who can lose their virginity first. Kristy was taught by her mother that sex is nothing more than a biological function. About her on-screen deflowering, Ebert wrote this:

"It was not, of course, quite like she expected it to be. She sits quietly in a corner of a deserted summer cottage, her thoughts a million miles away from her teen-age boyfriend. At last she says, "I feel so lonely."
The feelings implied in that single line are completely true to the scene and to the character. Kristy is lonely because she has suddenly and rather unhappily passed on from the ranks of pubescent girls. She is now an individual, possessed of the sometimes uncomfortable freedom to make decisions. Sexual intercourse, she tells the boy, "made me feel like you could see right through me." She slept with him for childish reasons, but now, we feel, she will never approach the decision so casually again."

That was nearly three decades ago.

Fast forward to June 2009. NPR reports the now-old news that young people are "hooking up" rather than dating. The reasons, according to "experts" cited in this article, include delayed marriage, fragmented lives that make young people skittish about intimacy, women's sexual empowerment, and social media.

Hooking up reportedly emerged in the 1960s and '70s out of the worst idea ever: co-ed campus housing. Back then it was called casual sex or one-night stands, which stilled carried a stigma, at least for women.

It is the diminishment of female sexual stigma that Jessica Valenti, executive editor of, thinks is the real source of concern in regard to hooking up. Valenti writes, "The message seems to be that the only kind of sex young women can have is dangerous, drunk sex that leaves them disheveled and traumatized. But the thing is, despite what these books and articles are saying - sexually active young women are in fact not diseased, depressed drop outs. They are doing just fine."

Never mind that in 2006, more than one million cases of Chlamydia were reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Valenti imagines something "insidious" going on instead. "Almost all of the books and reports written about hook-up culture are done by writers and researchers with ties to conservative or anti-feminist organizations - some are even outright funded by them." She refers to statistics in Miriam Grossman's book Unprotected that indicate that sexually active young women are more likely to be depressed and suicidal. Valenti says these stats come from a study done by the Heritage Foundation, "a conservative think tank that's a strong proponent of abstinence only education."

For her, promoting abstinence automatically invalidates a source, as if some of us haven't been down this road ourselves. She views solutions like early marriage as oppressive, and instead of questioning evolving cultural norms, pushes ahead with the tired message of female sexual liberation.

Ultimately though, Valenti concedes the following: "All of this is not to say that I don't think there's a problem with how oversexualized the media is, or how women and women's sexuality are portrayed in pop culture - I do think that there's a problem. I also think we need to have a serious conversation about sexual assault, rape and alcohol on college campuses - these are issues of sexuality that are immediately dangerous to both young men and women. I even think that there's a lot more we could discuss about hooking up. But let's have that conversation with nuance and realism, and let's certainly have it without an agenda."

I couldn't agree more.

In an interview with U.S. Catholic, Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul, discusses the findings from her extensive research into attitudes toward sex and religion at public, private, evangelical, and Catholic colleges. Freitas found that the only campuses where the hook-up culture was not ubiquitous were the evangelical ones. (Christianity Today also interviewed Freitas in August 2008.)

She says, "To be young and evangelical is really to be immersed and participating in or creating a youth culture. They are young theologians of a sort. They are interpreting Scripture, writing books on dating, overseeing their own faith lives, and holding their peers accountable."

Freitas said, however, that on all campuses, hooking up is far more talk than action. She summarized her findings thusly: "It's not that they [male and female students] don't want to have sex ever or that they want to save sex for marriage - so, parents, don't get your hopes up. But when they have sex, they want to be in love with that person. They want respect. They want someone to know them. They want hundreds of candles lit. And they don't want to get there right away."

In other words, young adults want what Kristy McNichol discovered she wanted in Little Darlings, and what God wanted for Adam, and what we who are parents want for our children. They want a companion, with whom they can be naked and unashamed.

How will we help them get there?