No Premarital Sex? It's News to Catholic Students

February 1999By Christopher Kaczor

Christopher Kaczor is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

In my course in medieval philosophy, the modern world in the form of a student will some times raise its hand and ask a question of stunning simplicity, for example: Why does Bonaventure think premarital sex is wrong? The student is generally more puzzled than argumentative.

Such students are not unusual. As sociologist Pierre Hegy of Adelphi University has written, “According to the General Social Survey (a yearly survey), the condemnation of premarital sex as always wrong dropped among Catholics from 75% in 1962 to about 17% in 1992, but to 22% among Protestants (these percentages would be lower today [in 1998], and much lower among young people).” Hegy continues, “Indeed the very topics of chastity, masturbation, and homosexuality have become non-issues, for students and researchers alike.”

If this survey indicates how Catholic students think, are there also data on how they act? There are indeed, and they indicate that many Catholics do not follow the Church’s teaching. One study found that unmarried Catholics were about twice as likely as unmarried Protestants to have engaged in sex during the previous year.

It is a disturbing picture, morally. To a teacher of philosophy, it is also disturbing professionally to see evidence that in a place where young minds are supposed to be in training, the bodies are apparently active and the minds are apparently unengaged. Young unmarried Catholics are widely involved in extremely consequential interpersonal behavior yet are blithely unaware of arguments against what they are doing. The breezy formulation that sexual matters “have become non-issues” seems to imply that ignorance, thoughtlessness, and conformism are perfectly okay.

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