Texas Christian University, nationally renowned as the number one happiest college campus in the United States of America, is simultaneously ranked amongst the top ten U.S. colleges for STDs. While I think it is safe to say that correlation does not imply causation, I was immensely curious about the actual cause of such startling statistics. After all, is TCU not a Christian school? And is premarital chastity, or at the very least, sexual monogamy, not a Christian principle? The answer is somewhat convoluted. Although the Bible is adamantly against promiscuity and hookup culture, going so far as to say that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart,” may be extreme. Many critics of religion will point out that there is a great discrepancy between alleged Christian principles and how Christians actually live out their lives. Additionally, as college students learn to navigate moral issues independent of their parents’ influence, many religiously raised adolescents find themselves abandoning Christianity entirely. One of the ways that such students express this newfound religious autonomy is through sex.
Still, this alone doesn’t explain the Fort Worth college’s top ten rankings. Hookup culture is deeply ingrained in most U.S. colleges, not just TCU, and when it comes to STD rates nationwide, 25% of college students test positive for one or several sexually transmitted infections. Understanding that any college that surpasses that average, let alone makes the leaderboard, must have exceptionally poor sexual health. This begs the question, what factors are contributing to TCU’s record-breaking score? And, in the spirit of No Nut November, can these variables be altered?
identifying the problem
I would hypothesize that the reason behind TCU’s ranking is that its student body is simply uneducated about safe sex. See, while secular education anticipates students engaging in sexual experimentation, planning its sex ed curriculums accordingly, religious institutions exclusively emphasize premarital abstinence. The problem with this is that most adolescents nowadays will not be waiting until marriage. So, whether or not a student receives a thorough sex education does not determine how early that student becomes sexually active inasmuch as it determines how safely they will act when the time comes. As it turns out, abstinence preaching does very little to influence sexual behavior, much less promote complete chastity.
It is surprising that the American education system continues to use abstinence campaigns at all, considering the fact that they have not worked in the past. As one content creator pointed out in her video essay on the vaping epidemic, telling a person not to do something simply because it is”’bad for you” has historically yielded very little success. This was evidenced in Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign of the 1980s, during which students were encouraged to simply “say no” to drugs. As it turned out, the Opioid crisis was a lot more complicated than that. The initial 1983 launch of the D.A.R.E program possessed the same fault. Being glibly told not to do something by a figure of authority is, if anything, merely an additive incentive to do exactly that.
The alternative approach to abstinence campaigns – fear tactics – has been a bit more successful, but still not as effective as producers hoped it would be. You may remember the chilling 2013 PSA “Tips from a Former Smoker,” in which the CDC interviewed an individual dying of lung cancer. Another product of the 21st century is the teen pregnancy PSA “Teen Mommy Darci,” a problematic mock commercial about a teen mom Barbie doll. Even more ludicrous were the pseudoscience pieces on how masturbation causes mental health problems and leads to blindness. The problem with PSAs such as these is that they rely entirely too much on pathos, providing little to no logistical evidence for their claims. Sure, the audience is initially terrorized into submission, but fear is a fleeting thing. After a few moments, people will be left wondering if there really is anything to be worried about, or if fear-based PSAs are just, like the masturbatory urban legends, an elaborate hoax.
Likewise, Christian youth who are subjected to sexual abstinence campaigns begin to question why sexual promiscuity is so forbidden. Unable to find satisfactory answers to their questions in their schools, churches, and homes, such individuals begin to conduct, well, personal research. Such unguided sexual behavior is likely a contributing fact that just under half of the U.S.’s top twenty-five STD-infected cities are in the Bible Belt. Conversely, some Christian youth become sexually repressed, developing erectile dysfunction, vaginismus, and other forms of genophobia-induced dysfunction. On both ends of the spectrum, such individuals are prime targets for sexual abuse and grooming. These individuals’ risk of becoming victims of sexual abuse is heightened by the propensity of sexual abuse in the church, particularly in American Catholic churches. When the baseline for assumed risk of sexual abuse of minors is 11% for girls and 5% for boys, an above-average risk is highly alarming. Sadly, grooming and rape in religious institutions has become such a prominent problem that there is an entire subcategory for sexual abuse on behalf of a religious figure, called clergy abuse (I would speculate that the behavior of Frollo towards Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was inspired by this systemic issue). For this reason, extensive background checks for youth pastors and student ministry staff are strongly advised, but even with such precautions, this does not fully eliminate the risk. Considering the above information, it is a wonder that the religious community has not yet realized the extreme disservice they are doing to their youth by neglecting important components of sex ed.
