Rachel Wagley in the Harvard Crimson discussing the sexualization of the college student, lack of commitment, and abstinence.
Published On Monday, November 02, 2009 10:18 PM
By RACHEL L. WAGLEY
Our school plays porn to students. To my knowledge, it’s pseudo-porn and only in “English 154: Literature and Sexuality” during shopping period, but it’s alluring enough to induce 481 Harvard undergraduates into enrolling in the class, despite liberals, conservatives, and faculty alike decrying sexual objectification. Our school delights in humanism—reason! Intellect! Achievement! But when it comes to sex, the pursuit of physical pleasure—as long as you’ve got a condom—transcends reason. Self-control is prudish, unenlightened restraint—down with the patriarchy! Away with gender roles! My body is my play toy.
We have descended into a paradox. Sex gives us meaning—but is a meaningless end in itself. Our very identities are sexualized. As illustrated by “Harvard FML,” our newest and most embarrassing confessional outlet, hookups are messy, and college romance is messier. One cyber-girl moans, “All the guys I like always stop talking to me after we hook up. I feel like a classic ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am.’” If we are perplexed with organic chemistry and philosophy, then we are bewildered by sex, lust, love, and the specter of marriage.
We wildly seek answers. By trial, by error, by reading, by debating, by daydreaming, by flirting, by midnight talks lounging on roommate’s beds, by dining -hall conversations leaving us wondering where all the good men or women have gone: Is there truth? Will it set us free?
It is in this whirlwind that True Love Revolution connects the fragments of our culture. The nature of the 21st-century academic relegates us to later marriages. We are destined to fall in and out of love—or something—again and again before we seal the deal. This open time window encourages sexual activity—with or without commitment. “Gossip Girl” features high-school students losing both their virginity and dignity, Cosmopolitan flouts sex tips, movies mock men who wait for marriage, and intellectuals call casual sex empowering. It’s difficult to describe the plot of a contemporary TV show without relating who slept with whom. If cultures speak, then our culture screams: “It’s normal, OK?”
But if casual sex is normal, why do culture and academia need to remind us? Better yet, why do some radical feminists save their virginity? Why do at least 42 percent of Harvard students not have sex? Some declare that we just can’t get any sex, but if a larger percentage of the student body wanted the hookup culture, odds would be pretty good that more students could find it.
Without declaring war, True Love Revolution draws a conclusion. Culture reduces us to the sexual, but being human promises so much more. The sexualization of people and relationships hinders our development as human beings. When we embrace the sexual culture that stretches its logic to render us servile, we find ourselves unfulfilled. Abstinence resists cultural messages about human worth. Unlike casual sex, abstinence is empowering because, instead of making sex and uncontrolled lust an end, it makes people the end.
English 154 grapples with this same idea. “Sexuality” has gradually displaced “soul,” “mind,” and “character” as the most essential and salient ingredient in modern subjectivity, as the “truth of the self,” reads the course description. Temporary physical pleasure now outwits the soul, reason, and virtue. Gone are the days when we place value on condemning its consequences, though many conspicuously refuse to participate.
The vast majority of college students seek marriage one day, but our perspectives on relationships do not always reflect this. It is as if commitment is a character trait developed instantly at the altar—once the ring is on the finger. But those of us addicted to endorphins, prone to procrastination, or disposed to overspending recognize that traits cannot apparate; they must be habituated. By trial and error, society found that cohabitation and increased number of sexual partners lead to higher divorce rates.
In this commitment-less environment, social connections wither away, as evidenced in Professor Robert Putnam’s sobering book, “Bowling Alone.” On our fast-paced campus, a dating-culture return may be distant, but a return to commitment habituated through abstinence to a future partner will both galvanize the dating scene and make people more deeply known—a longing so prevalent it is heartbreaking.
We are lackluster students—we believe what we learn. We willingly objectify ourselves, and our best foot forward is our sexuality, not our soul. When we embrace the sexualized college student role, we surrender our identities: The vibrant, beautiful, curious, winsome, self-controlled men and women that we are. Will we be slaves to sexuality, or seek out something more?