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November 27, 2012

Feeling Shortchanged by the Sexual Marketplace, Part II

Yesterday, La Princesse du Blog broached the twin topics of hookup culture and the more perverse notion of the sexual marketplace. We began with the sad tale of two Dartmouth students, one of whom takes the modern ideal of sex without complications to a ridiculous extreme:

When I asked Nicole if she was still hooking up with the same frat boy, she shook her head. She explained that the entire time she was having sex with him he never once spoke to her or acknowledged her outside of his fraternity's basement. Not in the library, not in the dining hall, not at the bookstore.

"One time, I waved at him in front of the food court and said hi, but he just ignored me."

"Was he with anyone?" I asked—as though that would make a difference.

"A bunch of his friends."

There's a palpable irony here. By definition, hookups are supposed to neatly sever sex from the human emotions that normally accompany it: feelings of warmth or tenderness, connectedness, empathy, obligation, guilt. But the ostensible goal of hookup culture - sexual gratification without moral or emotional complications - seems not to have been achieved by either Nicole or her partner. Après-hookup Nicole feels more used, humiliated, and ashamed than satisfied.

The behavior of her frat-boy partner suggests that he's struggling with a few negative consequences of his own. If their repeated hookups were entirely free of moral/emotional repercussions, why avoid her? The normal reaction upon meeting a casual acquaintance who has no moral or emotional claim upon you is to casually return their greeting and move on. Acknowledging acquaintances is a trivial courtesy - the kind of thing most people handle on autopilot. The required response is minimal and formulaic. Wave, say "hi" back, and go back to what you were saying, thinking, or doing. Deliberately ignoring someone you know, on the other hand, is a conscious decision.

Avoidance is a response to the kind of messy and unpleasant emotions hookup culture is supposed to preclude. If Nicole's only offense was to greet a fellow student she clearly knows but has no intimate relationship with or claim upon, why avoid her? If, on the other hand, his avoidance stems from awareness that she wants more from him (a romantic relationship, perhaps?) then it's not a hookup anymore.

If he continues to have sex with her, knowing that she is falling for him (and that it's no longer a mutually agreed upon interaction with no further expectation on either side) the entire character of the interaction changes. The illusion that sex between them will be emotion-and-consequence free cannot be sustained by either party.

Ms. Esafahani Smith sees the problem thusly:

The balance of power in the hook-up culture lies with the men, an issue that has become more pronounced as women outnumber men on campuses...

While both men and women are disappointed in the quality of hookup sex, women are more - and more often - disappointed than men (there's a joke in here, but I'll refrain from making it). More women than men regret hooking up. They feel "disempowered instead of empowered" by casual sex. They feel less like equals on the sexual playground than like sexual jungle gyms: things to be used and discarded, rather than people to be interacted with.

Her analysis seems broadly true to me with the exception of the part about young women having no choice. This is the argument I can't understand. It's not as though hooking up is designed to result in a relationship. By definition, if you accept the premise, the essence of hooking up is that neither party wants a relationship. Entering a relationship based on the understanding that neither party wants a relationship (when you secretly do) is inherently dishonest. It's a sort of relationship fraud that bases an agreement to have sex on the false pretense that no deeper relationship is wanted. Ms. Esafahani Smith's formulation assumes that women do in fact want more, but don't understand themselves or their own desires well enough to advocate for them. It also assumes something else I don't believe to be true: that boys and man can neatly sever sex from both emotion and morality - that there are no consequences for them, either.

I don't believe that because it doesn't square with my experience or with what I've observed in real life relationships with real men and boys. Males may be even less connected to or aware of their emotions than women, but that's not the same as being completely disconnected from them. If the studies I cited in the preceding post are correct, at least half of men and women enter into hookups secretly hoping they'll lead to a relationship. If there is relationship fraud going on here, it bilateral fraud.

I don't think dating is the solution to the problems inherent in hookup culture because I still remember - vividly - being a young woman in the 1970s. I remember what I thought and how I made decisions, and my naive assumptions about sex were just not that different from those of today's college kids . Being young and very much influenced by the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, I had little or no sense that sex was an inherently immoral activity. I knew sex could be used for immoral ends, but my youthful outlook was influenced by sexually utopian novels like Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love and Michener's The Drifters - stories where most everyone meant well, even if good intentions did not assure beneficial outcomes. My ideas about how the world was supposed to work were shaped by both the culture I grew up in and by my parent's values (at least to the extent that I wasn't hell bent on rebelling against them).

And it's my memories of my dating experiences and the culture I grew up with that cause me to question both Ms. Esafahani's framing of the problem and her suggested remedy for inequality on the sexual playing field (withholding sex). "Dating" formed very little of my romantic experiences. I was a serial monogamist who rarely if ever dated casually. My relationships with the boys I dated were usually long term (6 months to a year, which is an eternity to a teen) and happy. I met new boyfriends, not in bars or through drunken hookups but in school. We got to know each other a bit before the romantic aspect kicked in. And though I was never even close to being beautiful, I never had to trick or entice boys into committing - they almost always suggested that our relationship be exclusive. Commitment seemed like a natural progression of the time we spent together (time that notably did not involve gifts or expensive dates). We went to the beach, or to parties, or simply hung out. We were friends who eventually developed romantic and sexual feelings for each other.

The thing is, withholding sex never occurred to me as a bargaining technique. Over the years, I developed a healthy respect for my own tendency to become emotionally attached and the equally natural tendency of boys to value what they had to work for or earn more highly than what came easily. These lessons were learned gradually, by trial and error, the way most relationship skills are acquired and good relationships are built. I learned to throttle back my affectionate nature a bit because many boys feel smothered by overt displays of affection. And I learned to guard my heart a bit, mostly by being hurt (and learning from that hurt). I also discovered that while boys pretended to be unemotional and difficult to wound, the opposite was true. Their feelings were no less strong for being hidden, and their pride was - if anything - far more tender than mine.

Because of my experiences, I don't think dating culture is the answer to the problems presented by hookup culture. Dating, formal rules, and my parent's moral strictures weren't a big influence on my own relationships. They weren't a big factor in the relationships of my female friends, almost all of whom had similarly happy experiences with boys and men. What did matter - enormously - was taking time to know someone's character before becoming intimately involved with them. If a potential boyfriend treated others respectfully, this was a good indicator that he would treat me respectfully. If he was considerate and kind, if he was honest and had self discipline, he was the kind of person I could afford to trust.

This, to me, is what's wrong with hookup culture. It's the same problem that plagues progressive policies that demand we treat perfect strangers as though they were family: there's no personal relationship there. No expectation of reciprocity, no time to find out how the other person responds to threats or adversity. Trust - that most essential of relationship ingredients - is not earned, but rather extended blindly, before it is warranted and before it is wise.

But there's another problem with intentionally withholding sex to gain intimacy. It makes sex into a commodity to be traded for what women value. Unless this trade is made explicit (and it almost never is), it's just as fraudulent as the hookup entered into under false pretenses. Delaying sex until you know someone's character is subtly different from withholding sex as a bargaining tool.

Neither can I endorse James Taranto's hopefully tongue in cheek remedy:

The sexual marketplace was once far more heavily regulated than it is today, and Smith rejects the idea of going "back to 1950s-style courtship, parietal rules, and early marriage." Instead, she wishes to move "forward, to sex founded on friendship, dating, and relationships." As a practical matter, how, in an essentially free sexual marketplace, can like-minded women accomplish this without being undercut by those among their peers who either do not share that objective or do not give it a high priority in the short term?

The only answer would seem to be by exerting social pressure--also one of the weapons in organized labor's arsenal. This columnist has never belonged to a union, but we were once obliged to go on strike. During our collegiate days, we had an internship at a CBS radio station when contract negotiations between the network and the Writers Guild of America broke down. We thought a strike would be a great opportunity to get more experience: Since the station would be shorthanded, that would mean more work for us. Instead, the station manager told us we could not work at all until the strike was settled. If we did, the union would blacklist us.

So today's would-be Lysistratas need to develop ways of stigmatizing young women who too readily say yes to sex, just as unions do to scabs and strikebreakers. What a feminist triumph that would be.

