The Sexual Revolution Ruined Romance

Today’s teenagers and young adults are entrenched in the modern hook-up culture. At Trinity University in particular, this modern ‘lifestyle’ is particularly rampant. The university promotes sexting as part of healthy relationships. While this is great for the institution’s sense of relevance and relatability to its students, it also reveals a deeper, cultural problem.

In modern America, the culture of sexual promiscuity has been normalized, and is even encouraged. And yet, this emphasis on casual sex has ruined the romance in relationships, both in and out of pop-culture.

In popular culture, it is incredibly rare to find any ‘romantic’ relationship that does not involve sex. In almost every romantic comedy,  the pair has sex. In most books with a romantic subplot, the couple has sex. In sitcoms, dramas, and comedies, couples have sex. If not explicitly mentioned, it is implied.

There are very few couples from twenty-first century media in which the couple doesn’t have intimate relations, except for books targeted at children. Even then, some books that claim to be targeted for children age 12+ (or at least are read by children who are that age) have explicit or implicit sexual content.. Cassandra Clare’s novels are full of sex and unhealthy romantic relationships, yet are marketed as Young Adult fictions for children ages 12-14. Tamoura Pierce’s fantasy novels, while enjoyable for an adult audience, are often marketed for children ages 12 and older, even though they deal with adult themes and sex as a subplot.

For recent generations, the line between love and lust is not simply blurred. There is no line.

Lust is mistaken for romantic love. Sex and intimacy have almost the same meaning. In fact, one of the first definitions of intimacy in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “engaging in sexual relations.”

Because the lines between love and sex have become so blurred, or even non-existent, romantic relationships have been drastically affected, especially on college campuses. According to one survey, 44% of respondents claimed to be in a serious relationship and to be having sex with their partner. In another survey conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, roughly three-quarters of the survey respondents had had sex. This is not true for all couples, of course, but it is the norm for many.

This mentality has ruined the romance for the modern college couple. People begin their relationships with the impersonality of dating apps like Tinder or at parties, and then often find it difficult to move beyond the initial, awkward phases of a relationship until the original spark and chemistry inevitably die out. While many people can find meaningful, healthy relationships through online apps such as Tinder, very few Tinder users actually go on dates, according to this survey where only 29.2% percent of Tinder uses admitted to meeting up face-to-face with their matches. In addition, only 4.16% users said that they used Tinder to find a relationship, as opposed to the 22% who stated hook-ups as their main motivation to use the app, and another 44% who stated that they use the app for a confidence boost. Dating is becoming less and less about finding a partner with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Instead, it’s become a convenient means of “getting laid.” This is far more depressing than it is immoral. Dating is now a prettily-named term for hooking up with someone, and no longer the fun, mentally-stimulating and truly enjoyable experience that it can be. When the true reason a couple is together is merely for the sex and physical pleasures, then it’s bound to end eventually— and sooner, rather than later.


Rethinking Sex: Catholicism, Sex, and Morality

Before I start, I would say that I am pessimistic about the prevalent cultural attitudes toward sex in America, particularly on college campuses. So, what motivated me to write this article? Primarily, a lack of articles in this space (and in Trinity University’s school newspaper) about sexual morality (although we have recently published some good pieces about love, morality, and relationships, which I recommend taking a look at) in general. Is it morally right to have premarital sex? What about gay/lesbian sex? What about using protection during sex? Should sex be seen merely as a means for pleasure?

All interesting questions, and none of which I can provide an answer to in a short article such as this one. However, I do want to discuss the problems with the current sexual climate; I write this article acknowledging that, as a self-identified libertarian and lifelong Catholic, people have a right to do what they please with their lives. But so long as I do not impose my own beliefs on others, I should be free to criticize others’ actions as immoral and wrong. That being said…

Let’s talk about sex.

To start off, I might be the worst possible person to talk about sexual morality. My own church is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal that has spanned over the past several decades, with a new scandal involving priests and nuns emerging just last week. I unapologetically condemn these incidents and pray to God that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But this is a good springboard to talk about sexual morality, because for far too long, one of the main criticisms of Catholic morality has been the stingy criteria it places on its followers and clergy for having “acceptable” sex (or none at all).

And for that, I want to propose a new (Catholic) approach to thinking about sexual morality, but one that is inclusive enough so that everyone can take something away from it, regardless of religion. Because right now, I believe that we are in a sexual crisis. As traditional gender and sex norms have given way to “explorations” of gender and sexuality, we need to consider whether or not this “shift” has been for the better, that “shift” being the product of the sexual liberation movement spearheaded by feminists and the broader left-wing.

