Flunking Sainthood


College and young adulthood: an exciting time, a confusing time. One of the most exciting and confusing aspects is sex. How far is too far? What is “moral” behavior — and how do we define what we mean by morality? Is sex just for marriage? Or is it OK if you “really love the person”?

Michael F. Duffy has written a helpful and useful guide to sexual decisionmaking for young singles, primarily aimed at people in their 20s and 30s. Here’s his short take on his new book, Making Sense of Sex.– JKR

“Making Moral Sense of Sex”
by Michael F. Duffy

  • Emily receives an erotic text message. It’s an invitation to have sex with . . . well, with someone she sometimes has sex with. She enjoys, for now, these times of sexual pleasure without emotional involvement.
  • Mark says “I love you” and his girlfriend of two years says it back to him. He reminds her of the first time they had sex, a year ago, and she teases him about their upcoming weekend together.
  • Rob walks Carrie home the morning after a great party. They met, danced, went to his apartment and had sex. They may not see each other again, but they both enjoyed their encounter.
  • Josh receives a call from his fiancée, Katie. They have been waiting until they are married to have sex, and they talk about their mutual eagerness for their upcoming wedding night.

A booty call, a relationship of love and trust, a hook-up, a marriage: any given young adult might well see one of these contexts for having sex as the most appropriate one for her or his life at this moment. The contexts that grab headlines, of course, are those that appear to be the most casual, but these don’t even begin to capture the variety of points of view on appropriate sexual behavior. And, of course, many, perhaps most, young adults will change their mind more than once on this often confusing issue.

I teach a course on sexual ethics at Hanover College in Indiana. I also teach a section on sexual ethics in my introductory Theology and Ethics courses. Since all of my courses are purely discussion courses, I typically discuss issues of sex rather intensively with a hundred or so students each year, and these discussions often continue years into the future. In Making Sense of Sex, I have tried to pull together twenty years of discussions with college students and others in their twenties and thirties about the moral issues surrounding sexual activity, analyze these issues so they can be seen as clearly as possible, and then pose to the reader questions about how she or he will live.

Given the right setting–one of respect and trust and confidentiality–I have found most young, single people to be eager to discuss sexuality and to make good and healthy decisions for themselves and for others. They want to think and talk about issues such as the impact of sex on later relationships, the use of birth control, the pros and cons of viewing pornography, and the relevance of power to consent. As is true of most human beings, I think, they want to make better decisions tomorrow than they did yesterday. Making Sense of Sex is my small contribution to this process of understanding ourselves and committing ourselves to live the best sexual lives we can.

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