Only, social commentary in contemporary media actually suggests that the religious community does know. There are a plethora of musicals, movies, documentaries, and news articles chock-full of cautionary tales about these issues. For instance, in the 1974 horror novel Carrie, New York Times Bestselling Author Stephen King writes about a young girl who is told by her mother that only ungodly, sinful women develop menstrual cycles.
In the 2012 rock opera Bare, slut shaming, homophobia, and teen pregnancy abound at a co-ed Catholic boarding school.
The 2019 comedy Drama Yes, God, Yes pokes fun at the idea that women in the church are made responsible for the sexual urges of men.
In 2022, this topic so captivated me that I wrote my senior essay on it, outlining the pipeline from religiously fueled sexual repression, to sexual abuse, to the 74% failure rate of American Christian marriages.
My own brother, a film major at Loyola Marymount University, spent a portion of this past year co-writing and producing a comedy short film (available on Logan Weisberg’s YouTube channel) about a college student who, in her ignorance, loses her virginity using a broken condom.
In all of the above examples, the central message is clear: misinformation about, the religious stigma surrounding, and general censorship of intimacy and sexuality all have calamitous endings. Still, none of these pieces, thought-provoking as they were, incited substantial change, for as scary as the consequences of an ineffective sex education program may be, scarier still are the political repercussions of any attempt at fixing it.
The genesis of sex education in America was inherently unconstitutional to begin with. American sex ed began during World War I when the U.S. government became deeply alarmed that its military was becoming rapidly infected with syphilis and gonorrhea. Fearing for national security, defenses against venereal disease were quickly deployed. Namely, The American Plan. This plan justified the forcible search and seizure (violating the Fourth Amendment) of anyone suspected of having an STI, particularly women. Evidently, the trend of slut shaming and blaming women for the spread of STDs was present even in the early 20th century. While women were painted as Jezebels and detained without due process for merely sitting alone at a bar, men were administered free condoms and reassured that it was female prostitutes, and not GIs, who were truly responsible for the problem. The American Plan also affected U.S. public schools, as the government rightly believed that civilian and soldier sexual health would go hand in hand. The American Social Hygiene Association, founded in 1913, created pamphlets and programs for high school and university settings on how to live STD-free. This was technically an additional threat to civilian rights, however, as the U.S. federal government previously left school curriculums entirely up to the jurisdiction of the states. Understandably, these violations were more willingly overlooked during the national crisis of warfare than they would be now. U.S. citizens would again willingly delegate sex education to the federal government during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. In 2023, though, politics have turned their attention to other matters, and so voters are less likely to unionize their efforts against the spread of venereal disease.
Instead, the debate on whether public schools should provide sex education at all has become increasingly heated due to the additional question of whether such programs should be inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community, or merely cover information applicable to cis-gendered, heterosexual norms. When tracking the progression of such political debates, it is important to note that U.S. politics are no monolith, meaning democracies rarely reach a singular, collective decision. Consequently, red and blue states are reaching different consensuses.
