The state of New York has enacted legislation aimed at making certain that, where sexual intimacy is concerned, only “yes means yes,” and that this standard will apply to activities at private colleges and universities. “Yes means yes,” for those fortunate enough not to have their minds invaded by the latest pseudo-intellectual doublespeak, refers to laws according to which romantic involvements are legal only to the extent that there is among both (or however many) parties “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary understanding to engage in sexual activity.” Anything outside these lines, at each stage of increased intimacy, may be deemed sexual assault. As to due process in determining guilt, at our colleges and universities there may well be none—several students have found themselves removed from campus without process, losing their tuition, reputation, and potentially any future careers without opportunity to defend their names.
My purpose, here, is not principally to criticize or even mock this latest advancement of the nanny state. The sheer creepiness of this intrusion into intimate relations speaks for itself. My concern, actually, is to point out how natural and even inevitable it is that the state should impose rules of contract onto the anarchic “free market” in sex that has come to dominate our campuses. Academic institutions have rejected their traditional role in maintaining civilized behavior on their campuses. They have opted instead to further encourage the breakdown of sexual along with other mores and seek to train young people to see themselves and others as mere bundles of physical and emotional drives seeking outlets with and through others. It is not surprising, then, that they have in effect forced the state to step in to try to impose a prototypically liberal form onto the chaos spawned by the fundamentally unnatural and exploitive ethos of sexual “liberation.”
Without going into too much detail for a family-oriented online journal, I would simply point out that there is something profoundly unnatural about strangers engaging in the most intimate of physical acts. The notion that one can use another’s body for one’s own pleasure, provided the other neglects to object, is something few of us would consider sufficient to justify much less intimate relations. The role of alcohol and drugs in fueling such relations is merely one indication of the need to “break down” our social nature into its most primitive elements in order to facilitate the activity. When sex was recognized as primarily aimed at procreation, it served (as it still can and does serve for many) to bind two people together into fuller union. Social conventions and rules on campuses as recently as the middle of the last century aimed to direct instinct and social conduct toward the natural goal of child-centered marriage. These ties having been severed by the myth of free love and the reality of mutual exploitation. There is no goal beyond the immediate and no rule save force (including the force of biological drives) and fraud.
Those who survive to birth in our culture tend to be kept in a perpetual state of adolescence. Ignored by absent parents, they are raised by state institutions in which their “self-esteem” is boosted by meaningless drivel encouraging them to think of themselves as more capable, responsible, and good-spirited than they are. As a consequence, by the time most American youth enter college, they are convinced that whatever they want must be both good and their right, and that the institutions around them should facilitate the satisfaction of their desires. This is, after all, what “student centered education” is all about, right down to evaluation forms for every “service” provided to them.
Once on campus, students are encouraged to experiment, as they receive information packets and birth control devices. They are then left—largely to their own devices—to negotiate alcohol and drug infused “parties” that exist to de-socialize them through chemicals, primitive rituals, and nearly-anonymous physical contacts. This is not a rape culture. It is an exploitive culture in which liberation and exploitation become synonymous. Passivity and second-thoughts are entirely understandable under such circumstances. The young men, who, having engaged in these activities, sometimes find themselves accused of sexual assault, may be genuinely perplexed that the game they thought they had won becomes something quite different the next day. But this is because “the game” is in fact highly unnatural and exploitive by nature.
The results of “yes means yes” will be truly nightmarish as people continue to engage in semi-anonymous sex, then find “the deal” is called off after the fact. The question of evidence is insoluble, unless written documents are involved or, as seems increasingly to be the case in any event, every engagement is recorded electronically. The law is a Hobbesian solution to a Hobbesian problem: The government is seizing total control over a very private aspect of life because it must—because relations between the sexes have degenerated into a kind of war of all against all, lacking any coherent rules or conventions. As with all things Hobbesian, we all are losers for having surrendered (or torn down) the customs and institutions that once allowed us to deal with one another in a civil fashion, rendering enslavement to the state preferable to the chaos we have created.
The real answer to this dilemma is, of course, a return to a civilized understanding of relations between the sexes, rooted in the natural family as the natural building block of society and the role of other institutions, including universities, in aiding rather than destroying the possibility of its formation. For men and women alike, the short-term answer is merely an aspect of the long term solution: Refrain from engaging in the sex wars by avoiding drunken mating rituals, and instead, look for decent, upright people who share your values and with whom you can share your life.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.