Sex, Privilege, and Catholic Social Teaching

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on the Spirituality of Sex. Read other perspectives here.

In "Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse," Nancy Jo Sales describes two guys, Alex and Marty, and their approach to sex.

. . . . a lack of an intimate knowledge of his potential sex partners never presents him with an obstacle to physical intimacy, Alex says. Alex, his friends agree, is a Tinder King, a young man of such deft "text game"—"That's the ability to actually convince someone to do something over text," Marty explains—that he is able to entice young women into his bed on the basis of a few text exchanges, while letting them know up front he is not interested in having a relationship.

"How does he do it?" Marty asks, blinking. "This guy's got a talent."

But Marty, who prefers Hinge to Tinder ("Hinge is my thing"), is no slouch at "racking up girls." He says he's slept with 30 to 40 women in the last year: "I sort of play that I could be a boyfriend kind of guy," in order to win them over, "but then they start wanting me to care more ... and I just don't."

If Marty and Alex are representative of current sexual practices, then perhaps it is an "apocalypse" for dating as well as decency, kindness, and honesty. This is a big 'if' though, an 'if' that I find highly questionable.

Sex and Privilege

While people like Marty and Alex exist, I doubt that they are typical. As Sales notes in her article, Marty and Alex are investment bankers fresh out of an ivy league school. They are representative not of everyone but of a small minority of people who practice and enjoy this kind of hookup. Who are these people? They are: white, wealthy, and come from fraternities and sororities at elite schools. In other words, Marty and Alex represent not what everyone is doing but rather just what a privileged few do.

Larger surveys reveal that most people don't hookup regularly. Most seem to be saying, "it is okay for them, but I don't want to do it." These were the two key takeaways from the "Changes in American Adults' Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972-2012", a survey of 30,000 adults:

1) Millennials were the most accepting of non-marital sex.

2) Millennials had sex less than the previous two generations.

Instead, what most people want, even when they are hooking up, are relationships. In his survey of research on hookup culture, Justin Garcia found that "65 percent of women and 45 percent of men reported that they hoped their hookup encounter would become a committed relationship." This is not just a private wish. People talk about it. Fifty-one percent of women and 42 percent of men explicitly asked about relationships after hooking up.

In addition to suppressing relationships, the kind of hooking up Marty and Alex advocate also marginalizes people. Racial minorities, those of the lower economic class, and members of the LGBT community are typically wary of hooking up as are those who are highly religiously committed. These groups typically do not feel safe to hookup. They experience isolation, have few safety nets, and feel like one misstep—like a hookup that turns into assault—could ruin their lives. However, in not participating in Alex and Marty's hookup culture, these groups are penalized, usually through social exclusion.

Sex and Catholic Social Teaching