Readers of First Things who are teachers and administrators at secular colleges know what happens in formal and informal discussions of student conduct when someone mentions the word “chastity.”
You can almost hear other words popping into their heads: “repressed,” “uptight,” “out of touch,” “puritanical,” “sexist.” It’s a sign of how thoroughly the sexual revolution has managed to flip moral values, to turn what was once an ideal into a misbegotten anachronism. The dictionary meaning of “chastity” hasn’t changed, but the connotations and associations have gone upside-down.
It makes it hard for people who believe that campus sexual mores and assumptions are irreverent and destructive to speak up. How do you talk about chastity when one second after you do so the stigma commences? Once you open your mouth and regret the hook-ups, attire, partying, and entertainments, a silent distancing begins.
The goal is to reverse the values of chastity, but in a situation like this, argument doesn’t work. An appeal to the Sermon on the Mount will not impress fellows in the committee room crafting honor codes. A call for the old rules of courtship will evoke snickers, and statements about the vulnerability of nineteen-year-old girls will draw frowns.
What we need instead is anecdote. The best response to secular irony is testimony by current and former students, as well as teachers and officials familiar with such cases, about their experience in the sexualized world of undergraduate life. I mean normal cases, not extreme ones. It is the customary indiscretions and shenanigans that should be highlighted, not cases of violence, pregnancy, or sexual diseases. Undergraduates always believe that they can avoid those outcomes, and teachers and administrators think they can warn against them without having to address the broader issue of unchaste conduct.
But ordinary cases of youths who slipped into the party scene and found that it didn’t deliver fun and freedom might impress all parties. When Youths X and Y started school and learned to drink and date, it brought compromise, doubt, and misery, not maturity. They may have assumed that sexual activity is part of the “experimentation” that college is supposed to enact, a step on the road to adulthood, but in reality it was a distressing and squalid habitat that left them hurt and confused.
A case at University of Houston may serve. According to a legal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the facts aren’t unusual. One evening, after attending a UH event, a male student went to a nearby bar and met a female student for the first time. They drank and kissed, drank some more, then headed back to his dorm room, with a friend of the female student for company. The two “engaged in consensual sexual activity,” then fell asleep on the floor. What the female didn’t know was that the male had a girlfriend, who showed up in the room and started a confrontation, complete with video camera.
The “triangle situation” happens all the time, undergraduates know it well, and so this case licenses the warning: “You see what happens when you sleep with someone you don’t know well?”
Such tales demonstrate the saving action of chastity. Here is the first positive value: less heartache, less indignity. (The highest positive value of course, is obedience to God, but that must be argued later.) Sex is a gamble, chastity a certainty. Sex exposes you in the wrong way at the wrong time; chastity keeps your integrity intact. If he wants sex, she says no, and he takes off, she has dodged a bullet. Her chastity exposed something she needed to see. If he’s smart, her chastity will teach him something as well, that is, that sex is a lot more significant than he realizes.
The real lives and unfortunate outcomesthere’s the key to persuasion. And if your colleagues and coworkers think that the emotion and spiritual damage is minimal, you have a ready resource on campus to test it. Call student counseling services and ask, “Do you see a lot of cases of bad break-ups and bad hook-ups in your work?” My guess is they’ll reply, “Oh, yeah.” If you are on a conduct committee, invite the counselor to the deliberations, and afterwards say to your colleagues: “Do you really think chastity advice is off the table?”