One of the hardest and most necessary lessons I learned from relationships is that you can't make someone like you or value what you value. Relationships based on deceit or pressure or tricks are fraudulent from the start because they aren't based on honest appraisal of what the other person wants or needs to be happy. What does it say about men if, as so many commentators earnestly assure us, men only want sex and have to be tricked or pressured (or even coerced) into giving women what we really want?

And what would it say about women if we bought into that profoundly insulting and reductive view of masculinity? That's not progress.

And it profoundly depresses me.

Posted by Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:20 AM

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Comments

Are women like Ms. Esafahani where women get their reputation as being illogical?

Women, pre-Feminism, not only had a choice but were the ultimate arbiters of yes/no.
Women, sexually emancipated and empowered by fifty years of Feminism leading to hook-up culture, have no choice.
Women, now having no choice, must choose to withhold sex.

Clearly, Second Wave Feminism was not well thought through - from a walk on the wild side to a stroll along a mobius strip. All of this is depressing in many ways but degrading in only one.

Posted by: George Pal at November 27, 2012 02:04 PM

I fully accept that some women may feel that they are "pressured to give it away" because so many of their peers do. I also think that those women are surrendering their power of choice foolishly. The concept that guys won't want them unless they make themselves sexually available without a relationship are guilty of devaluing themselves. The culture is not doing it. The guys aren't doing it. THEY are. No one is forcing them to relinquish what they value but their own insecurities.

As you said, you've found that men value that which they must work for more highly than that which they are given. That is my experience as well. I think if these women were to attempt relationships out of these men before "giving it up", they'd find that the men would be amenable... assuming, of course, that the men were worth having in the first place. If the man will not "buy the cow if the milk is free elsewhere" (a saying I hate, but one which all understand) then he's probably not one worth pursuing in the first place.

And ultimately that's what I think the real problem is. These women don't actually understand what makes a man worth pursuing. They still want the "hot guy" that all their friends want. If that's their standard for a "good man" is how he looks, then honestly, they deserve what they get. If they instead do as you did, and look for a man who will treat them well, with respect and honor, then such a man will reciprocate. The kind of man they should want is the one that will NOT cast them aside when their peers offer him a roll in the hay. The one that will turn the other girls down (politely, preferably) because he is in a relationship.

Furthermore, I find it insulting that it is assumed that young men can't behave like this, or be expected to turn down such offers. Instead, we are told that the culture makes them accept the offers. As I said, I am not unique, and yet I was able to decline offers even in my younger years. Why? Because I was raised to love and respect women. And mostly by my father, in point of fact. My mother had influence, certainly. But I never once thought 'my mother would be disappointed if I X', it was always my father's censure I feared. Even if he would never know... I would. And that was enough.

Posted by: MikeD at November 27, 2012 02:39 PM

One of the benefits of growing up in the backcountry of Appalachia is that I inherited a much older set of mores on this subject than I guess were common in the rest of the country. I was well served by them, and even now I think that something a bit more courtly than "dating" is the answer.

Of course, as the image on the sidebar of the Hall says, not every girl likes that. But I didn't need every girl. Or even just any girl.

Posted by: Grim at November 27, 2012 02:40 PM

Cassandra,
While you were at Dartmouth, I was 150 miles NW at Clarkson in far north NY, with a far higher male:female ratio of >9:1. I lived in a frat house three years. All frat houses were off-campus and regulated only by the fire marshall and state health dept. Of the 13 guys in my class living in the house, 5 had ongoing monogomus relations and married after school and 8 were pretty close to not having a date, much less "hooking up". We did drink. A lot. Girls came over from the local SUNY college. Aside from the 5 ongoing relationships, the hooking up number was far below 5%. I don't know that you would have liked us, but you would have been treated well.
Unless you were cheering for Dartmouth at a hockey game ;-)

Posted by: tomg51 at November 27, 2012 03:07 PM

The behavior of her frat-boy partner suggests that he's struggling with a few negative consequences of his own. If their repeated hookups were entirely free of moral/emotional repercussions, why avoid her?

Just throwing something out there because this entire situation is completely foreign to me.

What if the guy has so bought into the meaningless sex mantra that he believes it is the day-to-day type interaction, instead of sex, that would create an emotional attachment that the hookup culture is meant to avoid?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 27, 2012 03:42 PM

then he's probably not one worth pursuing in the first place.

I remember saying in a post long ago, that the hookup culture (and the pairing of jerky-guy-and-vapid-girl) is possibly even optimal...

...albeit in a Darwin Dating Awards, removing the unfit from the pool, kinda way.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 27, 2012 03:48 PM

Re-reading the having sex but not being acknowledged section above, I was initially thinking "he's embarrassed" (she's not hot?), but then realized it's more like reading Go Ask Alice in 1971 - too foreign for me to understand.

Posted by: tomg51 at November 27, 2012 04:01 PM

Re-reading the having sex but not being acknowledged section above, I was initially thinking "he's embarrassed" (she's not hot?), but then realized it's more like reading Go Ask Alice in 1971 - too foreign for me to understand.

Kind of the same confusion I suffered. It literally is a form of thinking that is alien to me. If you are too embarrassed to be seen even saying hi to someone, what in the devil are you doing taking them to your bed. And honestly, given that he "summoned" her mid-conversation with a frat brother in order to have sex, I'm assuming he wasn't embarrassed for it to be known he was sleeping with her. So all I can conclude is that he is just a foul human being.

Posted by: MikeD at November 27, 2012 04:15 PM

Women, pre-Feminism, not only had a choice but were the ultimate arbiters of yes/no.
Women, sexually emancipated and empowered by fifty years of Feminism leading to hook-up culture, have no choice.
Women, now having no choice, must choose to withhold sex.

That's priceless, George! It's what made me write, "This isn't progress!", but your summary is so much more clear :)

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:15 PM

I think if these women were to attempt relationships out of these men before "giving it up", they'd find that the men would be amenable... assuming, of course, that the men were worth having in the first place. If the man will not "buy the cow if the milk is free elsewhere" (a saying I hate, but one which all understand) then he's probably not one worth pursuing in the first place.

EXACTLY.

Doesn't this remind you of the PUA nonsense? They claim to want a relationship with a good, old fashioned girl but instead pursue sex with the kind of woman who won't be faithful (or even have sex with them) without being constantly belittled (negged) or tricked.

It's the same twisted thinking. It's everyone else's fault that they're pursuing the wrong kind of person - one who who can't or won't give them what they really want if approached honestly.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:18 PM

One of the benefits of growing up in the backcountry of Appalachia is that I inherited a much older set of mores on this subject than I guess were common in the rest of the country. I was well served by them, and even now I think that something a bit more courtly than "dating" is the answer.
Of course, as the image on the sidebar of the Hall says, not every girl likes that. But I didn't need every girl. Or even just any girl.

This is a great point, Grim. I was thinking about this a while back and it occurred to me that few people want sex (or a relationship) with "just anyone". What most people want is sex or a relationship with someone they connect with on some level. Someone who understands and/or accepts them, likes them for who and what they are, etc.

And that's not (nor will it ever be) "everyone". There's no one-size-fits-all with people. For every person, there are other people it's easy for them to relate to: with them, things go fairly smoothly because they are compatible.

Trying to do anything with someone who isn't compatible - who wants completely different things - is like rolling a rock uphill.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:24 PM

I don't know that you would have liked us, but you would have been treated well.

Believe it or not, I don't dislike frats. At Dartmouth I was almost uniformly treated incredibly well at the frats I went to. It was the way other women were sometimes (not always) treated that disturbed me. Maybe it's a relic of a bygone era, or maybe it had something to do with the particular guys some of these women chose to associate with - ones I avoided because I didn't like them? There are bad apples in every group.

Looking back as an adult (and a parent of adults with their own kids) I am often amazed that nothing bad happened to me. I remember one time I looked around the basement of a frat I was at and realized I was literally the only girl in a room full of fairly drunk frat brothers. And no one so much as made an improper advance. They treated me like a lady and with respect even though I was making up fairly rude rugby song lyrics for them :p

A few of them even came to me once to tell me one of their brothers was implying that he had slept with me (he hadn't). They were clearly uncomfortable about repeating what he'd said, and I never let on that they'd told me, but I appreciated the heads up and kept my distance from him after that. I can't tell you how touched I was by their decency and kindness.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:36 PM

I was raised to love and respect women. And mostly by my father, in point of fact. My mother had influence, certainly. But I never once thought 'my mother would be disappointed if I X', it was always my father's censure I feared.

