This blog part of a series where I am going out on a limb to confront certain destructive aspects of feminism and of the dessicated sexual values that are out there in our culture. While I am critical of the phalanx style culture war techniques that rely on politics, I do think that there is a role to play for Christians to confront destructive ideas that lie beyond the jurisdiction of explicitly Christian dialogue, wherein Biblical authority is agreed upon as a point of reference. I am still letting my thoughts gel on the ground rules for this sort of dialogue and how it fits in with Christian evangelism and the role of Christians in the world at large. So allow me to bracket that for a bit, while I examine some things.
These past couple of weeks have had many zeitgeist moments in regard to the sexual culture at large that I see as interconnected.
1) The American Psychological Association study on the ill effects of over-sexualization of young girls
2) Britney shaved her head and demanded that people stopped touching her.
4) a new book called Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose At Both by Laura Sessions Stepp came out that follows in the footsteps of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy, and
5) An Independent lens documentary called HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes by Byron Hurt on PBS explored the reality of misogyny in gangsta hip-hop.
Confronting Katie Dobie of the
I always like to read the Week magazine to get the pulse of the current zeitgeist. I read their review of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose At Both, which is a summary of several reviewers from periodicals from around the country. I have yet to actually read the book. Nonetheless, I have a take on what the issues are that one reviewer Katie Dobie of the Washington Post is reacting to. Katie Dobie is but one of many of the “hook-up positive” crowd now criticizing Stepp. Here is Dobie’s review of “Unhooked”. Please read it and then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Now that you’ve read it, I want to deal with two of her points up front:
1) Sex in teens and 20’s, unlike sex for adults, is a path to understanding humanity not a path to true intimacy with another
2) The quality of one’s sexuality is not diminished by too much use
At the end of her article we get a glimpse how of a one night stand might increase one’s understanding of one’s humanity.
Why bring someone into your bed? Maybe because she is brilliant and has a whimsical sense of humor, or he is both sarcastic and vulnerable, and has beautiful eyes.
Is the sheer act of “going all the way” without any strings attached is somehow a path to humanity as Katie Dobie believes? Is sex intimate or isn’t it? If sex is intimate, how is treating is as though it were not intimate a path to some sort of enlightenment about one’s humanity? In truth, sex is the highest transcendent experience that many secular people have, and so having lots of sex is the closest thing that many people get to a religious experience, whereby they then turn fornication and adultery into a religion of self realization.
In truth, sex without love is not enlightenment. It is an act of seeking its pleasure and avoiding its gravity. In the realm of sex, a disposable sexual experience leaves one with the subconscious scars that the most intimate part of one’s self has been treated with less than the honor that it requires. Those scars are not felt consciously, but are sublimated because to recognize them would be too painful. Instead, one feels lust, which is the desire for sexual pleasure extruded through pain and numbness. It is a sadomasochistic impulse to conquer another sexually to validate oneself as a result of latent pain and rejection. Where is the humanity involved in this?
“The girls adopt the crude talk of crude boys: They speak of hitting it, of boy toys and filler boys, "my plaything" and "my bitch."
It is girls aping and trying to one-up the culture of sexual conquest established by cad boys and men.
The powerful pleasure of sex is powerful because it is connected to the core of our being. One cannot experience the power of sex without the core of one’s self being affected either for good or for bad. One cannot experience the high of a sugar rush without either being nourished with good sugars or being overloaded with bad sugars.
A jolt of serotonin in the brain can either be the result of an accomplishment or it can be the result of the drug ecstasy. The former experience of the high is constructive and the latter is destructive. The former experience of the high will bond one to the act of seeking more accomplishments and the latter will bond one to the act of seeking pseudo-wonderful hits of ecstasy. This is the nature of powerful emotions – they bond us to their source. That is why the beauty of sex happens when the pleasure bonds one to the best and highest expression of one’s self for another person in committed love, or else the pleasure will bond one to the quest for disposable sexual highs.
