Why Cakes Cannot Be Both Had and Eaten

The Consent Is Sexy (CiS) campaign has advertised itself as striving for a more lasting response to the problems it identifies than a mere alteration of college policy or an increased awareness of the existence and activities of Survivors of Assault and Rape. It claims to want a totally open and honest discussion of issues related to sexual violence at Haverford, as well as an enduring change in what it believes is a pervasive rape culture on campus.

I applaud CiS for recognizing that, to the extent the problem can be concretely defined, superficial fixes will not do. Plenary resolutions and tweaks to Haverford’s process for handling reports of sexual assault are simply insufficient. Only an open-ended commitment to changing the way that we think about (or don’t think about) rape is going to be enough.

I agree completely. But I think that taking CiS’s stated goals to their logical conclusions reveals some uncomfortable contradictions. By all means we need to eradicate rape culture wherever we may find it, but we will not do so until we take on hookup culture and the celebration of casual sex as well.

In an earlier post on this blog (“Sexism?”), the organizers of CiS explicitly refute the rather odd charge that their goal is to criticize Haverford’s hookup culture. They respond that they had no such intention, and that in fact many of them have had “positive experiences in hookup culture.”

Herein lies one of the central paradoxes of sexual liberationism: sexual violence is a grave sin, but the conditions in which such aggression can most easily manifest itself are to be not only permitted, but relentlessly encouraged. It is imperative that cool-headed rationality prevail long enough to come to a clear verbal agreement about the nature of a sexual encounter before it begins, but suggesting that cool-headedness can prevail for long enough to obtain a condom from somewhere farther than three steps down the hall is “unrealistic.”

To quote an article critiquing a similar CiS campaign at Gonzaga University, a key part of this worldview is that “college kids simply cannot help but have sex, so we simply need to live with this immutable, objective reality. Of course, college kids are told they mustn’t rape, smoke, make racist remarks, be homophobic, or denigrate native cultures, so they apparently do possess some self-control. But not in the sack.”

For anyone who thinks I’m attacking a straw man, consider SHAC’s condom distribution program. I’ve had it suggested to me that the initiative “promotes a healthy view of sex.” But this clearly isn’t true. Read SHAC’s Go! posts and other advertisements and you will find them asking people to save the condoms for “those in need” and to refrain from hoarding them lest others be left empty-handed in an “emergency.” In other words, we are encouraged to see impulsive sex as completely unavoidable, akin to an unforeseen accident. And the rebuttal that we as a community are only “recognizing reality” and not making an endorsement of any particular behavior is equally vacuous. I suppose that the Sexvember sex toy raffles and Juicy Justine seminars merely “recognize reality” as well.

In other words, if we believe in paternalism fervently enough to think that it is our collective responsibility to provide subsidized contraceptives for our classmates in the name of public health, then we must also believe in paternalism enough to feel responsibility for their psychological well-being as well. I humbly submit that meaningless hookups are not the pinnacle of such well-being, and that our failure to promote a more dignified sexual ethic means that we’re not really as good at being paternalists as we think we are.

Those who try to combat rape while taking a laissez-faire approach to casual hookups ignore the fact that carefree, potentially alcohol-fueled sexual encounters are the very sort of situations in which the risk of sexual violence is greatest. And no, this is not “victim-blaming” (“survivor-blaming”?). Any reasonable crime-prevention strategy has to be twofold, both convincing potential perpetrators not to commit crimes and instructing potential victims on how to avoid situations where they put themselves in the most danger.

Moreover, we are supposed to decry rape culture for subliminally and/or overtly condoning the objectification of women (and men), but how can we encourage hookups without tolerating the same exact mindset? What is hookup culture but the belief that it’s okay to treat other people as only instrumentally valuable, of use to us merely because of their capacity to give us physical pleasure? When it comes to casual sex, we are supposed to believe that using other people for our own selfish purposes is not only acceptable, but biologically unavoidable.

