It's the oldest dialogue known to families: "But, Mom, everybody's doing it! Why can't I?" To which parents routinely reply with a variation of the common-sense retort: "Well, we're not everybody. And if everybody were jumping off a bridge, do you think I'd let you do it just because they were?!"
Lemming behavior patterns call for wise guidance.
A recent study of the social and sexual behavior of college students called this thinking "pluralistic ignorance," as reported in a recent Washington Post article:
A new study by psychologists at James Madison University found -- not surprisingly -- that college students hooked up almost twice as often as they went on actual dates. The perplexing part? The majority of students from both genders said that given the choice, they preferred traditional dating.
All things being equal, 95 percent of female students said they would choose dating over hooking up, and 77.5 percent of men said the same.
So, uh, why don't they just date?
Arnie Kahn, one of three co-authors of the study, which grew out of undergraduate student Carolyn Bradshaw's thesis, says it comes down to something called "pluralistic ignorance." Essentially: Everybody's doing it, so it must be good.
Here is my pontification: As I read the literature of prior ages, I see that it was common for people to make the connection between their current behavior and the outcomes of those deeds. Behavior was thought to reveal character. But now it is not uncommon to see people who have committed egregious deeds protest their reputation: "I am not a bad person!" Sometimes it strains credulity to see this disconnect. But it is everywhere.
The point being that young adults are swimming in this pool of "pluralistic ignorance" and can't seem to rise above it long enough to see the drawbacks of group think. But if they could be shown a perspective from a different view, they might choose a different action and a different outcome. Therein lies one of the advantages of mentors/disciplers: they have life wisdom that is emotionally unconnected to the situation at hand.
One of Kahn's previous studies on the topic found that both men and women overestimated the degree to which the opposite gender enjoyed hooking up -- described in this study as "a sexual encounter, usually lasting only one night, between people who are strangers or brief acquaintances."
Furthermore, students overestimated how much members of their own gender liked hooking up. "Because everybody else is hooking up you assume that they do it because they like it. Whereas you know that you don't like it that much, but you do it to go along," Kahn explains. "College students are very conformist."
The new study, published in March, also helps explain why hooking up has become so prevalent. Trying to actually date seems too risky -- put yourself out there, and you might get hurt. "Men talk most about rejection," Kahn says. "When you're hooking up you're not going to get rejected, 'cause you're probably wasted anyway." (Previous studies have shown that most hookups are preceded by alcohol consumption.)
Both genders said the potential for a broken heart is one of the biggest drawbacks to traditional dating.
The study, based on surveys of 220 undergrads, found that students are plenty aware of the risks of hooking up, as well. Because hookups are not always planned and often not with a well-known partner, a majority of both male and female students said they saw the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease as a major risk. Almost 40 percent of women also said the potential for pregnancy was a big downside.
Now here's where I'm scratching my head. A broken heart is a greater risk than pregnancy and an STD? That doesn't make any sense to me. But perhaps this is a legacy of divorce. Maybe broken hearts seem more wounded than broken bodies, if you will.
Kahn and his co-authors laid out different scenarios for dating vs. hooking up, and in only one instance did a majority of women prefer hooking up to dating: while out drinking with an attractive guy.
Take the alcohol away and a majority of both genders would still rather go on a date.
While we Americans like to celebrate the lone hero, the individual who stands up to a situation and prevails, to bring about real change we need to think in terms of community. As in ... local churches. Whether or not the hook-up culture is prevalent in your church, you can safely assume the social paralysis revealed in this survey most definitely is. The drift of non-commitment is everywhere. That's why it's very important that older women not fumble their Titus 2 mandate to instruct younger women. Not only do older women have to teach younger women how to love their husbands--I would argue they also need to help them find husbands. The same goes with older men and younger men.
We have to create cultures within our churches where we help young adults apply biblical wisdom to their life choices--to clearly see their actions in light of the gospel and to walk with integrity by the grace of God. We also have to help them take appropriate risks in relationships, to trust God with their hearts while following His commands with their bodies. As we help the next generation find their way toward marriage and children following a biblically-directed path, we combat "pluralistic ignorance" and glorify God.