Phi Beta Cons

Beer, Sex, and Co-ed Dorms

Catholic University has decided to start housing students in single-sex dorms, starting with next year’s freshman class, citing studies that show students housed in co-ed dorms drink more and have more frequent sexual encounters.

Catholic University is bringing back single-sex dorms starting with next year’s freshman class. Why? To reduce binge drinking and hooking up, University President John Garvey said this week in The Wall Street Journal.

Garvey said studies show that students drink more, and have more sexual partners, when they live in co-ed dorms. His university’s job is to train students in the virtuous life, and certain virtues are best learned and practiced living apart.

But Laura Sessions Stepp, in her opinion piece over at, argues that the students involved in these studies are most likely self-selecting. In other words, kids who drink more heavily or have more casual sex are more likely to choose to live in co-ed dorms. Leaders at Catholic University may be confusing correlation with causation.

Stepp also doubts that females have more problems with alcohol when they are in the company of male students. I think she’s wrong on this latter point. It’s not just about how often females drink when they are in male company, it’s about how much they drink. Females, who have a lower average body mass and lower alcohol tolerance, tend to get drunk faster than males. This is true because drinking is such a social activity. Each time the group has “one more round,” females in the group get closer to the point of being intoxicated than their male counterparts.

Single-sex dorms certainly won’t solve the overall problem of alcohol abuse. And Catholic University’s move won’t put a end to the dangers of students making sexual decisions under a haze of alcohol-impaired judgment. But female students do get drunk faster than males — and that fact does have sexual consequences, which Stepp is wrong to discount.

Stepp, by the way, wrote a great, and fairly even-handed, book on youth sexual culture a few years ago, entitled Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. It’s quite revealing and worth a read if you’re interested in understanding how the hookup culture works, and how it is shaping students’ lives.

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