The bottom line is this: we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot eradicate rape culture while preserving a hookup culture that thrives on the same themes we supposedly condemn. Some will probably respond that I’m unfairly conflating consensual sex with rape, and that instead of “ignoring reality” I should at least endorse efforts to make sure that when people do have sex, everyone is on the same page. But this misses the point, which is that we deserve better than a culture that tolerates the commodification of other human beings. Of course it’s the case that nonconsensual sex involves a more tangible and more grievous harm than consensual sex, and the fact that it takes place has rightly brought forth the ire of what is hopefully a critical mass of the student body. Nevertheless, trying to fight rape by further trivializing the emotional and moral significance of sex is self-defeating. Just because we may not perceive sexual libertinism as damaging doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have consequences.


7 thoughts on “Why Cakes Cannot Be Both Had and Eaten

  1. Let Them Eat Cake

    I don’t make an enormously cohesive point of my own here; I pretty much just blow holes in that guy’s. You’ve been warned. But there’s cake at the end. So read his post. Are you back? Alright. For the sake of not changing all my verbs, the rest of this will be phrased as a direct response.

    Goodness, where to begin? Let’s take it in order:

    Your first flaw is your “central paradox.” Not that your assessment is wrong: the conditions in which aggression can most easily manifest are encouraged. Why? Because openness, relaxation, justified assumption of personal safety, and interaction with others are absent of aggression. They are all but anathema to it. They are all essentially a requirement of casual sex (or non-casual sex.) *And they are all encouraged by the Haverford community,* under the unofficial Trust/Concern/Respect principles. Quaker principles encourage such conditions.

    Suggesting you disagree with Quaker principles is a meaningless rhetorical trap; instead, you appear to have the assumption that something about sexual intimacy encourages aggression above and beyond the normal activities of Haverford students. Maybe you’re even right. But your opposition to hookup culture is then based only on your misapprehension of the nature of the problem: it isn’t the conditions. It’s the aggression.

    And then there’s the article, and the point you pull from it. “College kids cannot help but have sex.” I’ll destroy that article as a credible resource in a second, but first, this is an ancient and venerable *fallacy.* College kids *want* to have sex, and in their critically-thinking, “cool-headed rationality,” they don’t see why they shouldn’t. Of course they can “help but [have] sex.” Plenty do. All you have to do is dress funny and talk exclusively about your English paper. (English majors, I’ll make that up to you in a sec.) For those of us who don’t choose to be socially impaired, abstinence can be and is a valid choice. And you know what else is a choice, in a very parallel manner? Aggression. Treating aggression as being as endemic as “uncontrollable” sexual attraction is the next step of your underlying assumption about the harmful circumstances of the hookup culture.

    To quote the same article you did: “… rape is sinful and premarital sex is sinful…” See that? That was an equation of forcible sexual assault and a consenting sexual encounter. *That alone* ought to disqualify anything that author could possibly say about hookup culture, casual sex, and probably rape as well. But hey, let’s throw something else in: “‘to replace a meaningful dialogue about social realities with Church teachings is irresponsible.'” Well, that’s something, right? Nope, that’s the author’s example of a “logically impoverished” statement. About the only redeeming feature of this second quotation is that it proves the first statement about sinfulness was made by someone who could not possibly understand the meaning of their own words. And this is what it looks like when I’m *pulling* my punches on the religious aspect of your claims.

    While we’re on the subject, though: if you’re going criticize the language of SHAC on “emergency,” “recognize reality,” and “unrealistic,” I feel I should warn you that (here goes) rape is not a “grave sin.” It’s a crime in the eyes of the law (and law-abiding citizens.) It’s only a sin if you’re religious. If you are, great! Now it’s a sin *and* a crime. To you. Also, I am amused and impressed by your transition from “sexual liberationism” to “sexual libertinism” across your argument. Amused by the wordplay. Impressed you had the cojones to say something so judgmental in front of an audience you *had* to know would not miss it. Especially the English majors. And as it happens, I agree with your critique of SHAC’s language: discussing sex in the language of trauma is unhelpful, and maybe even unhealthy.