For instance, in July of 2022, Floridian Ron DeSantis passed House Bill 1557, infamously dubbed the Don’t Say Gay Bill, effectively banning the discussion of sexuality and gender identity in lower elementary classrooms. In August of 2023, the Florida legislature went even further, banning AP Psychology from its high school curriculum due to the course’s coverage of multiple sexualities and gender identities. Alternatively, the California Board of Education revised its Healthy Youth Act in 2019 to require coverage of LGBTQIA+ material in sex ed (albeit, this law concerns middle schools, not elementary classrooms). Some far-right Christians, like theological Youtuber Melissa Dougherty, are removing their children from the school system entirely and switching to homeschooling, fearing that their children will be indoctrinated through liberal sex education programs otherwise. Amidst such polarizing opinions on what should and should not be included in public sex education, most politicians and influencers are wary to jump into the fray and attempt to change the status quo. Even still, none of the above landmark decisions are necessarily permanent. Take, for example, the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade. If national legislation on a matter as significant as reproductive rights is retractable, then how much more malleable are state laws surrounding sex education? Perhaps there is hope for the future of sex education in religious, conservative circles after all…
reflecting on recent progression
One potential catalyst for positive change in religious sex education is the release of the box office hit The Sound of Freedom. The 2023 film, directed by Alejandro Monteverde, shed serious light on the problem of sex trafficking. While the movie admittedly did not commentate on the relevance of this issue in the United States (the rescue missions within the film take place exclusively in Latin America), it was still a huge step to make a film on such a taboo topic and direct it to Christian audiences.
On a smaller scale, Christian YouTube couples are also beginning to speak publicly about their intimacy scares and first times having sex.
The YouTube channel Nate and Sutton garnered 1.9 million views for their video, “Was Our Wedding Night Awkward as Virgins?”
The Mormon YouTube couples’ channel Sam&Jess intentionally goes into spicier detail on these kinds of topics, releasing content like make-out tutorials and candid discussions on whether or not Sam’s wife actually enjoys sex.
The Christian content creators Paul and Morgan even (incidentally) shed some light on Christian sexual dysfunction by posting an uncomfortably passive-aggressive conversation about their frustrations with intimacy post-marriage.
Whether these channels are providing uplifting or troubling content, the important thing is that people are beginning to speak truthfully and candidly about sex in religious circles. America has had many sexual revolutions as a whole, but religious circles have historically been excluded from that narrative. For perhaps the first time, Christians are realizing that they can and will have to stop censoring sex and that perhaps something good may just come out of it.
implementing The solution
Does this mean that Christians should embrace sexual promiscuity? Not at all. But it does mean that Christians should begin teaching the ins and outs (no pun intended) of having sex to their high schoolers and adolescents so that religious youth will be comfortable engaging in intercourse when the time comes, and additionally capable of defending themselves against the predatory masses who do not wish to wait on their timing. After all, when it comes to intermarital relations, the Bible is avidly pro-sex. (Don’t believe me? Check out Song of Songs 7:7-8, which passionately describes the sex lives of two young lovers through a palm tree analogy, or perhaps Proverbs 5:18-19, which encourages husbands to allow their wives’ breasts to satisfy them always.) This form of sex education will not prevent premarital sex for those who do not wish to comply with traditional Christian dating practices, but then again, neither did the abstinence programs. It will, however, assist greatly in preventing the molestation and sexual infection of Christian youth.
As for the current college students of TCU, I acknowledge the fact that the system has in many ways failed us, and for a great number of us, we have already been subjected to awkward, humiliating, and sometimes even traumatizing sexual encounters. These experiences are going to take time to heal from, and in some ways, we may never fully revert back to the person we were before experiencing them. But it is never too late to begin the healing process of developing a healthy relationship with our bodies and with our faith. I personally feel that an important part of this is waiting until marriage, but I do not want to make personal decisions for you. Instead, I would encourage you to take some time and research the following topics (which I will link some sources for) so that you can make your own moral decisions from an educated place:
If TCU can band together and bridge the gap between secular and religious sex ed accessibility, then perhaps our sexual health will be improved, and TCU’s “Horny Frogs” will return to the happy, sexually healthy Horned Frogs they once were.
At the very least, until December 1st.