By now most of you will have noticed the leporine figures gracing lampposts all around campus, and many of you may be thinking to yourselves, "What on earth are these posters for?" Such is the state of puzzlement that these loveable lagomorphs may induce.
Once one reads the text of the posters, however, the matter clears up forthwith. "Not everyone is doing it," the poster proclaims. But not doing what? The answer: "3 out of 4 Princetonians had 0-1 sexual partners last year." Yes, since Valentine's Day is once more upon us, the Anscombe Society is yet again embarking on its annual, campus-wide poster campaign to spread the good news: being chaste or abstinent isn't a weird thing. Far from it!
But what have rabbits got to do with sex? Well, rightly or wrongly, the rabbit has a reputation for promiscuity in our society, a kind of infamy that has sedimented into various English idioms ("breeding like rabbits," e.g.). But something like this view of copious copulation also holds of college students. By each other, as well as by the outside culture (Hollywood doesn't help here), college students are often seen as promiscuous, hyper-sexualized beings, and college is likewise taken to be - rather hyperbolically - one giant orgy.
Of course, this is plainly false - and, indeed, rather absurd. As our posters boldly announce, "not everyone is doing it." But what this wildly misguided idea of college life produces is a condition of what Deborah Prentice, a Princeton psychology professor, has termed "pluralistic ignorance." Professor Prentice's groundbreaking work has examined the logic of pluralistic ignorance in relation to alcohol consumption at college. In short: If I think that everyone else drinks on campus, and everyone else thinks that everyone else drinks on campus, then what results is a situation in which everyone takes drinking to be the norm, while few people in fact are drinking. Commonsensical stuff, really.
But the hook-up culture is a perfect analogue to this. I think that everyone else is having sex; everyone else thinks that everyone else is having sex; so what results from this is that sex becomes normative, and anyone who dissents from this cultural orthodoxy is just a religious fanatic, plain weird, or worse. This is why the hook-up culture is primarily a culture, a climate of thought rather than a set of actions. It's not that everyone is hooking up all the time (though many do), but rather that (a) it's perceived that this is so, and that (b) this perception produces a scenario in which students can feel obliged to conform to the putative campus norm.
This situation is extremely unhealthy. At the most, it promotes an ethic that runs athwart human flourishing; at the very least, it stifles students' sexual agency. With the weight of the hook-up culture bearing down upon them, students with "traditional" sexual values and lifestyles are either forced to be silent about their beliefs, marginalized, or pressured into sexual choices that, free of the campus culture, they would not otherwise make. So it's not only the human good that's at stake, but also the very freedom that students have to shape the course of their own lives. Extremely unhealthy indeed.
Self-determining creatures that we are, before us always stands open a
plurality of sexual paths. And
while it's no secret which path Anscombe would suggest leads to the greatest
human delight and fulfillment, we believe that students should at least not be
forced to adhere to such a procrustean and promiscuous cultural code of
conduct. We're not rabbits, after