Friday, February 19, 2010

SEX - Part II

Posted by Pamela Urfer

In my last posting, I mentioned a book, Sex and the Soul, by Donna Freitas, which had been quoted in a recent Newsweek article. In her book, Freitas recommends that college students be given an opportunity to tell the truth about what they want out of relationships, including courtship, romance, intercourse, and abstinence without incurring the derision and wrath of their peers, mentors and campus ministers. Freitas feels that the dominance of the hook-up culture places undue pressure on students and praises “True Love Waits,” an organization at Harvard (and elsewhere) for opening up the discussion.

Under her direction, Freitas’ own students, dissatisfied with the prevailing level of “sex talk” on their campus, decided to publish their own newspaper, one devoted to sex, dating, religion and spirituality. “The purpose was to challenge the sexual ethic on campus with both personal experience and religious wisdom – in the hope of making romance and relationships more meaningful.” The plan worked. Other students told the publishers how they’d spoken truth, said aloud some things they’d thought themselves but were afraid to admit, wrote of feelings they didn’t know anyone else on campus shared, and made them feel less alone.”

Freitas goes on to say that “the students’ stories, discussion, and articles made it painfully clear that hook-up culture does not help young women and men discover the thrill of sexual desire or romantic passion, of falling madly in love and expressing this love sexually. Within hook-up culture, many students perform sexual acts because that’s ‘just what people do.’” Feitas goes on to say that “living within hook-up culture means putting up an ‘I don’t care’ front about behavior, submitting to unwanted experiences, and, in many cases, slowly chipping away at personal standards, expectations, sense of self, and respect for others, until these are sublimated so fully that students almost can’t remember what they were in the first place.” The result of the campus-wide discussion was that a fresh, new approach was made in the area of both sexuality and spirituality.

I realize how difficult it is to start a discussion about sex, especially for those who believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. But in our culture sex is more than a sin; it’s a contamination. Richard Beck, a Christian psychology professor, says that when he asks his class “Raise your hand if you feel like you spend too much money on yourself?” Every hand goes up. When he then asks, “How many of you aren’t virgins anymore?” No hands go up. But, he says, “there were a lot of nervous faces in the room.”

“Why the reticence? We all know sexual sins are qualitatively different from other kinds of sins, but why are they?” As he explains, “the reason has to do with the metaphorical structure of the sin and its associated psychology. Most sins are understood via ambulatory or performance metaphors. Sins structured this way are ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures.’ We ‘stumble’ and ‘fall.’ But note that there is nothing particularly noxious about falling down. It hurts, but there is no stigma attached to it. Thus, we willingly admit to committing these ‘ambulatory sins.’”

But sexual sins are structured by a different logic, a purity logic. When we fall in sexual sin, we become “polluted” or “defiled.” This brings a strong feeling of revulsion, which, when centered on the self, creates self-loathing and shame. Worse, the logic of contamination implies permanence. You don’t just “get back on your feet” after a contamination sin. You simply experience a self-loathing that is associated with a permanent “taint.”

Is this the situation at UCSC? Are our students bothered and depressed by the dominant sexual norms but feeling powerless to change them? Are they ashamed to admit they have had, or what to have, sex because of the contamination aspect? Do we even know what the students think? Perhaps it’s time to find out.