No sex on campus?

Catholic and Muslim women are finding that while theological differences run deep, shared views on modesty, chastity, and dignity run deeper.

Another school year is in full swing. Frat houses around the country are once again swollen with partygoers and intoxicated youth. Sunday mornings once again mark the regret of thousands of young women who hooked-up the night prior and either cannot remember what they did, or do remember and are trying to forget.

Another hook-up season is in full swing.

But this hook-up season, there is an increasing phenomenon of unlikely bedfellows opting out: Catholic and Muslim women. These women of faith are increasingly allied in searching for a different way to live out their college tenure than from dorm room to dorm room. And they are finding that despite theological differences that run deep, shared perspectives about modesty, chastity, and dignity run deeper.

At Georgetown, the Muslim Interest Living Community (MILC), originally “designed to create a strong support group for Muslims and non-Muslims who want to be steadfast in prayer and in their commitment to campus building and cooperation,” provides a haven for students seeking an escape from alcohol and hook-ups. In years past, up to half of its residents have been non-Muslim. Noreen Shaikh, a resident of the MILC, says the community offers “an alternative way to spend Friday and Saturday nights outside the realm of parties and clubs.”

Muslim enrollment at Catholic universities is surging. At Catholic University, which just recently reinstated same-sex dormitories and where the school administration has been very vocal in opposing binge drinking and premarital sex, Muslim enrollment has doubled in just four years. Nationwide, the growth in percent of Muslim freshman students at Catholic colleges and universities is significantly outpacing that of enrollment at secular schools. As one female Muslim student at Catholic University put it, “They have the same values we do.”

Sarah Mumma, a devout Catholic and recent graduate of Northwestern University, affiliated herself closely with the Muslim Cultural Student Association during her time there. In her view, rooming with Muslim girls was a “haven amid the hookup culture and the pervasive dismissal of chastity as backwards, or even sinister.” She found that not only did she share with these Muslim women abstinence as a lifestyle, but found they shared other values in common. “Smart, well connected and serious Muslim girls I met in college became some of my best friends.”

Sajda Ouachtouki, a member of the Religious Life Council at Princeton University, voices similar sentiments about her close Catholic friends, “I find that I share much in common with these friends and often find myself turning to them in times of inner struggle. Their morals and notions of self-respect weave a special bond between us.”

Statistics show that as many as 78 percent of women will engage in a hook-up at some point during their college tenure, 14 percent of whom will rely on a friend to tell them what happened the next day, 49 percent of whom will never see the partner again, and 16 percent of whom felt pressured into the sexual encounter. In a given year, roughly 97,000 cases of college campus sexual assault or date rape related to binge drinking are reported. Another 100,000 college students annually report being too drunk to know if they consented to having sex.

For many women of faith on college campuses, not only is such behavior a direct violation of their faith, it is the degradation of women, plain and simple. Not only are Catholic and Muslim women increasingly sharing the experience of rejecting the college culture of sexual excess, but they find common ground in the empowerment that chastity offers as an alternative. So while Muslim and Catholic women may say different prayers each night as they prepare for bed, they are united in relishing that their bed (and their dignity) is theirs and theirs alone.


Image courtesy of Kathryn Greenhill.

  • ashwinih

    Yet another discussion of abstinence without ANY mention of males. Very disappointing, especially coming from Altmuslimah, a blog that I respect very much. No person should be judged for the sex they choose or do not choose to have between consenting adults, but it is tiring to constantly bring up the gender double standard here and to have it fall on deaf ears. Also, what about creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth who are a part of faith communities?

  • 40henrietta

    Whoa what about the Catholic and Muslim men?? Why are the women the ones whose sexuality we always judge?? Honestly I can’t believe that The Washington Post would embed this. Yet another reason to read the New York Times instead.