Fathers are incredibly important. Even when I was full on rebelling against my Dad - we butted heads a lot - he had a lot of influence over me.

I saw something I have been wanting to write about but didn't know quite how to approach it. It was an article in Time mag about how parents don't talk to their sons at all about sex.

The mothers don't quite know how to, and the fathers... well, I have no idea what they're thinking.

It really alarmed me. We live in a world where sex is everywhere, 24/7. What on earth makes parents of boys think they don't need some moral guidance?

Am I nuts here? My husband happened to be deployed when both my boys started dating, so I had to talk to them about sex and relationships. And I did - several times. Of course they knew the mechanics. This was more of the 'do the right thing, son' kind of talk; warning them about situations they might encounter and asking them to think over in advance how they would respond so they weren't caught unawares.

Talking to them before they got into dating situations helped me trust them enough to be able to stay out of their business and give them some space once they were actually in a relationship. You can't guarantee they'll take your advice, but at least you know you've done your best to prepare them to make good decisions.

I see my husband's influence in our sons all the time - it's in the way they treat their wives and the way they treated their girlfriends. I never taught them that - it was all learned by their father's example.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 04:46 PM

Hypothetically, what would you have a father say?

Posted by: Grim at November 27, 2012 05:22 PM

Well, I only know what I talked to my sons about. I never asked my husband what he discussed with our sons, but I think most boys would benefit from a male perspective on the same general topics.

I talked to my sons about dating and temptation and premarital sex. What society's standard was (anything goes) and what they see in the media (pretty much anything goes) is not what their father and I expect or believe. (We'd prefer that you wait until you're in a committed relationship, because sex is pretty powerful. But we're not going to be going out on dates with you. So in the end, the decision will be yours and you'll have to live with it. So will your partner, whoever she is.)

Adult decisions entail adult responsibilities. If you decide to have sex before you're married, you'd better take it seriously. If you sleep with just anyone, you're putting yourself at risk in more ways than one (spell them out). You can also cause great hurt without meaning to because for a great many people, sex bonds them to their partner. If you have sex too early, you can end up creating or having feelings for someone who isn't a good match for you, and that can create a lot of misery.

I talked to them about differences between the assumptions boys and girls have about sex in general. In general, most girls assume that if you want sex with them, you must care for them because it's harder to separate sex and love for girls (though not impossible). They interpret your actions through the lens of their own thoughts and feelings because they have no idea what it's like to be male.

Be honest and honorable with them and with yourself.

Just as boys try to seduce girls, some girls will unconsciously (or even consciously) try to seduce you. It's still your responsibility to control yourself - no one can do that for you. Biology is a powerful force and sometimes young people are unaware of its influence on them. Male biology drives boys to want to have sex fairly indiscriminately but that's not an action in line with the values we've taught you. Female biology drives girls to continue the species and settle down with one guy, so if you're not ready to have a baby or get married then you need to consider your partner's agenda/wiring as well as your own. Never, ever delegate the responsibility of birth control. And you need to insist that she use it, too. Redundancy is a good thing, here. Once you create life, you can't just snuff it out like a candle. It's a baby, not a "mistake" you can erase.

Don't have sex with someone of poor character (but then we had already taught them to select their friends carefully).

Blah blah blah blah....

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz :)

That kind of stuff. Imparting values, things to consider, what to do if you find yourself in certain situations.

Maybe I'm weird but I talked to my sons about what to do in peer pressure situations having nothing to do with sex too. Sometimes, they even listened to me. The goal was more to get them to think about their values and give them the tools to make decisions they could live with.

The scariest thing about being a parent is that you have to turn your kids loose in the world long before they're ready. You really have no control over what they do when you're not around. If they really want to do something, they'll find a way to do it.

I think the best you can do as a parent is try to influence them beforehand and then trust them.

Sorry for the snoozefest. Here endeth the sermon :p

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 05:58 PM

Snoozefest, indeed. I doubt your sons thought it was boring, and I certainly don't. It sounds like fine, honorable, practical advice.

I agree with you so completely about "progressive policies that demand we treat perfect strangers as though they were family." And I agree equally about your point that "What did matter - enormously - was taking time to know someone's character before becoming intimately involved with them." It's easier for some than others to have sex without becoming intimately involved, but for those of us who can't easily separate the two, that's just good sense. I can't see that it has anything to do with withholding a commodity. But it's a hard lesson for girls to learn that many boys may not view the intimacy of sex the same way, and that she's going to have to get to know the guy pretty well instead of simply assuming he'll approach the issue the same way she does. At least it was hard for me, young as I was and not very clued into what was going on with other people.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 27, 2012 07:31 PM

it's a hard lesson for girls to learn that many boys may not view the intimacy of sex the same way, and that she's going to have to get to know the guy pretty well instead of simply assuming he'll approach the issue the same way she does. At least it was hard for me, young as I was and not very clued into what was going on with other people.

I couldn't agree more. I was very naive as a girl and almost always assumed the best about people I dealt with. I was also pretty fearless and adventurous, qualities that (combined with naivite) can be pretty dangerous.

I'm pretty sure that having my father as an unconscious model somewhere in the back of my mind saved me from some pretty unhappy experiences.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 10:25 PM

I tended to assume the best about any guy I was infatuated with, but what I was missing was that his idea of the best was not the same as mine, and that mine wasn't necessarily the gold standard. Sex created, at least for me, a kind of instant feeling of intimacy, but it wasn't earned -- I still had very little idea of whom I was dealing with. So the guy was burdened with a sense of assumed intimacy that he didn't necessarily feel yet, in company with a woman who didn't really understand him at all. And indeed, that remained true for quite a few years after I married. What saved us was that we both considered the commitment permanent and irrevocable.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 27, 2012 11:15 PM

Sex created, at least for me, a kind of instant feeling of intimacy, but it wasn't earned -- I still had very little idea of whom I was dealing with. So the guy was burdened with a sense of assumed intimacy that he didn't necessarily feel yet, in company with a woman who didn't really understand him at all. And indeed, that remained true for quite a few years after I married.

That was so well stated - I don't think I would have been able to put it into words so neatly, but I know exactly what you mean.

I think that's true to at least some extent in most marriages, though. I don't think I really knew my husband anywhere near as well as I thought until we'd been married at least 20 years. And after we'd been married for 30 I learned things about him that I hadn't known.

And we've both changed so much. I met him just before my 18th birthday. We got married a few months before my 20th. A few months into our relationship, I knew the big things about him: that he plans carefully, that he thinks 5 or 10 years into the future (whereas I tended to live in the present), that he is protective and responsible, that he's ferociously intelligent and tough minded but very gentle with me. That he's thoughtful and considerate, but very stubborn.

That I could depend on him.

I love your comment about the man feeling burdened with a sense of assumed intimacy he didn't fully feel yet - that's very perceptive. It's sort of a cliche that men are reluctant to commit, but I don't think that's quite right. I think good men take commitment very seriously, and so it's only logical for them to take a little longer before making that leap. That's what I prize about my husband - I have no doubt of the depth of his feelings, but he can also distance himself from them when he needs to be practical.

When I was much younger, I think I felt slightly threatened by that but as I've gotten older (and certainly more secure in his love for me) I admire the quality tremendously even when I don't always like the decisions it leads to.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 28, 2012 07:14 AM

Slightly off topic, but a favored story I was given is that of my mother getting "the talk" (she claims she actually learned the mechanics in her freshman biology class in college) from her 70-ish year old father on the day before her wedding. He took her for a car ride and after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence (apparently, he was more than a bit embarrassed, but felt he needed to give her some wisdom on the matter).
"Love isn't what you and [my father] have. This hot and heavy thing. Love is what your mother and I have. I'm used to her."

End of discussion. She swears this was the entirety of "the talk".

Posted by: MikeD at November 28, 2012 08:50 AM

That's priceless advice, though. And very true.

I don't think the mechanics/plumbing is what kids need. They can get that anywhere. What kids need is the reassurance/support of knowing their parents' moral values and perspective on matters kids have no experience with yet.