    Next up, the “humble submission:” you think that casual — no, wait, “meaningless” — hookups are not the pinnacle of psychological well-being. In the spirit of unsubstantiated claims, I submit that they are, or at least a component thereof. While your assessment relies on the audience agreeing under the duress of implicit shame of discarding centuries of conventional morality, mine relies on the pleasure, intimacy, and dare I say, joy, of two mature, physical, sexual human beings. Maybe I’m backing the wrong horse.

    Also, “dignified sexual ethic?” In a secular view of humanity, the march of human progress has always been towards freedom. And liberty. To do what you want, not what you’re told. How is submitting to our parents’, or grandparents’, or teachers’, friends’, pastors’, favorite authors’, or television personality’s code of sexual ethics more dignified than determining our own as best we can and living it consciously and with full acceptance of the consequences? Why do you hate freedom?!?!?!?
    *gets down off of soapbox*

    Next, economics. “Laissez-faire approach to casual hookups” contains an amusing little assumption: that casual hook-ups could, in any sense, ever, be subject to some sort of *regulation.* Or perhaps just “instruction.” Instruction is a good word; you use it later when you say “potential victims must be instructed.” The best part about instructions? When a right-thinking, clear-minded adult doesn’t follow your instructions, you can *blame* them. I’m sorry to get vicious on you, but when you say you’re not victim-blaming, you’re correct: you’re subtly creating the general circumstances in which you *can* blame specific instances of the victim. “He didn’t follow instructions.” “She should have known better.” I do not accuse you of such statements; in fact, one of the redeeming features of this post for me is the legitimacy of your concern for your fellow students. But you are advocating for an environment where victim-blaming is more prevalent. Simpler. Less noticeable.

    We’re nearing the end, but first we have another fundamental misunderstanding of the symptom versus the problem. And this one’s very understandable, because the starting point for your conclusions is often true: objectification of sexual partners is a component of a hookup culture. But it is not *all* of it; that is an inaccurate generalization. It happens; it is a function of physical encounters. But it is not an inextricable part of the process (and whether or not it ought to be extricated is a separate discussion.) But your conclusion to this point makes your view clear: you see hookups as being no more than “selfish purposes.” And this is the most fundamental error in your understanding of hookup culture. Without waxing poetic, I think your assessment assumes the most base possible motives and circumstances, and we can be, we are, better than that.

    The bottom line, I think, is this: because we cannot have our cake without a few individuals, for whom I reserve the most despicable and utterly deserved imprecations, taking it away and throwing it on the floor; because we cannot participate in a mature, physically and emotionally fulfilling, consenting, joyous intimacy without those individuals wresting that from us; because we cannot get laid without getting screwed; you propose that no one should have cake. Mature, physically and emotionally fulfilling cake.

    If you don’t like cake, that’s fine. I’ll have yours.

    Hey Bi-Co! Don’t let this happen to you! I edit papers. And theses. For FREE.

    • In your long and angry reply to the original, you seemingly on purpose miss the central the tenet of the OPs argument, which is that a casual hookup culture inherently is self-gratifying, not necessarily at the expense of others, but indifferent to others. People go into hookups for their own pleasure, sometimes considering other peoples, but often not. In the end you address this slightly by saying that we can be “better .” Do you have any proof of this? I have a ton of proof that hookup culture leads to too many rapes. Look at the testimonies on this board. We’re not saying sex has to go. We’re saying that a culture that encourages drug and alcohol fueled, semi-consensual one night stands does. You should be free to have as much casual sex as you want. However, you shouldn’t be [i]encouraged[i] to. That is the OPs main point. It is not “victim-blaming” to say that a hookup culture makes people give consent where they wouldn’t have. And that is a problem.

      Additionally I find your ad hominem attacks and baseless claims about the OPs ideology offensive.

      That whole “dignified sexual ethic?” bit? You extrapolated a minute point to ridiculous terms merely so you could attack the OP by accusing them with vague terminology about freedom. It was a bad debate tactic at best. All you did was make yourself sound hysterical.