    For centuries, certain religious groups have pressured women most of all to adapt to arbitrary and rigid sexual rules. The underlying idea has always been that “good” women are chaste and must “defend the gates” from men who are by nature promiscuous (without the gentle restraint of good, demure women). So these religious ideas aren’t new at all, just another reactionary attempt to impose someone else’s morals on everyone else.

    The Altmuslimah post is framed as a response to women regretting their (“undignified”) sexual choices after a night of drinking. So why not instead target college drinking culture? Increase the workload and the consequences for failing classes. How about educational programs and rules that are aimed to make everyone more careful about drinking and sexual choices? Why not EMPOWER women (and men) by giving them more control over their own sexual choices, rather than DEGRADE women by portraying them as “undiginified” for having sex before marriage? And if men and women still decide to have sex before marriage, then that’s a beautiful thing because both partners can be proud of their consensual choice!

    Altmuslimah’s post addresses a modern situation with two centuries’-old thinking. We have to do better than that.

  • cricket44

    ZZim, what absolute nonsense.

  • 40henrietta

    And is it possible that these women feel guilty about their sexual choices because someone (like the authors of this Altmuslimah post) has TOLD them that they should feel bad? Did the authors stop to consider the possibility that women who choose to hook up really have done nothing worth regretting??

  • lydia_golis

    Considering how many of you took this article as a chance to have a religion-bashing field day, riddle me this: if an Atheist Stuent Union and an Agnostic Student Association co-sponsored ‘abstience houses’ for women, but also for men, would you even be annoyed?

    Let me remind you that it is science which tells us that abstience is the only sure way not to get STDs like HIV and pregnancy.

  • WmarkW

    Yes, and staying home all day is the only sure way not to get run over by a drunk driver. There’s some degree of risk is every worthwhile activity.

    I wouldn’t object if abstinence dorms were one of several housing options available on a campus. But Catholic and Muslim doctrine is that abstinence is the ONLY acceptable sexual ethic that should be available during singlehood.

  • ubercorner22

    I think people need to realize that religious belief is a choice. Yes, there are societal pressures, and many people do use religion as a way to control others, but there’s a solution. If you don’t think something is right, then don’t subscribe to it or profess to believe it. Don’t bind yourself down to specific choices or actions dictated to you by a statement of belief to which you don’t adhere.

    I understand the enormous social pressures people can experience to act a certain way or believe a certain thing (I grew up in Utah, I understand religious social pressure, believe me!), but dictating to others what they should or should not believe and preach in order to alleviate that social pressure isn’t the answer. You start down that road, and eventually some other dangerous idea or dogma will gain enough support and they’ll have your precedent to stand on when they force you to change how you believe or act.

    The real solution is to help people realize that they have the ability to choose what they believe in, and that a person isn’t inherently evil just because they don’t believe what you do or live how you want them to live. What makes any of you who are attempting to dictate to religions how they should believe any different than past religious professors who attempted (and still attempt) to dictate to their followers how to believe? The arguments and proofs you use, which make perfect sense to you with how you see the world, are just as delusional and irrational to them as their tenets are to you. And yes, the idea that people aren’t horrible or evil just because they live differently than you do will still seem incomprehensible to people on all sides of moral/religious questions, but it’s true.
    Millions of Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Hindi and people of other faiths recognize this fact. Lumping all of them in with the dictatorial religious tyrants in each group and ignoring all of the good they contribute to the world is a counterproductive way to approa

  • ubercorner22

    Also, if someone questions your religion, answer. If you don’t have an answer, then tell them so, and then try to find one. Don’t get defensive, even if they’re being incendiary or offensive. If you’re going to make decisions in your life that will affect others, then you need to be willing to answer for the belief system that influences the way you make those decisions.

    And if you’re the one asking questions and someone doesn’t have answers, don’t badger them and tell them it’s a sign their religion is false or evil. Most people don’t ask themselves, or haven’t even imagined, many of the difficult questions facing their moral or religious beliefs, so they obviously won’t have an answer, even though there may very well be one within the framework of their religious belief. If you have a sincere desire to either understand someone else’s beliefs, or help them see the error in their beliefs, then give them time to give you a thoughtful response or adjust to the idea that they either don’t have an answer or are unsatisfied with the answer. And you never know, they might give you an answer that changes your mind about the nature of what they believe.

