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Intimacy: It's complicated

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Preview of a story in our print-only Family Life 2014 special section.

Editor's note: This essay by Kerry Cronin is reprinted with permission from "Intimacy and Relationships in Catholic Life," the Spring 2014 issue of C21 Resources, published by the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College. The 38-page glossy, magazine-style publication contains 17 essays by various authors examining such topics as "intimacy in the age of Facebook," sexual relationships inside and outside marriage, intimacy in celibacy, theology of the body, intimacy between generations and intimacy with God.

Using "Intimacy and Relationships in Catholic Life" in parish study groups for adults, young adults or married couples would generate thoughtful and useful discussions. Learn more about C21 Resources or obtain copies of this issue by visiting or send an email inquiry to

How I found myself talking with young adults about hookup culture, dating and relationships is still a bit mysterious to me, but one thing I know for sure is that about 10 years ago I started to sense a genuine loneliness among the otherwise bright, involved, connected and accomplished students at my university.

When I asked about their lives -- not just about their academic lives, but about their personal, moral and spiritual lives -- what troubled and saddened me more than whether or not they were having sex (though that certainly concerns me, no doubt) is how little sex and sexual intimacy even mattered to them. Still today, not only do many of them think that sex is "no big deal," they usually display little hope that it will ever amount to all that much. They are deeply ambivalent about sex having any significant meaning, and in the context of their mostly ironic culture, they are wary of being duped by grand claims about intimacy, sexual or otherwise. As they say, it's all "just a thing." And they have plenty of evidence from their own lives, the lives of their families and friends, and from the wider sexualized culture to prove it. But when I started to really pay attention to what young adults were saying and doing in their hookups, dating and relationships, I found what I would call a low-level, grinding despair.

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A version of this story appeared in the May 23-June 5, 2014 print issue under the headline: Intimacy: It's complicated .

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