      The author is free to quote whatever article they wish . That does not mean they fully support EVERYTHING in that article. You are in no position to throw out all arguments someone puts on the table merely because you disagree with some of them, additionally, its pretty clear the OP does not agree with everything in that article. They merely used one point in it.

      I am at a loss for words at your religion argument . The OP never brings up their religious views, so how could you possibly criticize them? It seems like you invent facts about the OP when it suits you. The word “sin” does not necessarily mean a violation of religious values. It can also mean a violation of moral values which was the OP’s context. This was baseless ad hominem at its very worst.

    • Original poster here, responding to “Let Them Eat Cake.” Thanks very much for taking the time to write such a thorough and thoughtful reply. And thanks for running with the cake imagery! I enjoyed it very much. Especially the jab at the Bi-Co (which I suppose was also meant as a jab at my writing?). I’ll try to address as many of your points as I can, so forgive me if it seems as if the transitions from one thought to another are a bit haphazard.

      I want to begin by clarifying what I meant about “conditions” and “aggression.” I certainly don’t mean to suggest that sex itself is inherently aggressive, or that “openness,” “relaxation,” and “justified assumption of personal safety” are somehow *causes* of aggression. And by “conditions,” I did not mean to impugn “Quaker values,” as I think you’ve properly recognized. My issue is with the way in which a hookup culture actually operates.

      Consider the earlier post on this (increasingly dessert-themed) blog about “asking for cookies.” It brings to light some very real difficulties associated with the *actual process* of obtaining consent. How much consent is necessary? CiS frequently reminds us that silence is not the same thing as enthusiastic agreement, so can any silences be taken for granted? How often should we ask for permission? Every ten minutes? Every five? As each new article of clothing is removed? Can we ever *just know* that what we’re doing is okay?

      A key part of a hookup culture – as manifested, for example, in the language used by the condom distribution program – is the view that sex is not something one plans for well in advance. It’s something that can just happen without warning, and therefore presumably with someone that we don’t know very well or with whom we do not have a long-standing relationship. This fact alone amplifies all of the concerns expressed in the cookie post, since strangers are not as easy to read as our close confidants.

      Moreover, hookup culture, in treating sex as just another recreational activity, leads to sex getting mixed up with alcohol and/or drugs in a dangerous way. Once again, it is not victim-blaming to point out that the issue of consent is muddied only further by the introduction of liquor or mind-altering substances. How can you be certain that the other person is making clear judgments? Even if you would be happy to stop if asked, you can never have full certitude when alcohol could be involved. And in a hookup culture, alcohol could always be involved. It isn’t that hookup culture *causes* aggression, but only that it leads to more opportunities for would-be aggressors to do their thing. This is what I meant by sexual liberationism encouraging the “conditions” under which bad things happen.

      Regarding the quote I drew from the article: I agree with you. I agree that college kids have a great deal more self-control than “society” often gives them credit for. That quote was intended as a parody of the mindset that says it would be foolish not to hand out condoms to college students. But if students are as rational and calculating as you say, then why should a condom distribution program even be necessary? Wouldn’t everyone who wants to have sex, after properly weighing the risks and benefits and consulting the relevant scientific literature, go out and obtain condoms for themselves? Most of the responses I’ve heard to my criticisms have to do with buying condoms being awkward, or with condoms themselves being expensive. In that case, why shouldn’t Haverford buy me other things that I might want, and leave them outside my door to boot?

      More importantly, my use of the aforementioned quote is absolutely not an endorsement of everything in that article. And for the record, I was using “grave sin” in a figurative sense. I’m sorry to hear that religion repels you so thoroughly that the appropriation of religious terms for the sake of expressive variety makes you think someone’s trying to convert you. Since you say that it would be “great” if I were religious and allowed that to color my view of sexuality, then so what if there are people who believe that rape and nonmarital sex are both immoral? I’m sure that you believe that murder and shoplifting are both immoral, but nobody’s suggesting that this means you think the two crimes are equally odious.

