Arriving at Princeton for her freshman year, Cassandra DeBenedetto ’07, now Cassandra Hough (pronounced “huff”), was startled by a campus culture that regarded casual sexual encounters as the norm. Hough “was committed to abstinence, and I wasn’t shy talking about that with my new friends,” she said. During her sophomore year, she founded the Anscombe Society, a campus group that promotes the importance of the family and marriage. After being contacted by students at other colleges who wanted to start their own groups, she established the Love and Fidelity Network, which now has more than 20 student groups on campuses such as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Hough, who is married to Patrick Hough ’07 and has two children, spoke with PAW about how attitudes on campus regarding sex have evolved since she was a student and the long-term effects of the hookup culture.
What prompted you to start the Anscombe Society?
I wanted to provide a network of support for students who felt alienated by the social norm at Princeton, and also to enrich the conversation on campus regarding marriage, sexuality, family, and relationships. These are sensitive and personal issues, and I wanted to give a voice to students who felt like there was no outlet for them on campus.
Can you describe the prevailing attitude regarding sex on campuses today?
A lot of students feel stuck with the hookup culture. Many go into a hookup wanting a connection, hoping they are not going to be forgotten about the next day, and then they are disappointed. There is pressure to conform so you can have something to talk about with your friends. Binge drinking is connected to this. Students don’t really want to be hooking up, so they drink to the point of getting drunk. Many students we talk to are ambivalent at best about the hookup culture. They try to convince themselves they’re OK with it.
You often talk about the long-term negative effects of hooking up.
There are the physical health risks, such as STDs, which universities always present to students in some capacity, but I think they could do a better job of explaining. What’s really lacking in sex education are the emotional risks. We are creatures of habit — if you’re spending these years of your life constantly disconnecting with people in matters of sex and relationships, I think it is that much harder to get into the habit of committing later in life. Learning how to relate to another individual in a romantic way — those are skills that need to be learned.
Has it improved since you were a student?
I’d say the discussion has become a much richer and more candid one. You can see it in The Daily Princetonian. Now there is questioning of the hookup culture. Abstinence still is probably a minority lifestyle on campus, but questioning the hookup culture is a huge step.
You raised questions with the administration about a play performed at freshman orientation that addressed date rape. It was called “Sex on a Saturday Night.”
I remember sitting in the audience as a freshman, feeling vulnerable and alienated by the crude humor. Every relationship was a hookup. Your impression as a freshman is, “Gosh, this is going to be everywhere.” Members of the Anscombe Society met with administrators and the students who put on the play, and there were changes made. An abstinent student was added, and he explains what his commitments are.
How do LGBT students fit into this?
I think there’s often a misunderstanding that they can’t take an interest or participate in our groups.
The Love and Fidelity Network is having a national conference this fall in Princeton. What’s on the agenda?
We’re expecting 250 students from 40 to 50 college campuses. They’ll learn to articulate their commitments. Even when we disagree with others, we want to interact in a civil and respectful way.