To be clear, I am not looking to “move backwards” or lament about “days gone by.” The only direction we can look now is forward, so that should remove any notion that I want to roll back any genuine progress we have made as a society. But I will point out that problems some might think are isolated are rather part of a larger failure of the sexual liberation movement that happened under multiple waves of feminism and a relativistic approach to gender and sexuality. Those problems range from a 40% out-of-wedlock birth rate (the bulk comprising minority groups) to the rise and growth of the “incel” (short for “involuntary celibate”) subculture.

It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

I do not want to understate the severity of these problems. Children born out of wedlock are much more likely to have social and behavioral impairments, lower education and job prospects, and engage in early sexual activity. These problems are compounded when the child/children live in a single-parent home. It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

On the other hand, the incel community is a hyper-misogynist online subculture whose members have at times engaged in violence in “retaliation” for their lack of sexual fortune, as is the case with Elliot Rodger, Alek Minassian, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis. There are many takeaways from studying this group, but what I understand is that these men feel an entitlement to sex, and if they do not get it, then violent retaliation is justified (which is horrifyingly celebrated within the incel community).

Of course, there are many others problems that I can discuss, like porn, the oversexualization of women, and prostitution, but for the sake of length, I want to answer the burning question in the room: what is the solution? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to the diverse range of problems we have about sexual morality? As I have said, it is not a culture that encourages having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want. But neither is it an entitlement, where if a man fails to get sex, it is the collective fault of women and that there must be a Marxist “redistribution of women” so everyone gets their “fair share” of sex.

My solution is simple: take on responsibility. Some intellectuals have already been talking about this, so let’s build on their work and apply it to sexual ethics. Teaching people to be responsible for themselves can build self-respect. If you respect yourself, you can respect others. For those inclined to have lots of sex, being responsible will help in foreseeing potential consequences in having so much sex (like having children out of wedlock). For the “sexually challenged,” having more responsibilities can take one’s mind off constantly thinking about sex. Focusing on oneself and one’s talents will surely attract someone’s attention at some point, and people like (and love) a responsible person every now and then.

In the Catholic tradition, the act of sex is the renewal and sign of the sacrament of matrimony, the ultimate expression of giving oneself over to the other. In other words, sex is something to be cherished as gift from God, not something that is to be feared, reduced to a one-liner on a bucket list, or become an entitlement. And I fear if we do not change our attitude toward sex soon, much less have a serious conversation about it, we will continue to suffer the problems that I have outlined in this article, and then some.

Photo by Prayitno. CC BY 2.0. Flickr.

Sexting and Selfishness

Wellness Services of Trinity University raised eyebrows in the first week of the spring semester when students received the latest article from Student Health 101, the online campus wellness magazine, entitled: “Smarter Sexting: Thoughtful and respectful approaches to sexual messages.”

The article itself is nothing particularly groundbreaking. It rightfully warns of the risks of sending nude photos, advises to “leave something to the imagination” for more fun, and mentions a few crafty ways of responding to unsolicited sexual messages. The article also describes sexting as “a common way to flirt and express sexuality” and “a pleasurable part of a healthy sexual encounter.” At first glance, the article seems to be more or less a well-meaning attempt to caution students against the perils of sexting gone wrong.

It comes as no surprise that at a university which hosts a “Sex Week” (which in the past year involved a display table of sex toys in the student center), we discuss sexting as casually as the cafeteria menu. Within the last decade, American college campuses have come to embody a culture of toleration, where ideas of acceptance, inclusion and expression, including sexual expression, are boasted virtues alongside the quality of the academics. Sexuality, gender, and race have become the issues. If it is not at least mentioned, the trend of toleration culture can sometimes frame entire academic disciplines, from sociology to English to philosophy. And unsurprisingly, the constructivist, socially progressive worldview extends to the grave matter of sex—a lesson eagerly consumed by the impressionable on campus.

In an era of readily accessible technology and instant messaging, where Hollywood celebrities and Instagram models earn recognition through sexually suggestive photographs, where media enthusiastically glorifies the pleasures of casual sex, where casual sexual behavior is advocated by professionals as a “healthy form of self-expression,” it should not shock us to find that children are sending dirty messages to each other. And truly they are children—for most of Trinity’s freshman class, a nude photo taken less than a year ago would be considered child pornography under Texas law. These are girls and boys who have not yet grown into their bodies and who are not psychologically mature enough for a sexual encounter and all it entails. Many are driven by hormones and instinct, have no intimate understanding of their own fertility and biology, and have yet to learn what sex is as a meaningful expression of love. Yet the article treats sexting with the same gravity as a student’s exercise or sleeping habits, encouraging the young to view sexual encounters as a matter of personal preference for one’s pleasure rather than a serious physical, psychological, and moral decision, the impact of which is difficult to exaggerate. And most unfortunately, it will be young students, not the university, who will suffer as a result of such a casual public take on sexual ethics.