3) Love and sex do not necessarily co-exist
In Katie’s world, there is nothing lost if you have all sorts of sex and then decide that you want to have it with love. Here, the physical act means nothing in and of its self – it only has the meaning/consequences that people choose to subjectively apply to it if and when they are ready. If sex has no inherent gravity, why should a wife not be perfectly comfortable when her husband discusses with her the process of his exploration of his humanity through sex with other girls/women in his youth? Why should she be offended if he continues to have sex to explore his humanity with other women but he insists that he loves his wife. Or the porn star who says that she has sex for her job but makes love to her husband. This attempt to divorce sex from love is a wishful sense of mastery over sexuality that actually helps people to avoid the gravity of sex and the potency and symbolism that is encoded into the profound physical and emotional danger of sexuality. It is the danger of sex that is connected to its pleasure, as the pleasure of sex is the adrenaline rush of being placed in proximity to all of its risks.
As for the married couple who don’t have sex very frequently, this does not negate the special role that sex has as part of the bond of marriage, as people who profoundly trust each other. So it is with the appetite of food, that the pleasure of food is part of the drive to nurture our bodies that we consummate with out knowledge of nutrition so that we seek nutritious food that tastes good. Having nutritious food that tastes good and that we enjoy in the company of others is the highest expression of food that is rooted in all of the biological and primal realities of food. To only seek good tasting food without regard to nutrition is self-destruction through food. As with food, sex is an appetite, wherein the pleasure of sex has a primal and biological dimension that is connected to our needs to bond and to trust and to procreate. The highest expression of sex brings all of these needs together in an experience that encompasses both the pleasure and the gravity of our sexual appetite.
Hook-up sex is banal, reality porn that no one gets paid for. A hook-up is an attempt to have sex without vulnerability and trust, which can only be established in commitment. It is un-examined pleasure stripped of beauty and extruded though the accressions of latent pain and numbness that increase as people continue in it. Hook-up sex is a drug, an opiate among many others, and it is sexual narcissism in its purest form. It is no coincidence that the hook-up generation is the most self-centered and narcissistic (see the recent study on this) because our sexuality cuts to the core of our being and our sexual choices cut to the core of how we shape our character. Dobie is concerned that if such shaming statements are made concerning hook-ups, then girls will just rebel, but that’s not excuse not to call a spade a spade.
Hook-up sex and hook-up fashion is devoid of the mystery and allure that defined sexiness according to older secular-consistent ideas of sexiness. It is a disposable experience to be forgotten en route to the next disposable sexual experience, or it is merely remembered as a notch in the belt of sexual conquest and vapid sexual validation. The highest expression of sex treats it as an appetite, uniting together the pleasure and gravity into a beautiful relationship. Hook-up sex is the cynical abandonment of that beauty. It is the junk-food, fast-food version sex and is just as unhealthy, if not more, as its food counterpart.
As for marriage, there are indeed conditional elements for a marriage to work that require the ongoing mutual commitment of both parties, which Katie Dobie is right to recognize.
However hook-up culture has an idea of marriage that marriage is a pleasure that one can indulge in among other forms of sexual expression. This version of marriage is more like an extended conditional hook-up that can end at any time within an idea of commitment that is ever more vulnerable and flimsy and subject to the whim of narcissistic people as our music and cinema celebrities so often demonstrate.
4) Hook-ups are a Darwinian response to a broken culture or a path to something new.
The Darwinian culture bit is the closest to the truth that Dobie gets, and if true, supports what I have been saying and helps negates her points that I have been summarizing in this post as points 1, 2 and 3. Hook-up is the fast food version of sex for people who cannot or will not stop to commit. In the Darwinian world, the preciousness of sex is diminished not due to exploration but for crasser reasons (why cook a meal at home with your family when you can stop by Jack-In-The-Box). Dobie insists that hook-ups are not a cause of the Darwinian world but merely an effect. In actuality, the same reasons that people hook-up are the same reasons that people have home-wrecking the affairs.