Grim mentioned having grown up in Appalachia with a traditional set of values. When I was growing up, the culture was more aligned with my parents' values but popular culture still affected me. It's much more pervasive now, and much harder to insulate your kids from these days. You used to be able to (at least) keep it out of your home.

We did that - we had only basic cable (which in those days didn't include classics like Hot Asian MILFs Who Love Nasty Monkey Sex) and even when the Internet became a big thing, we had one desktop in the family room and the monitor was angled so they couldn't get themselves into too much trouble. They also had limits on how much time they could spend on the PC.

These days, kids have smartphones and are sending nekkid photos to their 100 besties. A moment of normal teen stupidity can go viral and there's no calling it back.

There's also a lot of stuff on the Internet that kids just aren't ready to see yet. Heck, *I'm* not ready to see it yet, and probably never will be :p

Posted by: Cassandra at November 28, 2012 09:59 AM

we had only basic cable (which in those days didn't include classics like Hot Asian MILFs Who Love Nasty Monkey Sex)

...and it ought to allowed on broadcast!!!

Posted by: Hot Asian MILF Who Loves Nasty Livid Terrier at November 28, 2012 10:30 AM

Pppphhhhhttttthhhh :)

On a serious note, does it bother anyone else that the focus went from, "People should be allowed to enjoy X in the privacy of their own homes" (i.e., you shouldn't be able to stop me) to "X should be available to everyone and if you don't like it, you have to actively figure out where the (*&^% it is on your 900+ channels and block it"?

Because it sure bothers me. I really don't give a flip if adults want to see things I don't want to see.

Posted by: Hot Causasian GILF Who Just Wants To Be Left Alone at November 28, 2012 10:41 AM

I don't rightly know the answer to that question, but I can tell you how I handle the problem. I watch on the order of 4-6 hours of television a week, and only watch programs I already know I like. This week has been a little odd, because I decided to crack open some of the DVD's I've purchased and watch them again instead of TV. It started because Conan the Barbarian came on commercial TV, and I realized it was stupid to watch the movie in a cut and edited form with commercials when I had the full movie (commercial free!) on my shelf. I've watched several others since. So my overall TV time is up (I'm guessing I watched around 7-9 movies since Sunday, but it was all movies I wanted to watch. I think I'm going for The Quiet Man and perhaps Serenity tonight. We shall see.

Posted by: MikeD at November 28, 2012 01:31 PM

Do you know what your sin is?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 28, 2012 02:31 PM

Fascinating post and conversation! I loved this comment:

"...the guy was burdened with a sense of assumed intimacy that he didn't necessarily feel yet, in company with a woman who didn't really understand him at all. And indeed, that remained true for quite a few years after I married."

As a newlywed, that makes me feel better. :P We didn't live together until after we got married, so there's been a huge increase of daily/mundane intimacies to navigate, and I can feel at times like I don't know/understand him at all. It's not in a negative way, just in an "OMG, this is an endlessly complex and changing person, and how in the world are we going to learn what we should about each other?" And we're still adjusting to figuring out how to give each other the healthy space we need.

I just mentioned to him last night that I'd felt that we'd found our newlywed footing in terms of it not feeling that it's ALL new but still feeling that it's vibrant and exciting to be sharing our lives. And yet... this morning, I'm again realizing how much we still have to learn about each other... :)

Posted by: FbL at November 28, 2012 02:33 PM

Do you know what your sin is?

Being too perfect? :)

*running away*

Mike, we don't watch a whole lot of TV - mostly movies on the weekend or On Demand reruns of shows we like.

I just find it annoying when my kids are here and we're looking at the program listings and I see stuff like that. My 5 year old grandson is learning to read and I don't relish the thought of explaining to him what some of these funny words are.

I guess I"m annoyed that this stuff has become so mainstream now that you watch talk shows and they're talking about things I profoundly don't want to know more about (I really don't care what you fiddle with yourself to). Jeez - I feel like my own grandmother.

I'm fine with double entendre and mildly risque jokes but I think some of the more out there stuff should be "opt in" rather than "you have to opt out and oh by the way it's a real PITPatootie".

Posted by: Hot Causasian GILF Who Just Wants To Be Left Alone at November 28, 2012 03:17 PM

Few things. One is that the Atlantic article focuses on sex but what screamed at me was alcohol. Nicole is reported as repeatedly drinking to the point of blackout and - more significantly - drinking to the point of blackout before having sex for the first time. In other words, Nicole's alcohol abuse predates her first sexual encounter. I don't imagine her jerky hook-up partner helped but I'd look a little deeper for the reasons for Nicole's misery and personality change.

Second, I don't quite get why being able to hook-up is necessary for female liberation. I guess the argument is that if women can't have sex they can't exist and if they can't hook up they can't have sex. I have actually known women who manage to survive into their 30s without having sex. I've heard rumors of men who manage the same thing. I'm not saying it's easy (or fun) but if hooking up is a disaster perhaps it would be better to forgo sex, at least until one can find someone who will wave at you after you've had it.

Third, if we were talking about Nicole and a woman she knew who, say, only wanted Nicole's company to watch episodes of The Gilmore Girls, refused to acknowledge Nicole except when they were watching old reruns together, and demanded Nicole drop conversations with other women to go watch TV with her, no one would expect Nicole to put up with that. It would be clear that the woman had some kind of weird psychological problem and that Nicole did too if she put up with it. Sex may not require better manners than any other social interaction but it really shouldn't get away with worse.

Posted by: Elise at November 28, 2012 07:04 PM

Sex may not require better manners than any other social interaction but...

Now that makes me smile. Aramis couldn't have said it better, Milady.

Posted by: Grim at November 28, 2012 08:49 PM

Do you know what your sin is?
I'm a fan of all seven. But right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath.

I just find it annoying when my kids are here and we're looking at the program listings and I see stuff like that.
Sorry, I didn't clarify. I leave it on "my channel" (BBC America), and if what they're showing isn't what I want to watch, I generally just turn it back off. I also realize this does not work for most anyone else, and certainly a different set of circumstances apply when grandchildren come into town. But I'd probably just stick to DVDs. That way you have full control over what shows on screen (well, except for those silly FBI warnings).

Posted by: MikeD at November 29, 2012 08:41 AM

Aramis couldn't have said it better, Milady.

I'm tempted to just say, "Thank you" - and I do say it (I think) - but honesty compels me to confess I do not know what you mean by this, Grim. Woeful ignorance, I'm afraid - although I do know enough to be fairly sure you aren't quoting a men's fragrance ad. :+)

Honesty further compels me to say that my original comment should have read:

I have actually known of women who manage to survive into their 30s without having sex.

I do not think I have ever had a woman of my age or younger admit this to me personally. It would be considered too shameful - which is darkly amusing to someone like me who is old enough to remember when it was having sex out of wedlock that was considered shameful.

Posted by: Elise at November 29, 2012 09:08 AM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramis

Posted by: MikeD at November 29, 2012 09:28 AM

Aramis was one of the Three Musketeers, yes: the one most likely to have made a comment about the importance of good manners to casual sex. Not that he took the matter casually; he would go into despair if his mistress did not write him for a while.

Posted by: Grim at November 29, 2012 11:03 AM

Thanks, guys. I did find "Aramis" in Wikipedia but didn't realize from that article that he might be concerned with manners when it came to casual sex - so I assumed there was some more esoteric reference I was missing.

We just bought a Nook and - if I remember correctly - The Three Musketeers is available for free. Perhaps I'll try it over the holidays.

Posted by: Elise at November 29, 2012 12:27 PM

It's an interesting book. I loved it as a boy and a youth, but as an adult I'm shocked by the way the characters treat each other. They are extremely manipulative at almost every turn. Somehow, when I was a boy, that aspect didn't impress itself on my consciousness as much as it does now.

Still, it's a great story.

