Early research into hookup culture on Catholic campuses indicated that Catholic campuses were just like secular campuses. In Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus (2008), Kathleen Bogle found Catholic colleges and universities to be no different from other schools. In Sex and the Soul (2008), Donna Freitas surveyed Catholic schools as well as evangelical schools, large public universities, and smaller private colleges. Like Bogle, Freitas found that students hooked up at Catholic colleges as on any other campus, with only evangelical schools standing out.
In “Hooking Up at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?” (2009), Amy Burdette and her colleagues found that hooking up was more frequent among students who identified as Catholic. So it is not surprising that in 2011, the Cardinal Newman Society’s survey of the literature on hookup culture and Catholic campuses concluded: “[T]he reality is that hooking up has become the dominant script for forming sexual and romantic relationships on Catholic and secular campuses.”
For Faith with Benefits: Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses (2017), I surveyed more campuses and more diverse campuses than all the previous studies combined. I suspected that there might be some difference in the hookup culture on Catholic campuses, especially at those Catholic colleges and universities that emphasize their religious identity. What I discovered is that Catholic identity does affect hookup culture—but not in a simple or straightforward way.
The complexity arises in part from the fact that is that there is not one “Catholic identity.” From the perspective of students, there are three, and each emerges from multiple factors.
First and foremost, the number of Catholic students on campus matters. The more students on a campus identify as Catholic, the more Catholic the campus “feels” to the students. A distant second in importance are several institutional factors: the number of required classes in theology, the frequency with which Mass is celebrated, the percentage of dorms that are co-ed, and the policies governing co-ed visitation. These institutional factors seem to affect students because students connect them with Catholic identity, and because students encounter them almost daily.
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