Education

Want Less Sexual Trauma on Campus? Stop Telling the Big Lies.

(Photo: Dreamstime)
The root of the problem is an ideology that strips sex of its spiritual meaning.

In the debate over Title IX and sexual assault on campus, I keep hearing the same questions: Sure, you’re for due process, but do you also care — do you really care — about the victims of sexual assault? Where is the sympathy for them in your many odes to the Constitution? I’m not alone in hearing this critique. The New York Times’s Bret Stephens has heard it. So has Mona Charen. Conservatives who call for Title IX reform are even called “rape apologists.”

That’s an odd accusation for people who, like me, want to see rape prosecuted in criminal courts and rapists locked away for decades, if not life. No one denies that there are rapes on campus, and law enforcement should pursue rapists with the same diligence it pursues all of our most serious criminals. But here’s the problem: Aggressively prosecuting provable rapes will do little to ease the psychic pain of the underlying sexual crisis on campus, a crisis not even a campus kangaroo court can resolve.

The root of the problem is an ideology that deliberately attempts to strip sex of its inherent spiritual meaning and transform it into little more than transactional, physical, pleasure-seeking behavior. It’s an ideology that denies differences between men and women, including the emotional differences in the way that many men and women experience sex.

Walk onto a college campus today and you’ll see that the place often celebrates sex in the same way it celebrates its football team. One parent dropped off his daughter at college and told me he was stunned to see a basket full of condoms in the bathroom, with a bright sign encouraging kids to grab them by the handful. Another parent showed me a picture on his phone of a banner covering a wall in his daughter’s dorm declaring that sex is great and consent is sexy. All around, the message is the same — parties are part of the college experience, and parties include sex. Indeed, sex is often the entire point of the party.

But when young students — especially but not exclusively women — approach this new life, something in them rebels. Their sober minds are a bit timid, a little bit nervous. They might even be afraid of trying to initiate such intimate contact with another person. This is the warning of the human conscience. The sexual revolutionary, however, disagrees. They might call that nagging feeling a “hangup” or an “inhibition” — the product of artificial social constraints imposed by a patriarchy that seeks to prevent a woman from discovering her sexual self.

So, what does the young student do next? She drinks, often with the very purpose of lowering those inhibitions. In theory she wants to experiment, but her sober mind won’t let her. Men of course do the same thing, though the inhibitions are often lower to begin with and the emotional consequences less extreme. Alcohol introduces ambiguity and uncertainty to intimate encounters that are often fraught with confusion even in the best circumstances, especially when the partners are young and inexperienced and barely know each other.

The result? Young men and women engage in a deeply spiritual, deeply meaningful act with minds clouded, hearts uncertain, and emotions raw. They bind themselves together in the way that only husband and wife should unite, and while some people sail through like they’re on a carnival ride, many others are left the next day with a searing, horrifying question dominating their minds — if sex is so great, why do I hurt so much?

Universities do everything wrong. Everything.

The core problem isn’t the alcohol. The core problems are the big lies about sex itself. The need for alcohol betrays the existence of the lies. Consider the contrast between the hookup culture — the ultimate expression of transactional sexuality — and sex in committed relationships. Booze is the common denominator of the hookup, but its presence typically diminishes the greater the bond between the man and the woman. Ask a happily married couple if they need bourbon before sex and they might look at you like you’re insane.

Kids will drink even without the incentive for sex, but sex fuels the drinking and drinking fuels the sex. Earlier this week, Stephens gave his column to a young woman who told an all-too-common campus tale. She “blacked out drunk at a party,” a young man walked her home, and the next day she woke up with her “clothes on inside out.” She started screaming. She said, “I didn’t know what had happened, but I did know that some part of me had died forever, and that I had been violated.”

It’s a horrible story. But even she recognizes the incredible difficulty of proving a legal case, even with a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. If the young man claimed she seemed sober and came on to him (to borrow details from countless other campus cases), and there were no other witnesses, how would an amateur university court resolve the conflict? What if the evidence turned out to be even more complex, with a record of friendly communications after the alleged rape?

Universities do everything wrong. Everything. They combine lies about the nature and morality of sexual relationships with an enthusiastically permissive attitude toward party culture, and then they adjudicate the resulting painful confusion through incompetent, unconstitutional kangaroo courts. Oh, and they often act with condescending arrogance toward moral systems that elevate sex to its rightful, sacred place — in the union of man and wife. It’s a pitiful display. Truly.

The conservative response has to be just as comprehensive as the universities’ failures. It can’t simply focus on the end of the process — the kangaroo court. We should and do care enough about our daughters to prevent them from becoming “survivors.” That means speaking the powerful truth about the nature and morality of sexual relationships, rejecting the party culture and its booze-fueled irresponsibility, and bringing down the criminal hammer on men who assault women. With respect, through it all, for the nation’s core constitutional values.

It’s not difficult to articulate this message. One might even call it tried and true. It does require, however, a degree of moral courage that is often in short supply. And it requires parents to keep parenting even when their child is away at school. For the next four years, you might be one of the few morally sane voices they hear.

READ MORE:

Do Conservatives Take Rape Seriously?

Taking On the Campus-Rape Lie

Laura Kipnis on the Climate of Sexual Paranoia on Campus

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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