Posted by: Grim at November 29, 2012 12:45 PM

Young women who are lonely and unsure of themselves are at great risk of misinterpreting the sexual interest of young men. They assume they are being offered personal contact, which may or may not be true. Often they are taken by surprise by how much they need the personal contact once they get what they take to be a taste of it, especially if they have been raised in a cold home. After that, it can be hard to relinquish the dream of finding it in another man who approaches them sexually. Desperation doesn't lend itself to evaluating situations realistically. I take Nicole to be a young women who's quite lost socially, or she'd know what was wrong with her strange young man, and she probably wouldn't be drinking herself into a frequent stupor, either. I wonder if her parents have the slightest idea how ill-equipped they've sent their daughter into the college world.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 29, 2012 01:25 PM

We just bought a Nook and - if I remember correctly - The Three Musketeers is available for free. Perhaps I'll try it over the holidays.

Having recently acquired a Kindle myself, I would encourage this, but I will warn you, many will attempt to sell you a copy of the book. Barnes and Nobel (sponsors of the Nook) will most likely have several copies of The Three Musketeers (or collections that include it) for sale. But if you want a free copy, I would recommend you head to Project Gutenberg. There you will find most every book that has passed out of copyright.

http://www.gutenberg.org/

Just find the book you like, select the ePub version (with or without pictures as you like) if you're on a Nook, and download it somewhere on your computer. Then, then next time you plug your Nook into your computer to charge it, you can drag the file onto the Nook and have it available to read.

Posted by: MikeD at November 29, 2012 02:06 PM

Thanks, Mike. My husband discovered the Guttenberg Project's treasure-trove of old science fiction within days of our bringing the Nook home. I'll check it out for The Three Musketeers.

Posted by: Elise at November 29, 2012 04:21 PM

Young women who are lonely and unsure of themselves are at great risk of misinterpreting the sexual interest of young men. [snip] I wonder if her parents have the slightest idea how ill-equipped they've sent their daughter into the college world.

An interesting question. I assume Nicole has never discussed with them what she told the Atlantic writer. I guess - and I suppose this is a blinding flash of the obvious - that part of the value of "boiler plate" strictures on conduct is to protect young women (young people) who aren't yet grown up enough to protect themselves. Once decisions about conduct all become conditional, those who aren't really ready to make those decisions are liable to get themselves into trouble.

Somewhere I've got a column (I think) from Miss Manners in which she points out that young women now expect far more from a potential employer - in terms of respect, being shown they are valued, etc. - than they do from a potential bedmate. An interesting approach to the concept of self-respect.

Posted by: Elise at November 29, 2012 04:26 PM

I take Nicole to be a young women who's quite lost socially, or she'd know what was wrong with her strange young man, and she probably wouldn't be drinking herself into a frequent stupor, either. I wonder if her parents have the slightest idea how ill-equipped they've sent their daughter into the college world.

You know, my Dad told me - often - that boys would try to "get into my knickers" (as he so quaintly put it), because boys are basically horny. I'm sure he didn't use that word b/c I can't imagine my Dad talking that way, but you get the picture. At the time, I discounted most of what he tried to tell me because... well, this was my Dad and I was a totally amazing, liberated young woman (with all the overconfidence mixed with naivety and stupidity this implies) and could jolly well take care of myself, thank-you-very-much :p

But I also grew up in a household where my Dad showed me every day that he had great respect for his mother, his wife, and other women. So I had a built in yardstick to measure potential boyfriends (or just boys my age) against. I expected to be treated well because I was used to being treated well. I don't know how girls who don't grow up in that kind of environment are supposed to navigate the often confusing dating years? One of the questions I asked myself a lot at Dartmouth was, "Why aren't I having the problems I see so many other girls having?" Why do guys generally treat me well, when I see other girls being treated so badly?

I think part of it was probably that I was somewhat selective about who I associated with. But I was also very naive. While I was there, I developed a crush on a student I worked with. He was a senior (I didn't date guys older than I was) and I found out later he was also president of his frat, which surprised me more than a bit.

I'm sure he knew I had a huge crush on him, though I tried to act disinterested because even though my now-husband and I had agreed to date other people before I went off to school at my suggestion, I have never been a casual dater. Either I'm in or I'm not - I have very little interest in having lots of acquaintances and never wanted a whole lot of boys chasing after me.

Anyway, he acted interested in me but I'm sure I was sending out all kinds of mixed signals. Long story short, I ended up at a party at his frat one night and his roommate tried to pull the world's biggest snow job on me. He spun out this big story about how this guy was shy and I needed to "let him know how I felt about him". I was buying it hook, line, and sinker when all of a sudden it occurred to me (and I felt *incredibly* guilty for even thinking this) that he was trying to get his friend laid, and that the guy I had a crush on was probably not the person I'd thought he was if his friend thought that sort of thing would be welcome.

The point here is that I was fairly smart, raised in a good home, etc. And yet I almost fell for this nonsense. To this day I still don't know what made me suspicious, but I imagine most people would have figured it out right away whereas it took me a while to see what was right in front of my face.

I loved Elise's comment earlier about this being more about alcohol than sex and also that people are used in lots of other ways besides sex (the "friend" who expects you to be there for her, but never reciprocates, etc.). Girls aren't usually well prepared for this sort of thing, whether it involves a boy and sex or other girls who take advantage in different ways. We're not really trained to stand up for ourselves because that cuts against the whole female ideal of being nurturing and kind and giving.

For most kids, male or female, this sort of problem is self-correcting: they make mistakes, get hurt, and eventually figure it out. One of the things I think is good about girls and women having more freedom nowadays is that we do have options. But we have to adjust to the dangers that come with them - in that sense, women need to learn from men without becoming men.

This is something that, I think, happens a lot with military wives: we're forced to become more self sufficient and tough because our husbands aren't there 24/7/365. We have to depend on ourselves, but be resilient enough to ease up on that when our husbands return home because they need to feel needed and know they're still an important part of our lives.

Men have to be more flexible these days too - they have to show emotional sensitivity at home with their wives and children but still be tough at work. It's not easy, and maybe more of us fail when we don't have strict gender roles to simplify things and restrict our options.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 29, 2012 05:03 PM

Cassandra,

The story of Nicole brought to mind these ideas: pre-selection, template, cargo cult.

The signature traits of immaturity you described - overconfidence, naivete, stupidity - likely applied to Nicole, too. To those, I'll add urgency and ambition. Nicole, a high achiever in HS, strikes me as a young woman who was in a hurry to win the game of upward-moving life - school, social life, womanhood - without understanding the nature of the game.

She arrived at Dartmouth with either a pre-conceived notion or a quickly developed plan for seizing a superior social, sexual (and romantic?) life in college, and she moved rapidly to implement her plan. Ready or not.

Nicole's template for her plan seems to have focused on frat life, and she threw herself into it as soon as possible. Her ignorance (descriptive sense, not pejorative), urgency, and ambition led her to imitate stereotypical frat behavior (excessive drinking, promiscuity) in an extreme, even cargo-cultish manner.

Without justifying the boorish behavior of the frat brother, Nicole's self-made caricature may have been off-putting enough to avoid public association.

At risk of brushing up to the 'Let's just be friends' and 'Nice guys finish last' discussions, it seems Nicole pre-selected the fraternity community as her social/sexual/romantic pool. Thus immediately excluding many monogamy-oriented non-frat Dartmouth men with whom she had better odds of developing a healthier relationship, free of the cargo-cultish frat-life template she adopted. Indeed, her behavior with the template likely put off monogamy-oriented frat brothers as well.

Posted by: Eric at November 29, 2012 10:34 PM

Somewhere I've got a column (I think) from Miss Manners in which she points out that young women now expect far more from a potential employer - in terms of respect, being shown they are valued, etc. - than they do from a potential bedmate.

Including, ironically, that the employer should be the one to pay for birth control. One would have thought that would go on the bedmate before the employer, if the woman weren't prepared to shoulder the cost herself.

Posted by: Grim at November 29, 2012 10:46 PM

It's also possible that she was ruined before she came to college, and can't imagine experiencing sex (or any other intimacy) other than in a drunken, dehumanized, and detached form. If that were the case, she'd naturally gravitate to the frat louse and avoid the young men who might treat her better.

I was interested by Elise's quotation from Miss Manners, about how young women now demand a great deal more personal affirmation from their employers than from their sexual partners. They understand the importance of their earning power and therefore their careers, but they've been sold a bill of goods about the importance of their intimate relations. They're alert to humiliation in the workplace but blind to it in the bedroom.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 29, 2012 10:48 PM

"They're alert to humiliation in the workplace but blind to it in the bedroom."

