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The efforts to redefine rape on campuses would be amusing if they weren’t so dangerous. But I think we need to ask ourselves why the sex-with-no-consequences-ever crowd is suddenly a champion of sex-with-hyperbolic-consequences unless it is accompanied by lots and lots of yeses. I’m wondering, do both participants have to constantly say “yes” or only the females involved? Life is so confusing these days.
It doesn’t, however, need to be confusing. The truth is that “casual sex” has always been a myth, because men and women do not approach sex in the same way, which makes it a minefield. Two “consenting adults” probably have, in other words, wildly different ideas about what is going on and what it means. It turns out that sex is not just a powerful drive and a pleasurable physical sensation, it has social, emotional, mental and spiritual consequences that complicate what the kids have been told. All that extra baggage makes it possible — even likely — that without some mores, restrictions and good old-fashioned truth-telling, men and women will use and abuse one another through sex. Who woulda thunk it?
News flash: unlimited yeses do not constitute mores that guide moral behavior. What’s curious is that campuses are trying to do what social mores and custom once did, only from the back end. They are trying to control the explosive and dangerous potential of sex without walking back the “casual sex” myth and telling young people that sex is not just about physical pleasure. Curiously, our society has elevated sex to the be-all and end-all of life without giving it any depth. What could go wrong?
We have a real problem here, but the way to turn things around is pretty obvious. The answer lies in telling the truth to young people in sex education classes around the country. You don’t need to use a religious approach to do it, though kids armed with religion stand a better chance of resisting ubiquitous lies about sex. The truth is that being “consenting adults” or “consenting teenagers” is not enough, not by a long shot, because the pill did not make men and women regard sex in the same way. Also, the pill did not change the fact that when we give our bodies to another person, the rest of us participates too — our emotions, our need for love, affirmation, and being valued and appreciated for our whole selves. The potential for hurt, misunderstanding and all kinds of damage is simply endless.
Of course teenagers are raging hormone factories, and some will succumb to that, but we need to tell them that it is possible to resist, that if they are truly concerned for that person they think they love, they will resist. They need to be taught that sex is serious. I think we will find that if we teach them the truth, kids will be able to internalize values so that they can control themselves instead of relying on the astonishingly silly and superficial “control” mechanism of demanding an unending series of yeses.
What’s interesting to me is that at bottom everybody knows that sex is serious. Rom-coms regularly affirm it. Casual, uncaring sex is not celebrated in movies about romance because it’s not romantic. On the contrary, it makes what ought to be romantic sordid. The whole formula of rom-coms is to show a process — two people are attracted to one another, though they might even superficially dislike each other at first, and they overcome obstacles as they get to know and understand each other better, which leads to love, respect and the permanent commitment of marriage. It’s a tale as old as time and true as it can be, as Mrs. Teapot from Beauty and the Beast reminds us. Since everybody knows this on some level, would it be so hard to stress the point in sex education classes? Let’s get past the idea that all behavior is equal. Some behavior really is bad and destructive.
And while we’re at it, in those classes, could we also tell kids that they can avoid poverty for themselves and their future spouses and children by doing just four things — graduating from high school, getting a job, waiting until after marriage to have kids and staying married to raise those kids? If we taught them the truth, I think we’d find that kids are not so stupid as we think. They want to avoid the pitfalls of life, but currently are not being taught what they need to know to do so.