The University of Minnesota puts on a “Golden Condom Scavenger Hunt;” Vanderbilt offers sex-ed classes designed to make you a more dynamic lover; Harvard hosts sex-week and anal sex workshops; The University of New Mexico boasts threesome workshops with extensive how-to’s; we’ve also seen the appearance of porn-funded scholarships, and now even the University of Utah is distributing free birth control pills and vasectomies. It is indisputable that America’s universities have become overtly sexualized environments. Some people would take issue with the programs and events mentioned above, but then again, many people would not. Especially on campus, many would consider them completely normal, harmless, even fascinating and exhilarating. Perhaps some would even point to them as manifestations of the irrepressible force of “progress.”
Regardless of what one thinks of the sexualization of the university campus however, it is impossible to deny that this movement has a powerful effect on the campus culture – overt sexuality becomes normalized. More importantly, however, it affects how men view women. When men are constantly receiving messages about how trivial, commonplace, and acceptable unrestrained sexual activity is, when sex is depicted as nothing more than carnal pleasure to be maximized through bondage, anal sex, and threesomes, it has a real, tangible influence on men’s mentalities. This discourse completely severs the intangibles from the physical sexual act – selfless love, affection, and emotional intimacy are no longer part of the equation. Sex becomes purely about the physical, carnal act of pleasure. These messages inadvertently train men to believe that female bodies are merely the source of this sublime carnal pleasure. In essence, women are depicted as objects of sexual pleasure for men. What this also serves to do is to blur the lines between “sex” and “love” to such a degree that people begin to view the two as synonymous. What immediately comes to mind, of course, is the release of Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentine’s Day. This is tragic because of how it confuses young people and conflates love with sex. Like the campus sex workshops, this sends a terribly destructive and misleading message.
At the same time, the notion of a “campus rape culture” has never been more prominent, spurring a host of anti-sexual assault campus movements and official policies that seek to publicly condemn and combat it. All across the country – nowhere more recent or prominent than the President himself in a public address during the Grammys – people are launching campaigns that malign men for objectifying women’s bodies; the “it’s on us” movement has gained a number of prominent spokesmen. But isn’t that precisely what these sex workshops are all about? Promoting sexual adventurism and completely dismissing the idea that sex belongs in a loving, committed relationship, isn’t objectifying bodies in an overtly and exclusively sexual manner exactly what they do?
This begs the question – how do these sex-events relate to sexual violence? How does encouraging men to view women as mere bodies that have the potential to provide them with sexual pleasure influence men’s willingness or likelihood to commit sexual assault? I would argue that just as it is psychologically easier to kill another human being who has been dehumanized (figuratively robbed of his human qualities – think of any example of genocide in history and its accompanying propaganda campaign), it is much easier to commit sexual assault against a woman whose primary attribute has become, in the eyes of her attacker, her sexual potential. One recent study claims that male college students have a “distorted understanding of rape;” in the survey, a frighteningly substantial minority believed that “forcing a woman to have sexual intercourse” and ”raping a woman” were two different things. With the mixed messages these young, endlessly impressionable, and still developing brains are simultaneously receiving from these sexualization and anti-sexual assault campaigns, should that come as a surprise?
What is most ironic – and hypocritical – about this all is that those people who are advocating these sex workshops and pretending like sex is a trivial matter – generally sexually liberal progressives – are often the same people who are most vocal about maligning men and the oft-cited culture of rape on university campuses. Do people not recognize the fundamental conflict in what they are doing here? When we trivialize the seriousness of sex by hosting anal, threesome, and sexual creativity events in a glamorizing fashion, we are sending the message that sex is impersonal and that we can freely detach the human elements from the bodies from which we are gaining our sexual pleasure. It is precisely this sort of mentality that contributes to men’s perception of women as mere sexual objects, which in turn is fundamental to the “rape culture” and, ultimately, the crime of sexual assault. If we are genuinely committed to combating sexual assault and the perception of women as sexual objects, we should consider the inadvertent yet powerful and subtle effect these events have on people’s mentalities, psychologies, and perceptions of other human beings.