That seems to be a logical outcome of the feminist emphasis on women's professional success coupled with degrading the man-woman monogamous relationship.

Posted by: Eric at November 29, 2012 11:40 PM

I was interested by Elise's quotation from Miss Manners, about how young women now demand a great deal more personal affirmation from their employers than from their sexual partners. They understand the importance of their earning power and therefore their careers, but they've been sold a bill of goods about the importance of their intimate relations. They're alert to humiliation in the workplace but blind to it in the bedroom.

A long time ago I linked to an older woman's video about her experiences over many decades with sex. She was in her 60s and said that recently she has noticed that young men have NO idea how to treat a woman in bed. They simply assume that whatever they feel like doing to a woman should be accepted by the woman.

They don't even ask, first, is how she put it. Which attitude only makes sense if you don't really understand that you're having sex with another human being who has thoughts, desires, and needs of her own.

Young women expect to be treated well in the workplace because our culture reinforces this idea. They don't expect to be treated well in sexual relationships because popular culture enforces the exact opposite expectation.

Posted by: Cass at November 30, 2012 07:29 AM

Yes, I have to take issue in part with Eric's comment. I agree that it's a dangerous trend in feminism to discount the importance of man-woman bonding. But the reason feminism went in that direction was to correct a misapprehension that, in that bonding, only the views of men counted, so that it was dangerous for a woman to entrust her food and shelter to a male partner who thought that gave him the right to call all the shots.

Nor is it an improvement to say that only the views of women count. To use a decidedly imperfect analogy, we have more options in race relations than slavery on the one hand and affirmative action sinecures and quotas on the other. Blacks need not be either subhuman or privileged, and women need not be either concubines in bondage or Queen Bees surrounded by drones.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 30, 2012 08:56 AM

To use a decidedly imperfect analogy, we have more options in race relations than slavery on the one hand and affirmative action sinecures and quotas on the other. Blacks need not be either subhuman or privileged, and women need not be either concubines in bondage or Queen Bees surrounded by drones.

I think it's exactly that suggestion (and I don't think for a moment this is what Eric was suggesting) that I've been fighting for as long as I can remember. It's what set me off with the James Taranto articles a while back - the sly suggestion that if those troublesome females would just let him tell them what was good for them, we'd all be better off.

Sure, life is a lot simpler when everyone is confined to rigid gender roles and women in particular have very little freedom and few options. I freely chose to limit myself because I saw the efficiencies families realize from traditional marital and parenting roles.

But there was a cost, and when I see conservatives hinting that a lot less freedom (for women) is the answer to every ill that plagues modern society - all while casting themselves as the party of individual liberty! - and my head just explodes.

Once again, I'm reminded of the story about the guy who thought his wife was unreasonable for not wanting to do something he would never in a gazillion years do himself. If you have to be pressured, shamed, or coerced into doing something, it's not really a free choice.

And if a set of mores or practices has clear benefits to go along with the drawbacks, some people *will* freely choose it without being forced to.

Posted by: Cass at November 30, 2012 10:03 AM

They understand the importance of their earning power and therefore their careers, but they've been sold a bill of goods about the importance of their intimate relations. They're alert to humiliation in the workplace but blind to it in the bedroom.

Young women expect to be treated well in the workplace because our culture reinforces this idea. They don't expect to be treated well in sexual relationships because popular culture enforces the exact opposite expectation.

So how do we change that? How do we give girls and young women (and not so young women) a template for sexual behavior that allows for pre-marital sexual activity while emphasizing that engaging in it without affection, friendship, respect on both sides is demeaning and damaging?

Posted by: Elise at December 1, 2012 11:40 AM

How do we give girls and young women (and not so young women) a template for sexual behavior that allows for pre-marital sexual activity while emphasizing that engaging in it without affection, friendship, respect on both sides is demeaning and damaging?

I don't know the answer to that question. How do we make boys understand that it's wrong to treat people as things? The two questions go hand in hand.

The right resists the moral education of boys for political reasons.

The left resists the moral education of girls for the same reason.

They're both important. I'm tired of whining form the left about a so-called war on women and I'm equally disgusted by the righty whining about the so-called war on men. There's no "war" - just competing interests that cry out to be balanced intelligently by people without an agenda - who don't want "their side" to win the "war".

The whole thing makes me sick. And angry. And more frustrated than I can express. Sex isn't a zero sum game. Kids aren't born knowing lots of things and its the duty of adults to teach them.

All this whining about how it might make girls or boys "feel bad about themselves" if they're taught right from wrong makes me want to scream.

Posted by: Cass at December 1, 2012 12:39 PM

How do we give girls and young women (and not so young women) a template for sexual behavior that... emphasiz[es] that engaging in it without affection, friendship, respect on both sides is demeaning and damaging?

You probably need to start by asking yourself how you mean "demeaning" or "damaging"? What does it damage? In what way is she demeaned?

I ask for this reason. Cass says:

The left resists the moral education of girls for the same reason. They're both important. I'm tired of whining form the left about a so-called war on women...

So one problem is that if this is moral education, then you need to teach the young woman that her choices are damaging her as a moral being -- in other words, she herself is a worse person for having engaged in this behavior. The demeaning is then literal: it is not that she may feel demeaned, but that she has in fact damaged the dignity she used to have before the behavior.

That's a problem for a vaguely libertarian approach to these questions, because it asserts a kind of harm that that approach usually denies as adequate for a law or standard. Normally these sorts of things would be 'victimless' in the sense that any harm done is to myself (or herself) only or mostly. (It might upset or embarrass your mother, but that doesn't qualify as a real harm on libertarian grounds.)

So you have to take either a harder or a softer line on libertarianism: either insisting on a morality that you then must ground and defend as a general standard for human behavior; or granting not just libertarianism but hedonism, but offering this as something like a hedonistic principle. "You will enjoy your experience more if..."

The one is very difficult; in fact, arguing for actual moral restrictions on female sexuality is just what, in the wake of the recent election, many people are arguing conservatives should simply abandon trying to do. But the other has no force. It's not moral education, not really; it's just a guideline for maximizing hedonic pleasure, along the lines of 'it is wise to be drunk only half the time, because otherwise you will get headaches that will disrupt the pleasure of the drink.'

Posted by: Grim at December 1, 2012 03:42 PM

By the way, I favor a hardline moral approach to the other side of the question. I don't have any problem telling PUAs, for example, that they're immoral little scumbags who deserve no respect (and possibly a good beating). I wouldn't think of resorting to a 'you'll enjoy your experience with women more if you find ones you respect and genuinely love,' although in point of fact that is at least probably true. Still, my instinct runs to a strong moral answer against the young men.

So, ought one to endorse a similar approach toward the women? I'll be the first to say that it doesn't feel right to me.

Posted by: Grim at December 1, 2012 04:52 PM

I think what I've always argued is that morality is a two way street. There isn't a special version of morality just for men. "Have all the casual sex you want - you can't help yourself, you're wired that way! If you happen to hurt your partner or get her pregnant because you don't like condoms, well God knows your sexual pleasure is paramount here. Anyway, she asked for it by being willing to sleep with you. If she decides to bear the child you both created instead of killing it, well you should be able to walk away because that's "fair". It's all about you and your needs.

And there's not a special version just for women. "After 10 Gazillion years of patriarchal oppression, the world OWES you abundant, consequence free sex!!! You *need* it so you won't get entangled in messy relationships that affect your future pay and career prospects! And if you get pregnant, that shouldn't slow you down one bit! And if the guy develops feelings for you, well that's his lookout. Men have used women for years and now it's payback time, bay-beeeeee!"

Sad, depressing stuff.

That said, I don't really understand all this talk about demeaning. Sex doesn't demean people - allowing other people to treat them badly (or treating other people badly) demeans us. Allowing our good sense and self control demeans us. Using other people with no thought for the potential consequences demeans us.

The man is demeaned as much as the woman. That frat boy debased and demeaned himself. In a way, he's been hurt too. If he has any conscience at all, he's damaged it and lowered his respect for himself.

You see this so differently than I do that it's hard for me to understand your argument, Grim. To me, conservatives (and in particular, conservative men) seem oddly obsessed with worrying that casual sex will damage women irreparably, arguing at the same time that it's just dandy for men

This isn't terribly logical. If we accept that women are hurt by casual sex and men aren't (not sure I do, but let's suspend that more a moment) then doesn't it follow that it's immoral for a man to do something he *knows* will hurt the woman he has sex with?

