Monday, November 11, 2013

Hook-up Culture, Jane Austen, and the Creator God

Warning: this book review is a bit different from my usual fare (and likely more controversial) and it deals with a serious subject. Not recommended for young readers, although I do my best not to be too explicit

Decided to stick around? See you after the jump:

I picked up this book by Donna Freitas (complete title: The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy) at the library, not out of a desire to read salacious details but because I am raising children in this culture. Not only am I raising five of my own, but my husband and I are committed to working with children and young people in this culture.

We need to know what we're up against. If this book is even partially accurate, we are in a battle we can barely imagine or stand to read about. (And there were several times reading this book when I would liked to have shut it, returned it, and gone on about my business.)

Here's the premise: Freitas (who may or may not identify as Catholic although she has a PhD in religious studies from Catholic University) has taught at more than one university in the U.S. She witnessed what is now called the "hook-up culture" among university students. So she did some research. She surveyed and interviewed thousands of college students.

Here's what she found: it is normative for most (though certainly not all) college students (generally at public or private-secular colleges) to engage in hookup culture. Hookup culture can include almost any type of sexual activity, however you define it. It doesn't necessarily mean having sex since some who "only kissed" qualify that as a hookup as well. Hooking up is no strings attached: you don't have to know the other person, you may never see them again, and there is usually no relationship established or affected by this behavior.

And it's all fueled by copious, unimaginable amounts of alcohol.

Here's one problem: the author wants to help young people have better sex or "good sex whenever an individual has decided that he or she is ready for it" (pg 156).

The author concludes her author's note at the beginning of the book with these statements:
"I am not interested in legislating over their lives, but in finding the various frameworks necessary to promote their empowerment from within. My greatest wish is to help make available a set of diverse structures through which students can make the best, most informed choices they can about their bodies and their lives."
How noble. (OK, I'll admit: that was sarcasm.)

She has identified the problem (meaningless sex made possible by alcohol) for what it is. She comes close to diagnosing the true problem (meaningless sex is soul destroying) without ever admitting that humans have souls.

That's a neat trick.

Which is the difficulty in attempting to approach this issue secularly. Because why is her standard for what makes good sex or better sex or even "informed choices", better than any of the students she interviewed? Are we saying there are some standards? Well, who gets to decide what those standards are?

The problem with saying we're not interested in "legislating their lives", is that we are left with nothing to say. Our current culture says that there are no standards. We've destroyed the former pillars of sexual mores and left only one flimsy edifice: consent.

Anything is permissible as long as you have consent.

One problem with that is even consent becomes a very grey area when you drown it in alcohol. "No means no" except when it means, "yes, I guess so," or "I'm so drunk I don't remember the question." I have no desire to blame victims of actual sexual assault. But I also have no desire to sweep the larger problem under the rugs of our supposedly enlightened attitudes toward sexuality.

Why does it matter? We've had at least two generations of sex-ed in our public schools. We've distilled sex down to two basic tenets: Insert Tab A (whatever that may be) into Slot B (whatever that may be) but do it "safely" and both partners (or whomever is participating) must consent.

Is it any wonder young people are engaging in "meaningless" sex? Sex as taught in these classes is meaningless.

Instead of being taught that they are sexual beings created by a loving God who has set boundaries on this amazing but sometimes complicated gift, they are taught from Kindergarten that they are evolved fro animals, there is no design, there are no rules, and they only need be informed and "empowered" from within.

If there is no God (or any Designer) then why does it matter? Why is rape wrong? Wouldn't that just be the impetus to perpetuate our species? Why shouldn't a young, virile man have sex with as many females as possible?

The author laments the abstinence programs that have sprung up in reaction to this hook-up culture. She mourns that they aren't inclusive of LGBT folks who would also like to avoid hooking up. She rails against conservative politics and policies which aren't accepting of those who identify as LGBT because Conservatives are close minded, or something. (Certainly not informed and empowered types. Although, maybe they are "empowered from within" to be repelled by the LGBT community? No, certainly not, because empowerment doesn't work that way. It works the way the author and her community of elites say it does, because...well, we'll get back to you on that.)

Which shows why we can never have a dialogue in our country about this subject. Because some of us believe that not only are humans designed by a Creator God but that He also designed sex. And, since He designed it, He has many things to say about how it is treated and enjoyed, including restrictions ("legislation") on who may partake.

Sex was designed by God for our good and His glory. When set in the time and place (no "diverse structures" required) He designed (marriage between one man and one woman), it is good and holy and fun and meaningful and so much more.

Think about that phrase in the glorious King James translation of the Bible: "And Adam knew Eve his wife."

Knew. Isn't that so much deeper than our modern versions? (Perish the "had sex with" versions as unnecessarily crass) If one of the deepest desires of the human heart is to be truly known and yet accepted (and, of course, I believe it is) then sex in marriage is an amazing gift.

The vulnerability, the closeness, the submission and is not just tabs and slots. Not every time a husband and wife come together is the most amazing, sexually fulfilling moment ever. It needn't be. Because every time is knitting one strand of human to the other strand of human and the overall effect is the masterpiece: they are become one flesh. They know each other in all senses.

It really was not so long ago that Western Culture appreciated these pillars, these standards. Think about Jane Austen's novels (and I tend to think about them a lot since they are my favorite books): several of the books, if not all, deal with people and situations where sex is not in its proper place (marriage). Think of Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram (Mansfield Park), Willoughby and Eliza (Sense and Sensibility), Wickham and Lydia Bennet (Pride and Prejudice).

In these cases the three men are treated severely by Austen (called and believed to be scoundrels or "rakes") not because they didn't seek the consent of the other (Maria, Eliza, & Lydia were certainly consenting) but because what they do is wrong.

If Hookup Culture is "Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy" to the point where there is an entire chapter on how young people today do not even know how to ask another person on a date, and there is no reason to believe that Freitas is wrong in this conclusion, then maybe what this generation needs is not more "empowerment from within" or more "diverse structures" to make "informed choices".

Maybe we need to return to the giver of this gift and see what He has to say about how, when, where, and why it is enjoyed. Maybe that means we stop talking about sex with jeers and crassness. Maybe we start treating all humans, from the unborn to the elderly, like they have intrinsic value, even if we don't agree with their politics, religion, or whatever else we use to judge people. Maybe we stop pushing a feminist agenda that says not only that women can "have sex like men" but that they should, never mind the fact that lumping all men into a category of  "enjoys meaningless sex and porn interchangeably and never wants to commit, ever" is a reverse sexist viewpoint not based on experience or logic.

Maybe we should look for answers where they can be found. Or maybe it really is The End of Sex. A series of unfulfilling hook-ups is all anyone can expect and the babies who are accidentally conceived in these episodes are the generation of the future.

I hope not.

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