“Dr. Anonymous” — recently revealed to be Miriam Grossman, M.D., a psychiatrist working at UCLA — is author of a new book called Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student . She recently took questions from NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez about the book at the dire state of campus life.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How are America’s college students “unprotected”?
Dr. Grossman: I believe the false security engendered by the notion of “safer sex,” in an environment that promotes multiple casual encounters, endangers students.
Students are immersed in a campus culture in which sexual behavior is commonly detached from emotional commitment. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the terms “friends with benefits” and “hooking-up.” If your daughter has a friend with benefits, she is in a relationship that occasionally includes sex, but is without any expectation of commitment or exclusivity. If your son “hooks up,” he has sexual encounters in which there is no expectation of seeing one another again.
These behaviors are the norm on our campuses. Depending on the study, 40-80 percent of students “hook-up,” and by graduation, the average number of these nearly anonymous encounters is ten. Yet we wonder why so many young people suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-abuse.
A young woman is not warned that she is hard-wired to attach through sexual behavior, and that no condom will protect her from the heartache and confusion that may result. Also missing from her education is that the younger she is, the more vulnerable her system is to infection with a sexually transmitted virus or bacteria. Some of these organisms are transmitted even with condom use, and may have painful consequences even with timely diagnosis and treatment. This is information every incoming freshman must know; it will optimize her chances of staying emotionally and physically healthy as she navigates her way through the anything-goes campus environment.
Our universities and health organizations have yet to declare war on the hook-up culture, and some campuses actually promote and glorify it. I suggest parents log on to Columbia University’s goaskalice.com for a sense of how some schools normalize risky behaviors. This is especially hazardous for a young woman, who may feel pressure to fit in. The university and health organizations advise her to limit her partners, use condoms, and get tested frequently for STDs. In doing so, they say, she’ll be “safe,” or at least “safer.”
Lopez: But if you’ve raised your child “right,” is there really anything too much to worry about?
Dr. Grossman: There may be. It depends on many factors: how concerned she is about fitting in, how she copes with stress and loneliness, whether she is inclined to experiment with drugs or alcohol, whether she can withstand the campus culture of permissiveness, and whether she has the good fortune to find a group of friends who are like-minded.
Lopez: Who should be reading your book? Kids, parents, administrators? All of the above?
Dr. Grossman: Yes, all of those. I would add to the list people active in our national mental health and medical organizations, especially women’s health.
Lopez: You write “Our job is not to proclaim whether abortion is good or bad; our job is to ask, and listen.” But aren’t you weighing in fairly heavily on the “bad” side when you write about it as you do?
Dr. Grossman: I want to highlight the existence of an invisible group: women (and men) with emotional scars from an abortion. They are out there in numbers; many must seek support from networks outside our mental-health system. This is because although individual practitioners may be sensitive to the trauma of abortion, the mental-health establishment denies it exists.
My concern here is not whether abortion is right or wrong. If anything is being judged, it’s the refusal of my profession to formally acknowledge and reach out to those who suffer with severe emotional disorders following an abortion. And mind you, these are professionals who are normally eager to identify and assist victims of all sorts of other traumas — be it child abuse, sexual harassment, or natural disasters.
We are told by Planned Parenthood and other women’s health groups that most women do fine following an abortion. I’m not denying that’s so. But if only one percent of the one million-plus girls and women getting abortions each year suffer severe emotional consequences, that’s still tens of thousands of people. I myself was unaware, prior to researching my book, of how horrifying an abortion might be under some circumstances, and how there may be long-lasting consequences. Again, not for all, but for some.
Lopez: What ought feminists take to heart about the health care of women on campus?
Dr. Grossman: I’d like to bring to the attention of those devoted to the welfare of all women, a group on our college campuses in need of recognition and advocacy: Young women who aspire to motherhood.
The plans of these young women, many of whom have dreamed of having babies since early childhood, are put at risk due to lack of accurate information about the optimal time to conceive and bear children. Many women devote years to their education, career, and other endeavors, believing they can postpone childbearing indefinitely. This misperception is fueled by well-publicized cases of celebrities bearing children later in life. What young women may not realize is that sometimes these infants are not related genetically to their moms, and that the cost of creating these children is prohibitive. Furthermore, egg-freezing companies prey on vulnerable women to invest thousands in a procedure questioned by experts. Campus-health and counseling centers are in an ideal position to counter these misperceptions and provide accurate biological information and guidance. Women’s groups should be at the forefront of this effort.
Lopez: Would you/Do you recommend girls get married and pregnant quickly?
Dr. Grossman: “Quickly”? Of course not. But I suggest that women who are considering their long-term plans for school and career, begin to sort out what’s important to them in this area. A vast majority of young women envision motherhood in their future, and some would like large families. Let’s give them accurate information about their biology, and acknowledge that marriage and parenthood are important developmental goals.
Lopez: Do you downplay the danger of AIDS?
Dr. Grossman: No, I emphasize that it is a virus that is transmitted by having anal sex, sharing needles, or having a sexual partner that does those things. I explain why the virus is more easily transmitted during those behaviors. I argue that the warning “anybody can get AIDS” is a distortion. Without delineating which sexual activities are truly dangerous, this warning may lead those in danger to minimize their risk, and those in little or no danger to magnify theirs.
Lopez: Are you more worried about the guys or the gals on campus?
Dr. Grossman: Certain trends on campus are in my opinion detrimental to everyone, male and female. Political correctness marginalizes and silences those who think differently. The exaggerated place of sexuality is grotesque and destructive.
That said, I more often see young women for whom the campus environment is toxic. I believe that for many of these women, the lack of stability and clarity in their intimate lives causes profound emotional damage.
Lopez: So when the kids are home for Christmas, what should parents be talking to them about?
Dr. Grossman: First, understand that kids may want to sleep long hours when they get home, because finals week is a period of high stress and all nighters. When she’s awake, try to find out what life has been like on campus. Ask about classes and professors, the atmosphere in the dorm, parties, roommates, and friends. You might want to ask how he spends free time, and if she feels pressure to follow the crowd. You could say, “I’ve heard there isn’t much dating anymore. What’s the social scene like on your campus? Have you found a group of friends you are comfortable with?”
Lopez: What are the odds you keep your job now that your identity is unprotected?
Dr. Grossman: It’s too early to say, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lopez: What realistically can be done about the problems you outline in college campus counseling?
Dr. Grossman: On an institutional level, I’d like to see war declared on our campus hook-up culture. It should be done with the same no nonsense approach we’ve used in our campaigns against tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Remember, self discipline exists outside the gym and the cafeteria. First we must believe students can “just say no” to promiscuity. Once that happens, some of them might actually consider it.