All boarding, grades 9-12 in Alexandria, Virginia

"Nothing Good Gets Away"

Nearly a third of young people worry that admitting they want to be in an exclusive relationship with someone makes them look clingy or needy, according to recent research on sex and relationships run through the Kinsey Institute.
Nearly a third of young people worry that admitting they want to be in an exclusive relationship with someone makes them look clingy or needy, according to recent research on sex and relationships run through the Kinsey Institute.

This perceived stigma “prevents young people from being sincere about what they want, and that’s a shame, because wanting connection is a profound part of being alive. It’s a human need, and it doesn’t make you needy,” said Dr. Debby Herbenek, one of the lead researchers on that study and a special guest to Episcopal in the early fall. She spent two full days on campus in discussions with and delivering presentations for students and adults, sharing her insights and findings around young adults and healthy relationships.

Herbenek is the lead author of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, an award-winning researcher, a best-selling author, and a keynote speaker at the National Sex Ed Conference. She was the first of several speakers invited by the Student Life Committee to speak around the theme of healthy interpersonal relationships, a key focus of Episcopal’s new strategic plan.

“Each speaker will be on campus for a night and a day, and will have time to work with the faculty as well as student groups of all sizes, from large keynote presentations to small-group work with selected student leaders to conversations in advisory settings for students processing what they have learned,” said Associate Dean of Students Ben Courchesne. “We hope to inspire reflection and growth for all of our community members in this arena.”

The evening before her talk to all students, Herbenek broke bread with the monitors in the absence of Episcopal faculty or administration to hear honestly from them about their concerns and curiosities. On Monday morning, she offered a presentation along with a brief Q&A session for the faculty and staff.

If there was a guiding theme to Herbenek’s talk to the students, it was that reports of love’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Now as ever, teens crave connection and want to feel special to someone far more than they merely crave sexual activity.

“I’m here to tell you that very few people your age prefer hooking up,” she said. Over 90 percent “of teenagers and young adults would rather date someone they like than hook up casually, and they would like to be in love with someone who loves them back within the next year of their lives.

“Courtship isn’t dead. Love is not extinct. And as you know from art and literature and poetry and music, love and longing and desire and heartbreak are central human experiences. Unfortunately it seems the media are determined to push this idea that young people prefer hooking up. But what if we tried on another perspective, one in which affection and connection were desirable and normal?”

She shared a powerful letter from author John Steinbeck to his 14-year-old son who was away at boarding school and who had shared his having a crush on a female classmate. Steinbeck’s closing words were, “Nothing good gets away.”

Herbenek also discussed issues around sexual assault and consent and sought to reframe the issue beyond mere “yes and no” to be more about approaching relationships “from a place of compassion.”

Later in the school year, two additional speakers will come to campus, Courchesne noted. Laura Tierney, director of The Social Institute, a group that empowers adolescents to use social media responsibly, will be the featured Leadership and Ethics speaker on Wednesday, November 28. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of the award-winning book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” will be on campus in late March.
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1200 North Quaker Lane Alexandria, Virginia 22302 | 703-933-3000