Selfish pleasure—not love—is at the core of sexting. The purpose of such an act is to derive arousal and excitement from the other, using them as means for one’s own gratification.

Both parties may consent in a sexting exchange, but mutuality and consent are not all that render a relationship healthy and nontoxic—prostitution can be a perfectly consensual and mutual act. In fact, sometimes a loving relationship requires respectful criticism and saying “no” at the right times. Love means willing the good of the other. Entertaining erotic fantasies over text messages and sending “sexy” selfies are hardly that. When we exchange these messages, we don’t begin to learn each other’s quirks, personalities, histories, or any of the traits that make up their personhood. Others simply become objects of pleasure.

Here is a better way to express it: sexting is sexuality expressed at the other rather than with them, and the difference is apparent in the medium of virtual text alone. When someone sends a sexual message, the recipient can postpone their reply or fail to reciprocate the message altogether. In a live, person-to-person interaction, every act and response is immediate, vulnerable and current, requiring both parties to be completely present for everything. The nature of the moment is fleeting and therefore precious; the act has respect for the regular movement of time, and no pictures are saved to be exploited later. (In such a case, these images are inevitably used for arousal and excitement when alone, selfishly disregarding the other from the interaction.) Such a real experience is intimidating but raw, with no ability to doctor one’s image with posing, lighting, or filters.

Here lies that other aspect of love which is void from sexting: a sexual expression founded in love pays less attention to visual appeal. Scars, stretch marks, cellulite, age, or physical deformities matter next to nothing to healthy sexual love, because the focus of the encounter is with the person rather than at their body. And while it is true that both sexting and healthy sexual expressions require a certain level of vulnerability, the people who send nudes and risque texts are not exposing themselves naked like a newborn babe to the mortifying experience of being known and therefore loved. Instead, they render themselves vulnerable in a fundamentally different way, like a hooker for her client—to be subjected to use.

This hardly touches upon the devastating consequences that come from such use and misuse. Beside the irreparable damage that can happen to one’s reputation if he or she trusts the wrong person, there are the subconscious teachings they absorb. Girls learn how to use the power of their bodies to please a man’s sexual appetites, then mistake that for being loved. Boys learn that viewing pornography and confronting women sexually is acceptable so long as she says she consents, regardless if either party is mentally prepared. In every case, a lewd sexual dynamic is misunderstood as necessary in a loving relationship—possibly becoming what a romantic relationship means. Sincere love is conflated with desire.

As these persons grow and mature, they learn better and more efficient ways to use one another to achieve the same “high,” falsely believing that such expressions are part of “identity” and “freedom of self-expression.” They use apps like Tinder and become serial monogamists (or sometimes date multiple people at once), flirt meaninglessly with a rotating circle of people, mistake gestures of kindness for sexual advances, and spend exorbitant amounts of time on the Internet with people they have never met in the flesh. There are clubs and crowded, sexually-charged parties filled with people dancing at one another, simulating sexual acts and advertising their body as the object of erotic fantasy.

Unsurprisingly, these habits will develop into porn addictions. More than that, they warp what it means to date a person—rather than investing in a person with hope for a future together, people become hobbies with sex as a number on their to-do list. Sex itself is no longer intimate, but routine. The goal? Certainly not concern for the other’s dignity, or helping one another to live good, healthy lives, but personal satisfaction at the other’s expense. Having so harmfully misused their sexuality for pleasure rather than love, the same people find themselves struggling to bond with their future spouse, tolerating borderline toxic or abusive behavior, or resorting to riskier, thrilling yet dangerous sexual acts to regain their sensation for what sexual excitement used to be. And when someone commits a far more heinous crime of use, an act of sexual assault, we wonder where they ever got the notion it was acceptable to use another human being.

It used to be that casual sexual behavior like sexting was embarrassing and shameful. It certainly was not always sponsored by universities as normal behavior or “healthy” expressions of self. But now such habits are not only discussed openly, but they are unabashedly celebrated. The article from Trinity’s Wellness Services is only a microcosm of the culture at large, where the subject of “self” has become an idol, consequently justifying a hedonist morality based primarily on pleasing the self. Like art, the measured value of sex is no longer rooted in its true loveliness, but instead what it relatively means as self-expression. It is not about creating something beautiful, but how it serves oneself personally. Persons commit sacrilege with their bodies, the good and beauty of sex becomes void of its original sacredness, and selfishness becomes virtue. One can only hope that the young will see through such a lie before all dignity, respect, and love is lost completely.