Move over, intramural basketball; take a seat, geeky vocal ensemble. The new wave in collegiate extracurricular activities is sex seminars. A recent NBC News report covered, for example, an after-hours program at Colgate University on “consent” in sexual relationships. Here’s a snippet of what one event covered:
Rugby players, theater kids, frat brothers, and hipsters—of all races, sexual orientations, and genders—were calmly discussing what sex acts they’d like to try: a threesome, a bathroom quickie, sex on the kitchen counter. And what they found most attractive in a person of their own gender: tans, collarbones, confidence, big butts. The exercise’s conversations veered from the highly specific (a woman recalling a sexy camping trip) to the philosophical (an athlete wondering if he was secretly drawn to Platonic ideals of himself).
Questions abound at this point. First, how impossibly awkward was this session? Second, what exactly is transpiring at schools like Colgate, ostensibly devoted to intellectual instruction? Finally, have we glimpsed here the next national health-craze? “Six-Minute Platonic Abs!”
More seriously, the issue of “consent” has risen to the fore in recent days because of the well-documented hyper-sexualization of the American adolescent and college student. Where philosophical, spiritual, and educational considerations used to dominate discussions of adulthood, finding one’s “sexual identity” is now, we are told, the crucial aspect of maturity for young men and women. This means sexual exploration with few limits. Such strenuously-stressed ideology leads, unsurprisingly, to a good amount of sexual activity.
But the “hookup culture” that results is not all fun and games, contra your average extracurricular discussion. One awful story after another chronicles the now-familiar steps of “hookups” gone awry: 1) A couple gets drunk at a party, 2) through drugs and alcohol, typically the girl loses self-awareness, 3) a sexual encounter of some kind happens, 4) she realizes later on that she feels violated (as she may well have been). Undoubtedly, women are taken advantage of in such situations, and where that is true, the public conscience is and should be inflamed.
Obsession Ruins Sex
Even as we denounce any kind of sexual misconduct, we must also be very clear: the hookup culture is hugely to blame for these encounters gone awry. Schools like Colgate have abdicated moral instruction of their students and encouraged them to foster sexual desire. This is what NBC reported: “As students detailed their preferences and fantasies that Wednesday night, the room was thick with sexual tension. Hawkins said people constantly tell her all they want to do afterwards is go home and have sex. ‘And they don’t want to just have sex,’ she said. ‘They want to have good sex.’” Of course they do. By highlighting this program on the college website, Colgate seems to want them to, as well.
It is remarkable how transactional, and utterly un-romantic and un-fun, such a system makes sex. This is, in reality, un-sex. Sex in such terms is not grounded in the pleasure and service of the other, as it in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example. It is instead transacted by a sexual contract which is by design not a loving oneness, but an individuated twoness. You get your pleasure; I get mine. We are separate, exchanging only bodily fluids. This, said the seminar leader, is supposed to pass for “sexy.” Not so much.
The new sexual order influences not only over-heated coeds, but married couples. A recent story of a very different kind profiled a British couple, Jill and Iain Kelly, who, according to the Daily Mail (by way of LifeNews), wish they had aborted their little boy. “‘I love my son. He’s changed our lives,’ Jill says. ‘But if I’d known everything that Dylan would have to go through, and will have to go through, there’s no doubt in my mind that, given the correct information, I would have asked for a termination.’” Tiny Dylan, now five, has a rare disorder called Baller-Gerold syndrome, which requires constant care and major financial resources.
When Sex Is About Me, It’s Okay to Kill the Kids
Reading the piece, one feels sympathy for little Dylan and surging horror at a mother confessing her regret over not aborting her son. Yet we note that this language is entirely fitting in a self-driven sexual context. Children in modern thinking are not a gift, but a byproduct of a contractual act—even within a marriage—that may or may not be oriented to offspring. As such, they are not sacred. They are mere physical matter that all too often interrupts the fiercely protected self-interest of their parents.
How, one might ask, do these two pieces intersect? They represent two sides of the same coin, it seems. The new sexual ethos as represented by Colgate and by Dylan’s family accomplishes a diabolical pair of ends: it unbounds what should be constrained, and it constrains what should be unbound. Sexual desire, contra the Colgate event, should not be unleashed without a proper channel (marriage). Abortion, contra the Kellys, constrains parental love for the unborn. It hinders and limits what must be unbound. The care of fathers and mothers for their children is not infinite, but it is as nearly limitless as two exhausted young parents can make it. They give their kids sacrificial love day after day, over and over again, through all of life, yea, even to the end of the college-tuition bill cycle.
Undergraduates have grappled with romantic tension for a long time. Parents have found childraising difficult since the dawn of the earth. The problems cited in this brief essay are not new. What is new is a culture that encourages young men and women to abandon themselves to their desires, and that cheers parents as they confess regret over not killing their children.
The logic of the new sexual order cries out for a response, and it is this: we will thrive only when we constrain what harmfully desires to be unbound, and unbound what harmfully desires to be constrained. That is a concept worth holding a seminar over, whether we yearn for the Platonic ideal of ourselves or not.