Study suggests women at Catholic schools more likely to hook up

Via the Tribune:

A recent study shows that women who attend Catholic colleges tend to engage more frequently in sexual “hookups” than women at secular colleges.

“‘Hooking Up’ at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?” was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in September 2009.

Catholic women surveyed displayed a 72 percent increase in the odds of a “hookup,” a casual physical encounter, compared to those women with no religious affiliation. Amy Burdette, a sociology professor at Mississippi State University and primary author of the study, said she was surprised by the results. Researchers predicted that Catholic and Protestant women would be less likely to engage in this behavior because they are known to be more conservative, she said.

According to the study, students generally use the phrase “hooking up” to refer to a physical encounter between two people unfamiliar with one another. A hookup typically involves moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and carries no anticipation of a future relationship.

Since this is the first published study on religious affiliation and hooking up, Burdette said more extensive research is necessary to find the reasons behind the trends.She said some might credit the frequency of Catholic women hooking up to the decline of Catholic education. “Catholic high schools today are more secular, where they used to be more focused on religion,” she said. “Women receiving less religious education in schools and also in the home might be more likely to participate in the hookup culture.”

That really makes no sense. In my Catholic high school, I was told nonprocreative sex, premarital sex, sodomy, masturbation, homosexuality and contraception were all sins, and was made to read arduous essays on natural law “proving” their sinfulness. Even if the rhetoric with which Catholic sexual teaching has been softened from what it was thirty years ago (as I suspect it has been–we talked about sin, but not hell), Catholic students are still getting a more harsh and intellectually ponderous instruction in The Sex than their secular counterparts usually do.

I’m at a loss for guesses on this one, unless it’s a college version of the “saddlebacking” phenomenon, whereby young people with conservative upbringings start having sex earlier, and have higher rates of teen pregnancy and risky behaviors like unprotected sex . Whereas young people who anticipate physically consummating their relationships at a point when they are emotionally ready, they develop a series of coping mechanisms to offset sexual gratification by having open conversations with their SO to establish boundaries. A more conservative young person taking a more absolutist stance on premarital sex does not have experience setting boundaries for themselves or their partners, so are more susceptible to succumbing to unforeseen and overwhelming temptations in the heat of the moment, resulting in higher rates of impulsive “hooking up.”

Maybe. Does that make sense as a speculative possibility?


3 Responses

  1. I’d say you’re right with the saddlebacking. In addition, there is a fetishization of the “Catholic schoolgirl” that some girls feel pressured to live up to.

    I would be interested to see the methodology of the study. One point that may be important is that they don’t give a specific definition of “hook up”. At AU, “hooking up” usually involves sexual penetration, whereas the definition in the article allows for it to be interpreted as making out or light-to-heavy petting. So it might just be a matter of definitions.

  2. As per the methodology, this survey was very flawed, the Tribune should not have ran with it…


    Washington D.C., Mar 11, 2010 / 04:14 am A study which claimed that Catholic college women are likelier to “hook up” than women with no religious affiliation has been criticized by researchers. Parts of the survey report were based on a sample size of only 39 Catholic college women, while the report wrongly saw a college’s religious affiliation as more influential than parents.

    The Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s (CARA) research blog Nineteen Sixty-four relayed the researchers’ criticisms in an article titled “Replicate Before You Speculate Too Much …”

    CARA discussed the peer-reviewed Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion article “‘Hooking Up’ at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?”

    The study reported that Catholic women at non-Catholic and Catholic colleges display about a 72 percent increase in the odds of “hooking up” compared to women with no religious affiliation. Its results found that women at Catholic colleges and universities are almost four times as likely to have participated in “hooking up” compared to counterparts at secular schools.

    CARA noted that “important methodological issues” about the survey should be considered.

    First, it is difficult to know what participants in the survey meant when they said they had a “hook up.”

    The concept is “very widely defined” as an incident in which “girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further.” The article’s authors themselves cautioned that the term may refer to a broad range of acts from kissing to sexual relations.

    The survey itself was based on a national telephone survey conducted in 2001, though the article was published in 2009.

    Only six percent of the 1,000 respondents attended a Catholic college or university. Only 39 Catholic women attending Catholic colleges were interviewed for the study, out of a population conservatively estimated at 85,000.

    “The margin of sampling error for 39 interviews generalizing to a population of 85,000 is +/- 15.7 percentage points,” CARA reported. These respondents attended only 16 of the 240 existing Catholic colleges and universities, an institutional sampling error of plus or minus 23.7 percentage points.

    “There are simply not enough interviews with women” to generalize, CARA said, cautioning about results based on small sample sizes or subgroups.

    The study itself is “rather standard practice,” CARA added, saying replication with a larger sample size would advance understanding.

    Turning to the study’s analysis of potential institutional causes, CARA said the regulation of alcohol was the only potentially related cause of concern.

    “From these data it is apparent that broad cultural changes are occurring within the Catholic population regarding this issue and these are unlikely to have little to do with the influence of Catholic colleges,” CARA wrote. “More so, the changes are so significant, that Catholic colleges may be greatly challenged in attempting to address it.”

    A 2006 CARA Catholic poll found that only 19 percent of adult Catholics disagreed “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that premarital sex between persons who are “committed to each other” can be morally acceptable. Another 26 percent “strongly” agreed with the statement, while another 26 percent “somewhat” agreed, totaling 52 percent of Catholic adults who rejected Catholic teaching against pre-marital sex.

    Among those who attend Mass once a week or more, 19 percent agreed with the statement approving premarital sex.

    CARA’s analysis found no negative or positive effect in responses connected with respondents’ enrollment in Catholic colleges. Changes among the Catholic population appear to be “much larger” than anything a Catholic college does or does not do.

    “Young Catholics are often sent off to college from homes where the parents do not have attitudes regarding this issue that are consistent with Church teachings,” CARA noted.

    • Thanks for your input, but where did the news story you pasted come from? There’s no link, headline, publication title, or byline.

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