Exploring our humanity and our sexuality, when taken as an intellectually honest endeavor, is a life long process, and there are not neat divisions between youth and older adulthood. As a man gains power and status in his life he will be exposed to the availability of women who were unavailable in his youth. As he gets old and gray he may feel the need to validate his sexuality with a PYT. All this to say that if one does not establish a pattern of honestly and deeply exploring one’s humanity without using other people sexually before one is married, one won’t be in a position to do it after one is married. The higher the position of authority that a person has, the more the consequences will extend beyond the marriage (just as Bill Clinton). Shallowly exploring one’s humanity because of another’s nice eyes before one is married will set one up to do it, eventually, when one is married. To fail to recognize this is to treat sexuality as a toy and not as the potent, gravity laden thing that it is.
5) Hook-ups make sex less a commodity, while being worried about what you can offer a guy by saving your body makes sex a commodity.
Nice try Dobie. Hook-up sex does indeed make sex a commodity. It is reflected in the marketplace that both mirrors and encourages the social marketplace. Here, the realm of business makes “hook-up” fashion, advertising, and sexual products that accessorize the “hook-up” social realm where disposable sex is a “coin of the realm”.
On the topic of guys, I included hip-hop documentary in my zeitgeist list in the Intro. I recognize that there is much, much more to say on the larger topic of hip-hop. The documentary explored where the sexual culture of hip-hop where hooking-up and the mutual objectification of men and women as sex objects goes hand in hand. The documentary featured women in both hip-hop music videos and at a hop-hop spring break where flashing and groping were de rigueur. In these environments, women were shown willingly or self-deceivingly participating in a culture that is based on men validating their masculinity by scoring hook-ups. This vision of hip-hop
The hook-up apologists might like to believe that this hip-hop groping is an aberration on the beautiful possibilities that lie in the youth hook-up culture. In fact, when one does not pursue commitment with another person, one will not pursue respect. It is the difference between being a lover and a player, and hook-up culture is the culture of players. The hook-up realm of sexual conquest is as antithetical to men being encouraged to unite pleasure and gravity in commitment to and respect of women as it is for women to do so for men. This is true, even, as Unhooked and other studies have explored, there may be some unique emotional consequences for women.
The sorority kicking out the un-hot women is the compliment to the hip-hop gropers. More specifically it is a compliment to the culture of male sexual conquest and disposable sexual experience of the fraternities that that sorority was trying to impress. The culture of wealthy/middle male sexual conquest is, by the way, intimately connected to that of the hip-hop realm. As the documentary explained, the purchasers of gangsta hip-hop are largely white middle class young people.
6) The hook-up generation might find its way to intimacy is no less probable that that they will be relationally stunted
While it is possible that certain individuals will stumble into lasting love from having hook-ups, I think that these will be the exceptions more than the rule.
To believe that the advancement hook-up sex in our society is “progress” is to subscribe to a belief system that I call “continuous revolution”, which is an aspect of a belief that I have discussed called Primalism. “Continuous revolution” is the triumphalism that says that anything that is new is better than anything that is old. As part of Primalism, continuous revolution says that more and more diverse forms of latent and primally existent human expressions must be always continually brought into the fold of social acceptance. In the realm of sexuality, continuous revolution says that marriage is but one form among many equally wonderful sexual expressions.
For Dobie and those who think like her, there are no amount of studies that will ever convince her otherwise. It’s one thing when the Heritage Institute funded study concluded a couple of years ago that a large fraction of sexual active teen girls have contemplated suicide. The Heritage Institute study was dismissed by the hook-up positive crowd as being partisan. It’s another thing when the American Psychological Association says something along the same lines about the effect of over-sexualization of young girls. As it is true of the recent Unhooked, any study that confirms an old fashioned idea of sex and commitment will always be old-fashioned even if the study is fresh and recent. In regard to sexual values, “hook-up positive” feminists will assert continuous revolution ethics even in the face of a plethora of contrary scientific and empirical data and over anecdotal cultural data. Here is the NY Times book review of Unhooked by Stephanie Rosenbloom who, discussing Stepp’s critics says,
But no studies draw a line between the hookup culture and either clinical depression or a lifetime of remaining single, the critics point out.
They will look to any other external existing failure of society as alternative to looking at neurotic sexual expression that has gone off the rails. They will assert continuous revolution sexual ethics even as a sorority does less to hide its shallowness, even as the hip-hop groping continues, and even as the poster girl for hook-up goes off the deep end and shaves her head.