      To add a little bit of unscientific backing to my original “unsubstantiated claim” about hookups and well-being, I’ll simply say that I had a conversation with a friend of mine just the other day about how, in her experience, random hookups are almost invariably followed by a feeling of profound loneliness the next morning. Maybe that’s not true for you. Maybe this friend of mine is in a minority. Nevertheless, this ought to give pause to those who wish to advocate unrestricted casual sex. If we are going to eschew indifference when it comes to the physical health of the student body, then we must be willing to extend our public health campaigns into the realm of the psychological as well.

      So no, I do not base my argument on the “duress of implicit shame.” I base it on the far-from-irrational conviction that one-night stands are not an unequivocally desirable end.

      On the charge that I “hate freedom”: I have nothing against freedom properly conceived, but I do have a problem with your characterization of “the march of human progress.” I think we can both agree that in some instances, it is *diminished freedom* that has been constitutive of human progress. Childhood vaccination has been one of the great miracles of modern medicine (“miracle” here being a *metaphor* for “a really, really good thing brought about by rigorous scientific reasoning”), and it is only in recent years, as parental exceptions from mandatory vaccination on philosophical grounds have proliferated, that we have seen the incidence of once-banished diseases begin to creep up. This is not to draw any specific parallels between sex and measles, but merely to point out that *freedom per se* is not above reproach. If we all have the right to just make up our views on sexual propriety based on what we *want*, then who are any of us to tell people who want to rape that they can’t rape?

      Your point about “instruction” being nothing more than a more subtle form of victim-blaming is precisely the sort of hysterical “everything-is-victim-blaming” mentality that I criticized in my original post. The reply that brings up the example about arson does an excellent job of disposing of this argument and reinforcing my own.

      I think the first reply summarizes my main point very well when it says that “[p]eople go into hookups for their own pleasure, sometimes considering other peoples, but often not.” We need to promote a more respectful way of looking at our peers. Sexual violence stems in part from a failure to see others as thinking, feeling human beings with their own hopes and dreams; hookup culture, with its emphasis on personal gratification, at best encourages indifference to the desires of others, and at worst, blatant disregard. It’s not hard to see how the two can intersect. Our goal should be to promote not just *consent*, but *respect, love, and true regard for the well-being of our (sexual) partners*. I would argue that the former is a necessary but wholly insufficient condition for realizing the latter.

      Of course we “can be better”! I agree completely that objectification is not and does not have to be a part of sex. But if we take out the objectification, then I don’t think we’re talking about hookup culture anymore. If we no longer look at those to whom we’re sexually attracted as mere possibilities for “scoring,” but as people that we’d like to get to know better for unselfish reasons, then we’ve taken a giant leap forward. Maybe in principle hookups can be dignified and respectful of both people as integrated human beings, but I’m extraordinarily skeptical of the claim that this characterizes anything other than a small minority of the hookups that occur at a place like Haverford.

      Addendum: I apologize if you thought that I meant to offend by my word choice in the original post, or if it seemed as if I was being unduly inflammatory. My only objective was to stimulate good debate, and it seems I’ve succeeded.

  2. I agree that hookup culture as we know it doesn’t define the parameters of casual sex, and that casual sex can be perfectly respectful and non-objectifying, even if it currently isn’t practiced that way.

    I did, however, appreciate the original article’s deconstruction of one facet of our sexual ideology, intersecting with our ideologies about young adult behavior. To quote: “[A] key part of this worldview is that ‘college kids simply cannot help but have sex…. Of course … they apparently do possess some self-control. But not in the sack.’ ”

    Also, on “instructing” potential victims to avoid situations where they will likely get hurt – this is simple public safety policy. Strategies for reducing individual personal risk, which can avoid certain behaviors or practice harm reduction when engaging in those behaviors, are always encouraged.

    For instance: “Arson in LA: don’t visit.” Do you go? If you really want to, maybe you avoid the neighborhoods most likely to be targeted, etc, etc. If you still get harmed by arson, is it your fault? No, but you knowingly (and many others unknowingly) made a decision to do something that was more risky, aware that you didn’t have all the facts (for instance, who the arsonist was).

