I haven’t followed the details of the UVA sex scandal. Unless one is an administrator with responsibilities for such things, keeping one’s distance from the facts is probably best for one’s moral health. Indeed, we didn’t need this particular news story to know that there’s a problem. We’ve embarked on a deregulation of sexual relations. In the official ideology of our time, our bodies are machines available to provide us with pleasure. The same holds for the bodies of others, limited only by consent. Today, at places like UVA, this is the unquestioned and unquestionable orthodoxy.
Of course, we’re embodied souls, so we don’t actually live in accord with that ideology. Instead, the undergraduate culture of sex is regulated by lots of shadowy and often perverse mores. In an article on sex and youth culture, Mark Regnerus quotes a sorority girl at a major university: “Guys make the rules, and women enforce them.” This is not good news for women. Add the pornography culture of our time and there will be some very ugly guy-made rules that lead to some very ugly and damaging and abusive sexual encounters.
And what will be the response of university administrators? They will double down on consent as the great moral principle. But consent is tricky, because it can be so easily manipulated, as every good salesman knows. So UVA and other institutions will need to delve deeply into the mysteries of what counts as a “yes.” This will mean incoming freshman will have to attend mandatory seminars on sexual encounters to be properly educated in the nuances of consent. There will need to be consciousness raising sessions. There will need to be visiting lecturers to address the dangers of a rape culture on campus. More counselors will be hired. More regulations about sex will be written. A campus-wide “conversation” will be launched, fully funded by the administration. And so on and so on and so on.
In all of this an obvious truth will be ignored, which is that our bodies are not machines. On the contrary, they’re intimately related to our souls, which means we’re all vulnerable to the way we use our bodiesand are used by others. Nothing can always and everywhere protect us from our sexual vulnerability. Nothing ever has. But mere consent? Only an ideologue could imagine it reliable.
And a second obvious truth will be ignored, which is that although men are certainly vulnerable to be used sexually, women are more so. It is heresy to say this, though it’s so close to the surface of the entire furor over campus date rape and other depravities that only the willfully blind refuse to see it.
But we will refuse. For to allow this truth to come into the open leads to far too many heretical thoughts. If we admit that men and women are different in ways that have moral significance, then almost all the sexual ideologies of our time come crashing down.