September 18, 2011

My Sex Column

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I’ve decided that The Sun’s sex columns are worth reading. Not, mind you, because the “lessons” they impart are at all useful, but because they reveal the conservative character of Cornell’s sexual culture. In so doing, they complicate our understanding of what traditionalists like to label the “hook-up culture.”

After reviewing a good number of these columns, it’s clear they fall into one of two categories: critiques of Cornell’s sexual atmosphere or descriptions of raunchy exploits.

This first category tends towards traditionalism — the idea that physical and emotional intimacy are not separate — in its discussion of the Cornell dating scene.

In her first column for The Sun, Morgan T., a self-proclaimed “independent, confident woman,” lamented the “anti-ask out” attitude, which separates sex from commitment as a matter of principle. Not only is this belief held by most men, but the problem is so pervasive that Cornellians should expect “keystone-spilled-on-my-shirt, inebriated, mildly satisfying encounters,” in place of relationships developing from mutual respect.

The Preacher’s Daughter expressed identical sentiments last year. In one column she described the “death of dating,” and claimed that most women would prefer formal courting to random flings. In another, she noted the difficulty of finding a suitable partner, given that most men she had met were “meatheads.” Ultimately, she noted, she wants to settle down with a “nice guy.” This is hardly the stuff of the Sexual Revolution.

Similarly, other columnists have argued that sex is far from arbitrary. Lauren C asserted that we may never “separate sex from its baby-making agenda.” The Preacher’s Daughter noted that she lost her virginity “for all the right reasons:” because she wanted to and loved the person she did it with.

The picture of our sexual culture that emerges from this rhetoric is therefore complicated. We can’t assume, like many traditionalists, that the hookup culture makes college students deny that sex should be linked to love, commitment and respect. Clearly, this sentiment is still widely felt.

In a way, though, the reality is more depressing than what the traditionalists imagine. Even though many people share traditional convictions, they find it extremely difficult to put them into practice. It seems there’s simply too much cultural pressure working against it.

If one wishes to prove our sexual culture is actually more subversive, one might point to the second category of sex columns, which advocate for sex without boundaries. However, even though these columnists try to shock us, their columns still contain a subtle strain of traditionalism.

These attempts to unnerve us fail for two reasons. The first is that some of the authors of these purportedly shocking columns remain anonymous. This gives the unmistakable impression that they’re making it up, or that they’re embarrassed to associate themselves with their columns. Either way, it shows that they’re more prude than they make themselves out to be.

However, there’s a more powerful reason why these columns fail to shock us. In an era when we can learn about any of these topics online, these “racy” columns feel irrelevant, and, to be honest, quite stale.

A truly unnerving sex column would force us to question contemporary assumptions. It would ask whether our sexual expectations for women are any less demeaning than they were in the 1950s. It would question whether a culture that completely separates sex from commitment makes the sorts of relationships many of us long for impossible. Finally, it would ask whether our constant exposure to sex makes it less, and not more, exciting.

Indeed, more shocking are the words offered in 1963 by Dr. Seward Hiltner. “Sex is dynamite,” the Princeton professor said at a conference sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work, because it inevitably creates an emotional connection. It is an experience beyond one’s self, and forces men and women to confront the “otherness of each other.” Sex is not, and cannot be, a casual affair.

A sexual ethic that demands intimacy, one that sees sex as an encounter transcending our animalistic urges? This sentiment, more than any story about sex toys or one-night stands, is truly counter-cultural. The counter-culture sparked a sexual revolution a short while ago; one wonders if Dr. Hiltner’s message can do the same now. If these sex columns tell us anything, it’s that there’s some hope it will.

Judah Bellin is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be contacted at [email protected]. For Whom the Bellin Tolls usually appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Judah Bellin