For as long as the Judeo-Christian cultures have been placing moral restrictions on sexuality, the rest of the world has complained that such restrictions dampen the fun, joy, and pleasure of that sexuality.
And they may very well be right.
But there is another moral code that is dampening the fun, joy, and pleasure of sexuality far more seriously than any Judeo-Christian restriction ever could. It is the bizarre and thoroughly legalistic moral code of modern sex education.
The New York Times recently published an article describing the new “Yes Means Yes” protocol being taught to college and now high school students. Where it used to be assumed that certain unspoken connections and gestures could lead to sexual activity but that words like “stop” or “no” (or even simple body language) would require an end to such sexual activity, now partners are expected to give consistent, repetitive, verbal affirmation throughout the course of their sexual actions. It is not enough to imply that you want it. You must outright say that you want it, in clear terms, over and over again.
Why are they teaching this? Rape accusations are increasing at an alarming rate, especially among college students. Now, many people debate how many of those accusations are legitimate, but either way, the accusations are there. And when you’ve got the likelihood of lawsuits after sex you’re going to have to make sex a little bit more court-like. It’s difficult to have reasonable arguments about a “no” that takes the form of pulling away or backing up or giggling “stop.” It’s much easier when you have documentation (or lack thereof) of “yes I’m comfortable,” and “yes, you have my permission to touch that,” and “yes, I would like to continue.”
But as the kids in the New York Times article point out over and over again in much more polite and timid words, that’s a real mood killer.
The beauty of sex is that it is so not court-like. The beauty of sex is that it is not meant to be replayed, recounted, and dissected by lawyers. The beauty of sex is that it is mysterious and intimate. In order to preserve both of those things, the mystery and the intimacy, there must be some subtlety of language. There must be room for surprises and uncertainty and vulnerability. None of that is possible when you’re asking each other point blank what you can do and what you can’t do. Those are the kinds of conversations partners ought to be having outside of sex.
I’m convinced that if these sorts of legalistic restrictions on sexuality continue to increase, and if people continue to be penalized for not following them, then people are actually going to stop having sex. I’m absolutely sure that old-fashioned abstience is not the point of the “Yes Means Yes” campaign. But at some point kids (especially boys) are going to turn to easier and quicker methods of pleasure (like pornography)— ones that aren’t filled with awkward questions and don’t risk the possibility of a criminal record.
Perhaps a better solution to all of this is to admit that there ought to be some general, overarching, moral restrictions on sexuality that protect people from the problems everyone is now trying to solve. Like, perhaps, don’t do it with a stranger. That knocks out a whole host of issues from the very start. (Ironically, the article briefly admits that the students’ increasingly complicated questions and concerns eventually lead the teacher to “begin talking about the benefits of sexual partners’ knowing each other.”) Or only do it with somebody you love. Or, if you want to go a step further, only do it with your spouse. These restrictions may seem prudish and irritating to some. But they accomplish much of what the “Yes Means Yes” campaign is trying to accomplish. If you know/love/are married to your partner it’s simply less likely that you’re going to end up doing something you didn’t intend to do. It’s simply less likely that you’ll get an STD or a broken heart or a rape accusation. All the while, without ever having to have these cringe-worthy, absurd mid-sex conversations that simply ruin the very sex that you’re having.
In the end, we all know that uninhibited, unrestrained sex with whomever, whenever is problematic. It’s exactly why we have this issue of so many people taking sexual advantage of each other. The human sexual desire must be tempered or it becomes completely selfish. Why not temper it in a way that actually allows it to be free?