  • catherine_s

    Why is that a problem?

  • fleadhcmm

    It’s shocking to me to see people who are likely to be in favor of every kind of lifestyle choice be so vocal in demonizing the choice of these women to take control of their own bodies, emotions, and futures by not making themselves avaiable as sexual toys. It seems that every choice is okay, every lifestyle is okay, except one of chastity and modesty. What bigotry.

  • warking7

    As usual there is no mention that God Almighty, ( a long time before Muhammad was born) described acceptable human sexual behavior. Physical relations between a man and a woman are sanctioned in the sacred union of marriage. All other sexual activity is sin.
    God always has our best interest at heart.

  • alance

    Freedom of choice. If sex is taboo to Islam – let them start their own universities. Until then, stop trying to change American society.

  • hockey11

    they arent trying to change anything. they are avoiding what they don’t want to participate in. did you read the article?

  • elizdelphi

    Any normal woman realizes that giving herself intimately to someone she just met harms her. Many will regret it the rest of their life. Not to mention, there’s nothing like being pregnant to a total stranger to make a woman feel that she messed up. If the baby is spared the ultimate price (abortion) for his mom’s sin, he may grow up never knowing his dad (on the other hand he very well might get adopted by a wonderful family and grow to manhood to do good and beautiful things). It’s impossible for casual sex to be worth heartache and nasty diseases. Even if pregnancy or STDs don’t result, inevitably she has to live with being that easy and cheap.

    I screwed up in my life, and I regret it. But how precious for a man and woman to give themselves to one another in marriage, as virgins. The culture today has no clue, no way to appreciate the simple integrity, the simple clean beautiful goodness, the peace and happiness, the close and exclusive bond, of those few who keep themselves chaste. We have to know re-learn how to appreciate virginity, my friends, and teach our children that too.

  • smccartney59

    I agree with hockey11…they aren’t trying to change anything! And if your racist attitude wasn’t blinding you, you’d realize that the article stated, “But this hook-up season, there is an increasing phenomenon of unlikely bedfellows opting out: Catholic and Muslim women.” It did not solely mention Muslims, but Catholics as well. Therefore, if you plan on making some degrading comment against Muslims, reread the article and understand what it means before you openly discuss your ignorant opinions.

  • magnifiergain

    Perhaps these youth do this because they enjoy it.

  • nextinline

    If you want to make those heinous assumptions about women in general, be prepared to do the same for men who follow the same lifestyle choices. It is completely unfair, unjustified, and downright oppressive that women are faced with these restrictions from people like you and their male partners are not. What if a woman was raped? What if she got pregnant? If she has no access to healthcare, what does she do? Can she afford a doctor? Can she afford to take the time off work if she has complications with her pregnancy? Keep your attitudes, laws, and restrictions off my body.

  • 40henrietta

    I assume you’re being facetious by forgetting gays, lesbians, transgender, etc., right?

  • 40henrietta

    Sorry fleadhcmm, I think you misunderstood the very legitimate criticisms of this article. There’s of course absolutely nothing wrong with women (or men!) making the choice to be celibate. The problem is that this article fits into a long, long, awful history of focusing intently on women’s sexual choices, and ignoring men’s.

    The article’s authors also very unscrupulously conflate the very real problems of alcohol-fueled sexual assault with the perfectly OK choice of many women to have consensual sex. The authors make no mention of the real problem, which is some men taking advantage of drunk women. Instead, they try to make it a matter of women’s morality, as if it’s somehow the women themselves who have been “loose.” Do you see the enormous problem with this article now?

