Princeton is a wonderful university, but there is a dark side to its social life — the culture of promiscuity known as “the hookup culture.” Many of our students feel deeply ambivalent about it, to say the least, but it exerts powerful pressure on them. Students, like other human beings, want to fit in. So life for those who reject the hookup culture can be difficult. Yet they find little support on our campus to live by traditional moral virtues.
In fact, some campus policies make it more difficult. As part of the freshman orientation program, all students are required to attend an event titled “Sex on a Saturday Night.” It consists of a series of skits ostensibly designed to discourage date rape. Critics contend that the play, which features vulgarity, suggestive conduct, and the like, simply reinforces the campus culture of sexual permissiveness, primarily by shaping students’ expectations to include sexual license as normal.
And then there is “Sex Jeopardy,” an event that freshmen are “strongly encouraged” by the University to attend. Modeled on the long-running television game show, this residential-advising study break invites students to show off their knowledge of such topics as anal intercourse, flavored condoms, dental dams, sex toys, and sadomasochism.
Throughout the year, additional events tend to reinforce libertine attitudes toward sexuality and relationships and to marginalize and even stigmatize traditional ideas about virtue, decency, and moral integrity.
The hookup culture is not unique to Princeton. Princeton can, however, exercise national leadership by recognizing the problem and by finding ways to support students who wish to develop unpressured, morally decent romantic relationships. If the University is truly to be fair to all students, we must not continue to neglect these students’ needs.
Editor’s note: A longer version of this letter can be found here.