Now, it isn't my place to dictate what any practicing Christian should say in any setting. They're entitled to speak their minds in any way they wish. And abortion would be a particularly tricky subject for a believer to address in a crowd with fundamental disagreements about whether an innocent human life is at stake. But what follows is the sort of address I'd like to see a traditionalist Christian minister deliver, as someone who thinks that many would benefit from parts of the message:
Hello again, everyone. You didn't expect to spend your first day of college listening to a Christian minister talk about sex. But every year, I ask if I can say something during this part of orientation, because it's such an important subject. Some of you have heard a priest or a rabbi or an imam talk about it back home. Some of you may have talked to your parents about it. Some of you have never talked to an adult about sex. And you're all smart young people, so you've developed your own opinions on all kinds of controversial subjects: abortion, gay marriage, contraception. If you ever want to hear my thinking on those subjects, I'm always happy to talk, whether we end up agreeing or not. It doesn't matter who you are or what you think. I'll love you when you walk in my door, I'll listen respectfully, and I'll love you when you leave.
Since I'm speaking today to people of all different faiths—as well as agnostics and atheists—I want to focus on a desire we all share: We all want to figure out what's right as best we can and to act accordingly. This can be difficult in college. You're living on your own for the first time. Your parents aren't around to enforce rules you've always known—you must choose what code to live by. At the same time, you'll find yourselves in lots of new situations, even as you're exposed to new notions of right and wrong that you've never considered.
Christianity prohibits certain things, like murder and stealing and adultery. But I want to talk today about something that Jesus calls on his believers to do. He teaches us to love one another, to be good to one another, to treat others as we'd want to be treated. Christians aren't alone in preaching that code. I raise it today in part because I expect you all already agree with it. And if you do agree that we have a responsibility to be good to one another, I'd ask one favor: As you proceed through this college, bear that obligation in mind! Do so even when you're deciding how to live your sexual lives here. Doesn't that sound like it's the right thing to do? But of course, it isn't always easy.
The dean of students talked to you about consent. By law and the rules of this campus, you need consent to be intimate with anyone. I want to remind you of something: If we're truly trying to be good to one another, consent just isn't enough. Maybe there's a person who has a huge crush on you. You're at a party. Maybe you've had a beer or two, and in the moment, kissing that person would be a lot of fun. But you know, deep down, that you don't share the same feelings they have for you—that if you kiss, you'll be leading them on, and they'll be all the more hurt tomorrow or the next day when you're not interested anymore. You have their consent. You want to kiss in the moment—but you don't, because you decide it's more important to be good to them.
Say you're dating someone. And you want to have sex with this person. They consent without being pressured. Yet you can't help but sense that they're not ready for intercourse. You understand this is a big decision with many physical and emotional consequences. And so, to be good to them, you hold off, despite their consent. You err on the side of caution, even though you'd rather go ahead.
If you really try to be good to one another, if you earnestly question what that moral code demands and grapple your way toward answers, you may not always like what your reason and conscience tell you. It may tell you to stop slowly taking that person's clothing off even though they haven't said to stop. It may tell you that you need to stay in the room with a friend who'd clearly rather be alone with an intoxicated date. Students are at greater risk of sexual assault at parties where there's drinking going on. Does that mean anything for your behavior if you're obligated to be good to your fellow students? Do you stay sober, or drink less and keep an eye on those who drink more, or serve only beer, not hard alcohol, when you host, or throw a substance-free party?
You'll need to decide. What's truly best for my classmates, and what does it demand of me?
Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn't reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There's always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?
There are so many situations you'll face—so many more questions I could pose.
I don't pretend that confronting these situations with the question, "How can I be good to others?" will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you'll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you're much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You'll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!