My experience as a dean has taught me that students often rely primarily on one another for academic advice. It’s a risky academic situation. It can turn pre-registration into something like thousands of Hoya monkeys playing with matches.

A transcript of the past week in my office would include: “But my roommate told me that Father Winter’s course fulfills my philosophy requirement.” Wrong. “But my boyfriend told me that Jazz History counts as a history course.” Wrong. “But the girl down the hall told me that I can’t study abroad until I’ve finished all my general education requirements.” Wrong.

Wrong, and yet all too readily believed.

I wish such reliance on peer wisdom were limited to relatively simple things like course selection. Sadly, its unfortunate repercussions are often more widespread. And its consequences can be much more serious. Let me give you an example.

There’s been some talk recently in Georgetown publications about Hoyas and sex. In all honesty, I had been wondering how long it would be before someone responded intelligently to The Hoya’s “Sex on the Hilltop” column. From its inception, that column has struck me as little more than a forum for mindless ramblings that have reflected badly on all Hoyas.

Still, for all its mindlessness, “Sex on the Hilltop” often rings sadly true. The attitudes of more than a few Hoyas are portrayed there more or less accurately. As I have heard Hoyas talk about their sexual decisions over the past few years, I have repeatedly been amazed that young people who are so smart about so many things can be so stupid when it comes to sex.

I am not speaking here primarily as a dean or a Jesuit or a priest or even as a Catholic, although I am happily and deeply all of those things. I am speaking as someone who has spent many hours listening to Hoyas – male and female, gay and straight – talk about their Georgetown experience, experience that inevitably includes decisions about their sexual behavior.

I can tell you this much from my experience of talking with Hoyas in my office for the past few years: students who are the most sexually active are very often also those who suffer most from depression, low self esteem, anxiety and persistent underachievement. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

A couple of years ago, I talked with a student (she recently gave me permission to recount our conversation in this article) who called herself a “serial dater,” someone who said she could not be without a boyfriend with whom she was sexually active. I offered a suggestion, as a beginning: “Have you ever thought of refraining from sex for a while – say a few months – so you can do some prolonged reflection on your experience?” She responded, “You must be kidding. I haven’t gone without sex for more than a couple of weeks since I was a sophomore in high school.”

She also reported that she was – for reasons unknown to her – unhappy, anxious and depressed.

Astoundingly, it never occurred to this smart Hoya that there might be a connection between her relational life and her lack of inner peace. It’s as if she believed that being sexual and being human have nothing significant to do with each other. It’s as if she thought that our sexual decisions have no relation at all to our peace of mind and our general well being.

It’s as if she learned nothing from Bill Clinton.

So, what do I recommend? Well, a few things. First, engage yourself in some serious, systematic, intelligent reflection on your views about sex. Ask yourself some tough questions and hold yourself accountable to standards that are worthy of you when it comes to your sexual decisions.

Second, take a good course on sexuality and its place in human life. Several such courses are regularly offered at Georgetown. It’s hard for me to imagine a better use of a free elective.

Third, seek advice about sex from people who are smarter, wiser and more mature than you – and who are not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. And when you’re right. A good way to begin that process is to delve deeply and seriously into your religious tradition, if you have one. In any case, find sources of moral wisdom, and listen to them.

Don’t be a monkey playing with sexual matches.

The bottom line is that sex has an inherent power that affects us deeply, a power that can only be denied by a concerted and self-deceptive act of the will. That’s true whether you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between. That’s true whether you’re Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or Protestant or agnostic or atheist or something else.

It’s true if you’re human.

Father Ryan Maher, S.J. (CAS ’82) is an associate dean for the College. As This Jesuit Sees It . appears every other Friday.

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