Posted by: Cass at December 1, 2012 07:28 PM

I'm not making that argument, Cass. In fact, I said that I don't feel comfortable making an argument that young women who behave this way are in some way degraded, or demeaned. I don't have the same problem making the assertion about the men -- the PUAs, for example, are lowered by their behavior.

What I'm trying to do is explore the question that Elise raised. How would you go about making an argument of the type she mentions? There are a few ways you might do it. I'm speaking philosophically -- there are only so many approaches. One approach is to argue that such sex is literally demeaning and degrading, i.e., that the women's status or dignity is lowered by behaving this way. That's true, I think, for the PUA; I'm not sure it's true for the women.

(There is also the further tactical problem that young women react very badly to that form of argument, and respond to it by voting against you. But that's someone else's problem; I'm not a politician, and have no hopes for resolving any of our difficulties with what remains of our political system. I think it can do no better than manage the collapse that is coming, and is likely to do much instead to worsen and speed it.)

The libertarian approach doesn't work because the harm the women are doing is to themselves, which on the libertarian model is licensed as a kind of good. It's bad to be a drunkard, but it's good to do what you want as long as you harm no one but yourself. Thus, in a way, it's good to be a drunkard because it proves your liberty. In any case, on that model, it is no one's business but your own: those wishing to offer moral education will simply be advised by this model to mind their own business.

So that leaves something like the hedonistic model, whereby you're giving advice about how to maximize your pleasure and minimize your pain. But this argument has no moral force, because hedonism isn't a serious moral model.

There's a variation of hedonism called utilitarianism that is taken seriously by some; here we'd be trying to build a calculus that would allow us to maximize pleasure and minimize pain not for the individual, but for society as a whole. But that licenses far more interference with individual choices than we usually prefer, and it does so in service to a calculus that can't really deliver what it promises: it is actually impossible to know what will minimize pain or maximize pleasure even for an individual, because we cannot know the future. It is even difficult to guess, and far more difficult the more people we add to the equation.

So this is not an argument for what's right; it's a sketch of how to attack the problem. But each road has problems of its own.

Posted by: Grim at December 1, 2012 08:02 PM

I'm not making that argument, Cass. In fact, I said that I don't feel comfortable making an argument that young women who behave this way are in some way degraded, or demeaned. I don't have the same problem making the assertion about the men -- the PUAs, for example, are lowered by their behavior.

Well, I'm not sure I thought you were making that argument. I wasn't really sure I understood your comment at all, so I concentrated on explaining my argument :)

What I'm trying to do is explore the question that Elise raised. How would you go about making an argument of the type she mentions?

I don't know, really. The closest I can come to an argument is the reverse of the 60s mantra:

If it doesn't feel good, you don't have to do it.

You wouldn't think you'd have to say that to anyone - it's so obvious. But when the weight of popular culture pushes the other way, telling you that this is "how it is" and that other women are happy to enter into relationships where they give the other person what he wants without getting much (or anything) they want in return....

I think a lot of the problem is that popular culture elevates sex to a position it really doesn't merit in our lives. I think it was Elise who pointed out that plenty of adult men and women have miraculously survived without sex.

There's a difference between eating and gorging yourself. And there's a difference between having sex as a part of a larger relationship and "sex for sex's sake" - the latter puts the cart before the horse, so to speak. It weakens your self control, your good sense, and your other moral decision making.

A moral being applies his or her values to everything he or she does. People's goals should be in harmony with their values. The problem with sex for sex's sake is that it turns sex into a goal when it's more rightly something one does in service of a higher goal (creating a bond between two people who love each other, for instance. Or strengthening and sustaining a marriage, or having children).

Remove the goal, and you leave the person rudderless and under the power of his/her appetites rather than reason/morality. I don't have your knowledge of philosophy, Grim. If sex can be said to be "demeaning", I would say it demeans a person in this way: when it becomes the focus of your actions (as with the PUA, who take it as a given that they *deserve* to have all the sex they want and then rationalize all sorts of detestable actions in service of that goal), you become a lesser person than you were meant to be.

Surely there is a philosopher who has said this better than I can?

Posted by: Cass at December 2, 2012 09:24 AM

You've given St. Thomas Aquinas' position almost exactly, actually. He also argues that sexuality, like other human activities and capacities, is properly ordered toward some end. Animal functions especially need to be ordered to some spiritually higher end, or else we are chasing our animality and not our higher nature.

You can judge the rightness or wrongness of your undertaking of that activity, then, by whether it helps bring about the principle end. If it does not, then it is not rightly ordered. If it actively harms the achievement of the end, then it is wrong.

You've even given almost the same set of goods that Aquinas names. He names them as creating children and providing for their education to adulthood, a greater union of man and wife, and the pleasure of the act itself (although this is not on the same level, because unlike the other two it is from animality). You name them as "creating a bond between two people who love each other, for instance. Or strengthening and sustaining a marriage, or having children." But you also give pleasure as a good: 'if it doesn't feel good, you don't have to do it.'

It's that first one of your ends that's the source of the trouble, I think. Elise's question touches on it, too: she asks if it is possible to build an argument that endorses pre-marital sex (I'm not sure if she means 'in advance of a marriage' or 'sex regardless of whether marriage is an aim'). The other ends are very traditional, and don't lead to the problems you're describing; but the desire to create an emotional bond, outside of the kind of long-term (traditionally life-long) commitment that marriage has come to represent.

It sounds like you're almost willing to endorse the old Catholic or Episcopalian position, in other words, if only it can accommodate this additional end. I think it probably can, insofar as you (or Elise) mean to argue that sex should be aimed at marriage and life-long emotional commitment.

So you would say something like: "These are the natural ends of sexuality, and as long as you are ordered toward one of these ends, what you are doing is natural and healthy. Insofar as you are actually damaging the end, what you are doing is out of order and wrong." Or, if you would prefer a less rational phrasing than 'out of order,' you could go with "what you are doing is hurting yourself."

Whether you want to make the point about animality -- about what it means to order your life so as to pursue being a human being, and not just an animal -- is up to you.

Posted by: Grim at December 2, 2012 10:25 AM

You've given St. Thomas Aquinas' position almost exactly, actually. He also argues that sexuality, like other human activities and capacities, is properly ordered toward some end. Animal functions especially need to be ordered to some spiritually higher end, or else we are chasing our animality and not our higher nature.

Huh. That's nearly exactly what I told each of my boys when they were ready to leave home - find a purpose, and build your life around it and your life will have integrity and harmony. And some deeper meaning, which is my notion of where happiness comes from.

I can't help thinking of another goofy sci-fi reference. There was a passage in Dune where Paul Atreides is being tested by the Bene Gesserit. The Rev Mother asks him, "How can you tell a human from an animal?"

An animal, if he finds himself caught in a trap, will chew his own leg off to escape. He thinks only of his own survival.

A human being stays in the trap, hoping the hunter will return and he'll have a chance to destroy a threat to his own kind. Kind of melodramatic, but it made a huge impression on me as a teen.

Posted by: Cass at December 2, 2012 01:17 PM

Obviously I need to read Aquinas. That's one of the big regrets of my life - when I was in college, I was working full time and going to school at night. I had middle school/high school aged children, so I didn't have the luxury of reading things I wasn't assigned.

I do think this is what's wrong with the way we're raising this generation. I grew up with the idea that it wasn't all about me.

I was part of something larger: community, the human race, etc. So my personal happiness was NOT the focus of my life. When my boys were ready to leave home, I talked to them about what it means to be an adult. For the first 18 years of your life, other people took care of you.

They worked hard, and ordered their lives around your care, education, and feeding. And it's not just your Mom and Dad - your Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles all played a part in getting you to where you are today, and just as they felt a duty to help you on your way, so you now have a duty to help the next generation grow and prosper.

People need something larger than themselves. A few years back I (and you) wrote several posts about kids who have decided that they don't want to have children because doing so would interfere with what they've made the focus of their lives: themselves. I don't have a problem with the decision not to have kids - not everyone is suited to that.

