Before I start, I would say that I am pessimistic about the prevalent cultural attitudes toward sex in America, particularly on college campuses. So, what motivated me to write this article? Primarily, a lack of articles in this space (and in Trinity University’s school newspaper) about sexual morality (although we have recently published some good pieces about love, morality, and relationships, which I recommend taking a look at) in general. Is it morally right to have premarital sex? What about gay/lesbian sex? What about using protection during sex? Should sex be seen merely as a means for pleasure?
All interesting questions, and none of which I can provide an answer to in a short article such as this one. However, I do want to discuss the problems with the current sexual climate; I write this article acknowledging that, as a self-identified libertarian and lifelong Catholic, people have a right to do what they please with their lives. But so long as I do not impose my own beliefs on others, I should be free to criticize others’ actions as immoral and wrong. That being said…
Let’s talk about sex.
To start off, I might be the worst possible person to talk about sexual morality. My own church is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal that has spanned over the past several decades, with a new scandal involving priests and nuns emerging just last week. I unapologetically condemn these incidents and pray to God that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But this is a good springboard to talk about sexual morality, because for far too long, one of the main criticisms of Catholic morality has been the stingy criteria it places on its followers and clergy for having “acceptable” sex (or none at all).
And for that, I want to propose a new (Catholic) approach to thinking about sexual morality, but one that is inclusive enough so that everyone can take something away from it, regardless of religion. Because right now, I believe that we are in a sexual crisis. As traditional gender and sex norms have given way to “explorations” of gender and sexuality, we need to consider whether or not this “shift” has been for the better, that “shift” being the product of the sexual liberation movement spearheaded by feminists and the broader left-wing.
To be clear, I am not looking to “move backwards” or lament about “days gone by.” The only direction we can look now is forward, so that should remove any notion that I want to roll back any genuine progress we have made as a society. But I will point out that problems some might think are isolated are rather part of a larger failure of the sexual liberation movement that happened under multiple waves of feminism and a relativistic approach to gender and sexuality. Those problems range from a 40% out-of-wedlock birth rate (the bulk comprising minority groups) to the rise and growth of the “incel” (short for “involuntary celibate”) subculture.
I do not want to understate the severity of these problems. Children born out of wedlock are much more likely to have social and behavioral impairments, lower education and job prospects, and engage in early sexual activity. These problems are compounded when the child/children live in a single-parent home. It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.
On the other hand, the incel community is a hyper-misogynist online subculture whose members have at times engaged in violence in “retaliation” for their lack of sexual fortune, as is the case with Elliot Rodger, Alek Minassian, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis. There are many takeaways from studying this group, but what I understand is that these men feel an entitlement to sex, and if they do not get it, then violent retaliation is justified (which is horrifyingly celebrated within the incel community).
Of course, there are many others problems that I can discuss, like porn, the oversexualization of women, and prostitution, but for the sake of length, I want to answer the burning question in the room: what is the solution? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to the diverse range of problems we have about sexual morality? As I have said, it is not a culture that encourages having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want. But neither is it an entitlement, where if a man fails to get sex, it is the collective fault of women and that there must be a Marxist “redistribution of women” so everyone gets their “fair share” of sex.
My solution is simple: take on responsibility. Some intellectuals have already been talking about this, so let’s build on their work and apply it to sexual ethics. Teaching people to be responsible for themselves can build self-respect. If you respect yourself, you can respect others. For those inclined to have lots of sex, being responsible will help in foreseeing potential consequences in having so much sex (like having children out of wedlock). For the “sexually challenged,” having more responsibilities can take one’s mind off constantly thinking about sex. Focusing on oneself and one’s talents will surely attract someone’s attention at some point, and people like (and love) a responsible person every now and then.
In the Catholic tradition, the act of sex is the renewal and sign of the sacrament of matrimony, the ultimate expression of giving oneself over to the other. In other words, sex is something to be cherished as gift from God, not something that is to be feared, reduced to a one-liner on a bucket list, or become an entitlement. And I fear if we do not change our attitude toward sex soon, much less have a serious conversation about it, we will continue to suffer the problems that I have outlined in this article, and then some.