Sex, lies and videotape

Sex is no big deal? After the recent suicide of an American college student, how can anyone honestly say that?
Jennifer Roback Morse | Oct 11 2010 | comment  



A Rutgers University freshman killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge / Aristide Economopouls/The Star-Ledger

A Rutgers University freshman killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge / Aristide Economopouls / The Star-Ledger

After any suicide, the survivors search their souls for its meaning and what they might have done to prevent it. The recent tragedy of a young man diving off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a sexual video of him is no exception. Advocates of greater acceptance of same sex sexual activity have seized upon this case as ammunition for their cause.  But I believe viewing this incident through a wider lens will benefit young people generally, not just those who experience same sex attraction. For the last 40 years, adult society has steadily pummeled young people with the message that “sex is no big deal.” This case proves once and for all, that this claim is false.  Adult society should stop sending this message, in all its forms.

Why did this promising young man kill himself?  Evidently, he negotiated with this roommate to have the private use of their room for a sexual encounter with another guy.  His roommate made a video of him engaged in sex and posted it on the internet.  The young guy killed himself.

Now, if sex is really “just a normal bodily function,” why on earth would he be so distraught that he would end his life? Maybe he wasn’t embarrassed about the sexual act itself, only about the violation of his privacy. But what if his roommate had caught him in the act of picking his nose or going to the bathroom?  It strains the imagination to believe that he would have killed himself over the display of these “normal bodily functions.”  If sex is really “just a recreational activity,” would anyone kill himself over a video showing him playing baseball or checkers or video games? 

Maybe he was afraid people would not accept him, that he would be teased, specifically because he was engaged in a homosexual act.  But this assumes that students at a university like Rutgers actually care. Sex is no big deal, remember?  Whether you’re doing it with a guy or a girl, no problem, as long as you both consent and you use “protection.” 

Actually, this particular student killed himself before much teasing could even begin from this particular incident. But let’s say he was correct, and that he could reasonably anticipate sexual teasing.  Parenthetically, let’s note that sexual teasing is not a specifically “gay” problem.  Several girls have committed suicide over the teasing fallout from “sexting.”  These girls endured months of teasing and harassment before they killed themselves.

Gay or straight, male or female, these incidents raise a fundamental question about the official position of our sexual culture.  Is it really true that “sex is no big deal?”

The sensitivity of these students to sexual teasing as opposed to other forms of teasing, the fact that we all intuitively know that this form of teasing is uniquely painful, the fact that even bullies, insensitive thugs though they may be, instinctively hone in on the sexual aspects of a person’s life as the most vulnerable: all these things point to one simple truth.  Sex is a big deal.  We have not succeeded in talking ourselves out of this, in spite of enormous cultural efforts to do so.  In fact, let’s not mince words:  we have faced 40 years worth of intense propaganda trying to break down any sense of sexual decorum. 

I’m sure the people promoting these messages have their reasons. Perhaps they wish to convince themselves and others that there is no basis for judging sexual acts or the people who participate in them.  Perhaps they wish to overcome sexual shame, thinking that we will be happier if all that baggage can be jettisoned.  But the persistent sensitivity of young people like these suggests that sexual reticence may run more deeply in the human psyche than we have supposed, and that purging it entirely from the human soul may not be possible.

This doesn’t necessarily prove that any particular code of sexual conduct is the correct one. It surely does suggest that it is rational to ask the question of what constitutes the sexual good for men and women. Reasonable people may disagree. But we are doing ourselves and our young people no favor by telling them there is no such thing as better or worse sexual behavior.

It is time we admit the truth that each of us knows deep in our hearts: sex is more than a pleasurable instinct. Sex is deeply meaningful, so much so, that we may be forgiven for calling it “sacred.”  It is time we stop kidding ourselves.

Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD, is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage, and the author of Smart Sex: Finding Lifelong Love in a Hook-up World.



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