    If you had made different choices, you might not have gotten hurt, but in any case it’s the arsonist’s fault that you had to do all those calculations anyway, because arson s a crime! Ideally you shouldn’t have to worry about crime, just things like traffic accidents, but because you were aware and able and concerned for your safety, you went above and beyond and were extra-careful, and that was on your own time. Arson still goes to jail if they hurt you.

  3. “Our goal should be to promote not just *consent*, but *respect, love, and true regard for the well-being of our (sexual) partners*. I would argue that the former is a necessary but wholly insufficient condition for realizing the latter.”

    OP, I like the point you make here. I found myself very uncomfortable with your initial post, because I don’t think sexual liberationism is the problem, and that was the impression I was left with. Sexual liberationism, in my view, is about bringing sex out of the dark and into the light (I am aware that I have set myself up for a joke here); it is about taking away the shame and stigma; it is about recognizing sex as a natural and acceptable part of human life. Once we accept that sex is okay, fun, and not something we need to feel guilty about, we can speak about it in a more enlightened way. We can buy condoms without feeling embarrassed. We can discuss our needs with our sexual partners without feelings weird or awkward (well maybe still awkward, this is Haverford.) Hiding our heads in the sand or demonizing hookup culture as “sexual libertinism” stifles this flow of conversation and information. For evidence, look at the failures of abstinence-only sex ed. When we don’t talk intelligently, openly, and respectfully about sex, there can be many negative consequences (STIs, sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, sexual objectification, etc.) I don’t see these as problems that necessarily come from sex, but from a broken view of sex.

    You are right, hookup culture should be questioned and its flaws laid bare. I think you have done an excellent job of that. But I don’t think that means we have to all-out attack the idea of having non-committal sex. When Consent is Sexy said that were not attacking hookup culture, this is I believe what we meant (that’s at least what I meant, and I co-wrote that post). A social culture where non-committal sexual encounters occur is not necessarily flawed. The person who originally set forth the comment about hookup culture charged that we are “indict[ing] the hookup culture on campus.” Thinking about it now, he/she is right. We are indicting the Haverford hookup culture as is. Our post countered with “We’re not saying that hookup culture is universally bad–many of us have had positive experiences in hookup culture (in addition to some bad ones), both on and off campus.” Our point was that we are not indicting sex or hookups themselves, but the culture within which they are currently happening here. Do I see flaws in Haverford’s hookup culture? Yes. Am I going to stand up and point them out if I think it will help stop sexual violence? Yes. But do I think that any “hookup culture”– any environment where non-committal sexuality is accepted or the norm– must inherently promote sexual violence or objectification? No. This is a much larger debate than us… second and third wave feminists are still arguing about it. But I am a third waver, and I believe that it is possible for two (or more) individuals to temporarily enjoy each other’s company, bodies, and sexualities in a way that is mutually satisfying and respectful.

    I am of the opinion that college campus hookup culture promotes sexual violence– this is something we have tried to address through the Consent is Sexy campaign, not by attacking the “hooking up” itself, but by trying to introduce awareness and language (i.e. “enthusiastic consent”) so that people can enter into sexual situations in a more enlightened, respectful manner. Maybe, as you said, this isn’t enough. But for us, it’s a start. If I had my way, everyone in the nation (and Haverford) would have grown up with truly comprehensive sexual education– education that teaches about consent, respect for your partner, contraception, STIs, sexual identity, healthy relationships, and more (I’m stealing these ideas from a teacher at a Quaker school– he’s totally a boss. You should read this NY Times article about his program.) Maybe we can work toward some kind of similar education at Haverford– sex education that covers all of these areas, during Customs week, during Sexvember, whatever. As I said, I like you point that I quoted above. These are all great ideas that could be addressed in future campaigns. However, I don’t think teaching “respect your partner” means there can be only one partner or no partner. Sex is great, and its not going anywhere. Rather than trying to change whether or not people have sex, we should focus on changing the nature of these sexual interactions, no matter how numerous or random they may be. Promoting healthy sexuality is the name of the game, and we’ve got to be sex-positive to do it.