  • 40henrietta

    Lydia_golis, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with anyone sponsoring “abstinence houses” if it was for BOTH men and women (although why on earth would you want to abstain anyway, but that’s neither here nor there). But this article says nothing at all about the men. It’s focused entirely on the women. And that is the main reason we’re all annoyed with this article. Understand now?

  • 40henrietta

    Wow, ZZim. Please sit in on a single gender studies class from this century. Obviously, the only reason that women suffer more for their “sinful promiscuity” is that they are so harshly judged by others for their own sexual choices — in a way that men never are!! And you and the authors of this article help keep it that way!

    Yes, women have the added consequence of a risk of accidental pregnancy that men don’t. Which of course is a reason not to SHAME women, but instead to make sure that they have access to and information about family planning.

    You are NOT protecting women by fretting about their “greater ill-effects from promiscuity.” Quite the opposite.

  • GabrielRockman

    Non-radical Islam and Christianity treat women with much more respect than secular culture does. Secularists find it incomprehensible that a person would actually choose to remain a virgin until marriage, and they are incredibly hostile towards a person who chooses to refrain from sex – a level of hostility roughly equal to that shown by pro-life people towards those who choose to have an abortion.

    There’s such incredible hostility here towards women who make their own choice. The “pro-choice” side is no more pro-choice than the “pro-life” side. They just have a different idea of what the right choice is. Most of them actually do believe abstinence to be the wrong choice, to be antiquated, old fashioned, and cannot comprehend that a woman could come to that decision herself.

  • 40henrietta

    I strongly disagree with the Altmuslimah article, but alance doesn’t make any sense either. Obviously, it’s fine for a group to believe what they want to believe and no, they should not have to “start their own universities” if they disagree with alance.

    But that doesn’t change how messed up this Altmuslimah article is for focusing on women’s sexual choices but not men’s. And for cheapening the very real problem of sexual assault on campus by portraying it as something that women (who are usually the victims!!) can/should prevent on their own!

    No, we need to tackle college drinking culture! We need to work hard on preventing sexual assaults on campus! We should NOT be portraying women’s choices to have sex as somehow “undignified,” as this article does, unbelievably!

    If Altmuslimah is really concerned about women having sex and regretting it, then they should be working to EMPOWER women to be in a position to make consensual choices with their bodies, rather than blaming the victims for being taken advantage of! Is anyone else outraged by this article??

  • hapinsl

    And polygamy. Definately accepted by God.

  • sarahinez

    Did no one think that Protestant women might prefer not to be part of the hook-up culture either?

  • sarahinez

    As you suggesting that having sex is a requirement to attend or graduate from an American university? How many partners, how many acts would be required to graduate?

  • sarahinez

    As you suggesting that having sex is a requirement to attend or graduate from an American university? How many partners, how many acts would be required to graduate?

  • gsh73191

    Catholicism is just as much to blame.

  • sam38

    Muslims also appreciate the no drinking no sex culture of BYU.

  • seppie1586

    The article seems to take the stance that no woman can or should enjoy sex outside of a marriage, especially if it was a one-nighter and that no males ever regret their sexual encounters. The 3rd sentence of this article is very off-putting. Oh and of course we can’t discuss same-sex encounters either… Come on, get with the times people! Religion is religion and it should be respected but the gender stereotypes of this article ruin the underlying message for me. If you want to be abstinent than be abstinent. No one cares!

  • carawr805

    First, I definitely agree with the other commenters who have raised issue with this article’s focus on only women’s sexual encounters and its complete neglect of men’s. On another note, I would just like to point out that Catholic and Muslim women are not the only people opting out of drinking, partying, and sex on college campuses. Personally, I do not partake in these activities on my own college campus, but this is not because of any religious beliefs I might hold. While I understand why this article focuses on people of these faiths, it is important to recognize that there are some college students who do not subscribe to any specific religion and still choose not to participate in the drinking, partying and sex cultures on our campuses.

  • obama4life1

    i could not disagree with elizdelphi more. SEX ISN’T SPECIAL.