Catholic Social Teaching and College Hookup Culture

Interrupting the Perpetuation of Gender Essentialism

  • Emma Saart Boston College
Keywords: Catholic Social Teaching, Sexual Ethics, hookup culture, social sin, social scripts, gender binary


College is a time of identity-seeking and personal formation, and for many students the first opportunity to establish themselves as individuals independent of the influence of their parents or guardians. The social environment on college campuses, however, is not conducive to the free exploration of one’s identity. On many college campuses,  including that of my own university, “hookup culture,” or an ethic of casual sex with no strings attached, is pervasive. Rather than being a source of freedom, the social norms associated with this culture perpetuate male power, female objectification, and binary gender roles that construct our social reality before, after, and throughout one’s college experience. The college hookup culture is constructed on the ideology of gender essentialism, presenting binary gender scripts, and enforcing campus-wide conformity through social influence and structures of power. Rather than conform to rigid gender standards, this article suggests that we can reimagine gender roles and sexuality to encourage greater openness and authenticity. Based on the foundations of Catholic Social Teaching, we can first begin a dialogue about the harmful social environment on many college campuses. We may then take transformative action by addressing language; challenging normative behavior; and emphasizing affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This article concludes by proposing that transformation can also extend beyond the college campus by encouraging an affirming, non-judgmental environment throughout childhood in which the exploration of one’s gender identity is encouraged.