    • Original poster once again. Thanks for your feedback, Amy. I really do appreciate your attempts to seek common ground, even if this means your thoughts are less entertaining to read than if you’d chosen to insult my writing style and my alleged attempts to convert people to my religion…

      I very much agree with you that the problem is not sex, but a broken view of sex. Beyond that, however, I’m not certain that we see eye to eye. By “sexual liberationism” I do not mean merely the idea that sex should be talked about rather than hushed up, but also the notion that sex is just another recreational activity with no broader emotional or psychological significance. I do believe that this mentality is quite destructive. The responses to my original argument seem to boil down to people saying something like this: “Sex doesn’t have to be base and selfish. It can be something better. You’ve taken too narrow a view of hookups.” Fair enough. But it seems to me that people advocating “sex-positive” thinking only say things like this when people like me press them on the potential downsides of their philosophy. Forgive me if I’m putting words in your mouth, but that’s my impression.

      Maybe it’s the case that a lot of people can have one-night stands and not think anything of it. But for the sake of those for whom this is not the case, and given the great benefits that we know are associated with long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, it seems to me that we should not settle for a message of “anything goes as long as you’re safe about it, and oh, as an afterthought, abstinence is a valid choice too.” Note, by the way, that a message of “wait for somebody who matters, even if that doesn’t mean until marriage” would accomplish *a fortiori* much of what Consent is Sexy is aiming at.

      Campaigns that emphasize merely safety or consent are not necessarily *incompatible* with those that emphasize love, commitment, and an appreciation of the emotional and psychological dimensions of sex (as some have interpreted me as saying), but those that focus on the latter *by their nature* involve a defense of the former. If commitment-free sex takes place in a culture where monogamy and sexual exclusivity are promoted as desirable ideals, then it seems to me that that sex is more likely to take the form of the “respectful hookups” you describe than the commitment-free sex that takes place in a culture that asks only for adherence to the minimum requirement of consent. In other words, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars.

      It may not be the case that “a social culture where non-committal sexual encounters occur is necessarily flawed,” but I do think that a social culture where non-committal sexual encounters are *promoted* is flawed, insofar as it makes it harder to get across a message of the importance of “enlightened, respectful” sex and have it taken seriously. For example, my confidence in my own beliefs is shaken whenever I hear people mock pop stars that publicly commit to abstinence, or talk about a “forty-year-old virgin” as if this is the most ridiculous and defective thing they’ve ever imagined. I often have to ask myself whether I should just give up this silly argument and go have some carefree fun, but I invariably decide that I just can’t stomach the thought.

      So yes, what we’re faced with is a broken view of sex. Where you would argue that the “brokenness” inheres in our trying to hush up the topic of sex, however, I would reply that the issue is our having divorced sex from love, fidelity, commitment, etc. in our public discussions of the issue. Contrary to what the poster who said I “hate freedom” was trying to argue, I would never suggest that any community try to stamp out non-committal sex. I would say that we should adopt a more ambitious program of trying to communicate a meaningful sexual ethic. Maybe some will still opt for one-night stands, but maybe the ones who do will do so having internalized (if only in part) the notion of subordinating pleasure to love.

      It may be the case that we have a fundamental disagreement about how sex should be viewed, and so perhaps a complete resolution of a debate like this isn’t possible. Consulting the Wikipedia article (forgive me) on the “sex-positive movement,” I find sex-positivity described as “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.” To borrow a metaphor from “Let Them Eat Cake,” I’m not sure this is the horse I want to be backing.

  4. Worldwide, I don’t believe that you would find a correlation between sexual freedom and sexual assault. What you wrote is tactful and insightful, and I hate to make the comparison, but your post reminds me of this far-right article about gay rights and same-sex child sexual abuse:

    Creating an environment for healthy, safe, spontaneous sexual relationships should NOT be correlated with sexual violence. The difference between the two should be glaringly clear, and I think that is part of what this campaign is about.

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