But people really do need (I think) to have some purpose larger than their own happiness. In my own life, the times when I've been happiest have been when I have worked toward some goal: childrearing, creating a sense of community in my husband's command, or volunteer work.

We've lost something precious.

Posted by: Cass at December 2, 2012 01:26 PM

I wasn't arguing that sex was demeaning but that sex without affection, friendship, and respect was demeaning. And I wasn't arguing that the person was being demeaned by someone else but by her (or his) own actions. The first definition of "demean" in my dictionary is (emphasis mine):

To conduct or behave (oneself) in a particular manner

I'm also not arguing for a different standard for men and women. I just don't have a lot to say to or about men and sex. I'm not a man; I don't have sons. I agree that the frat boy has demeaned and damaged himself just as Nicole has - and if hasn't then there wasn't much to him in the first place.

I am looking for an argument that allows for pre-marital sex without the expectation that marriage or a long-term commitment will follow. That was the parameter laid down in the Atlantic article: women need to be able to have sex without expecting marriage or co-habitation. The article seems to think that has to mean hook-up sex; in my day, it meant serial monogamy in the context of relationships that included more than sex (like parties together, meals together, etc).

You've given St. Thomas Aquinas' position almost exactly, actually. He also argues that sexuality, like other human activities and capacities, is properly ordered toward some end. Animal functions especially need to be ordered to some spiritually higher end, or else we are chasing our animality and not our higher nature.

The problem with this and with Cass' eloquent exposition of it seems to me to be two-fold. First, sex is seen as (or is presented as) a good in and of itself; it *is* the higher purpose. Second, so far as I can tell, the idea of a spiritual higher end is not what it once was. That said, an analogy Cass made ties in with something I was thinking about last night:

There's a difference between eating and gorging yourself.

There are strictures among college students that seem to approach being moral values although whether they have any coherent underpinning I don't know. What about tying sex to the existing taboos rather than trying to explain some type of religious or spiritual or philosophical morality? Stuff like:

Hook-up sex is like junk food. It's great in the middle of the night but you'll hate yourself in the morning when you realize what you've done to your body.

It sounds like what's needed is a way to tell young women (and perhaps young men) it's okay to not have sex. They seem to understand that it's okay not to eat a double whopper with cheese and a large order of fries presumably because, although they'd enjoy it, they know it's not good for them in the long run. Maybe the same mindset can be extended to hook-up sex.

I realize this is not really a moral argument nor is it an argument that takes into account the fact that another human being is involved in sex and it would be nice to consider that other person's well-being. But it could be an argument grounded in self-respect which my dictionary defines as:

Due respect for oneself, one's character, and one's conduct

Posted by: Elise at December 2, 2012 01:58 PM

I was writing my comment while you were posting your last one, Cass. I agree totally with this - although it took me well into my 50s to figure it out:

But people really do need (I think) to have some purpose larger than their own happiness. In my own life, the times when I've been happiest have been when I have worked toward some goal: childrearing, creating a sense of community in my husband's command, or volunteer work.

That's the paradox: I need some purpose larger than my own happiness - if I am going to have any shot at being happy.

Posted by: Elise at December 2, 2012 02:04 PM

Well, good. So you've taken two forks of a dilemma. Cass has a genuinely moral argument, directing the young woman to align her sexuality (and other animal functions) in accord with a higher purpose; and this includes taking care of others, because this is a higher function than selfish emotions.

You, Elise, have formulated the picture in hedonistic terms. You should do this because, frankly, it's better for your pleasure. Even the highest argument is reformulated in terms of your personal happiness: "That's the paradox: I need some purpose larger than my own happiness - if I am going to have any shot at being happy." So what we took to be the higher function proves to be itself a function of selfish interest.

So you've hit the problem squarely. Now what do you do with it?

Posted by: Grim at December 2, 2012 11:03 PM

"Thus, in a way, it's good to be a drunkard because it proves your liberty. In any case, on that model, it is no one's business but your own: those wishing to offer moral education will simply be advised by this model to mind their own business."

I think the libertarian position is not that it's good to be a drunkard, but that it's good for you to take responsibility for your own drunkenness and its consequences rather than for your neighbor (or the cops) to do so -- up until the point when you're operating dangerous machinery. Libertarians, in my experience, don't think a lot of evils can be eliminated from the world via liberty, and they're not pure hedonists. They just don't put much stock in the ability of collective control to do more good than harm. They still have to answer the question "what is harm, and by what standard do we call it harm." Being libertarians, they arrogate to themselves the right to decide how to make that determination, as much as possible in a world where they have to make practical arrangements with other people.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 3, 2012 10:14 AM

Tex states that very well. It's not that it's good to prove liberty, so be a drunkard. It's that the State has no role in regulating your drunkenness (up until you start harming others). And moreover, it's not bad (in the libertarian model) to tell someone else they're a drunk and should get help. The objection is to the State doing it. Personal liberty is tied to personal responsibility. What libertarianism asks for is if you're going to destroy yourself or engage in self-destructive behaviors, then the state should only be involved when you start harming the life, liberty, and/or property of others. Individuals can do what they want (so long as they don't impinge upon the life, liberty or property of another).

Posted by: MikeD at December 3, 2012 10:47 AM

You, Elise, have formulated the picture in hedonistic terms. [snip] So what we took to be the higher function proves to be itself a function of selfish interest.

No, there's a third level, fork, set of terms there, Grim, (or perhaps a combination of the two or perhaps just a different vantage point) that I'm not sure how to express clearly. Perhaps the best expression of it comes from the book In This House of Brede:

There was always this emphasis on giving - being fit to give. "A monastery or convent is not a refuge for misfits or a dumping ground for the unintelligent," Abbess Hester had often said, "nor for a rebound from from an unhappy love affair - though a broken heart can often find healing in one of the active orders, it will not do for us - nor are we for the timid wanting security nor the ambitious wanting a career," and "Anyone who comes here with the idea of getting something is bound to fail," Dame Ursula warned all her postulants.

"But every human motive is, in some sense to get, to find," Phillipa would have argued, "if only satisfaction." Yet the paradox remained: Only by giving completely was there any hope of finding.

This is not a reduction to hedonism; it is about a higher purpose; it acknowledges the desire to get something; it makes clear that there is no guarantee anything will be gotten and, if something is, it may not be what is sought; it is neither transactional nor calculated.

Posted by: Elise at December 3, 2012 12:57 PM

This is not a reduction to hedonism; it is about a higher purpose; it acknowledges the desire to get something; it makes clear that there is no guarantee anything will be gotten and, if something is, it may not be what is sought; it is neither transactional nor calculated.

That's especially well put, Elise.

I think what's needed is a rationale that appeals to both narrow self interest and something larger (enlightened self interest?).

Posted by: Cass at December 3, 2012 02:29 PM

I think you may still be losing something in appealing to both self interest and self interest, but perhaps that's the kind of argument that contemporary Americans can hear. :)

Still, service to others really does touch on something important about the higher aspects of human nature. Maybe you can slip a higher purpose past them without them noticing!

Posted by: Grim at December 3, 2012 04:57 PM

It's more about self-control than self-interest. Many things are essential in life that are not essential (or even desirable) functions of the state.

My father (a committed atheist) used to joke that the ideal government must be a benevolent dictatorship, on the model of the Kingdom of Heaven. What he didn't understand was that most Christians believe God did not choose to stand as a dictator in relation to his human creatures, but cherishes their free will, despite all the horrible problems that allows. Does God know best? Would we be better of if we never disobeyed Him? Sure, but He stills opts to let us choose. Apparently coercion doesn't do it for Him.

In a much more petty way, I'm quite sure many people would be better off if they were forced to do what I happen to know is best for them -- but I don't support a secular government built on those principles. I opt for a government that uses the very least possible coercion that's compatible with the minimum level of order and security the bulk of us can just barely tolerate. It's a rough bargain, updated periodically through a messy democratic process. More liberty means more bullies and more purely selfish bad actors of all kinds running around doing mischief, but stronger government just means more of those people acting in tighter concert. The quality of people we have to work with never changes, whether we're talking about the present of criminals or of government agents.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 5, 2012 08:04 AM

"Presence," not "present."

Posted by: Texan99 at December 5, 2012 08:04 AM

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