Is sexual immoderation the new marijuana?
When my boss from a summer internship at the State Department was here in the late ’70s, the Branford College Council was fond of using official funds to purchase marijuana for shared consumption at social gatherings. Nowadays, red plastic cups are an ubiquitous part of the Yale experience; in those days, it was subsidized reefer.
Weed, my boss told me, was the illicit pleasure that wasn’t. It’s not that it “wasn’t discussed;” it was so open and so mundane that it didn’t merit discussion.
Whereas Hannah Arendt typologized the banality of evil, the marijuana case — and now, hook-up culture — is more about the banality of choice. The salient issue is not disagreement over whether to participate in Yale’s hook-up culture, but rather the lack of disagreement, the poverty of discussion, the giggling abnegation of individual choice.
In short, the issue is not the ubiquitous hook-ups themselves, but the entrenchment of the Yale Hook-Up Consensus.
Before being accused of being a pansy, prude, or prig, a woman hater, fascist, covert homosexual, or enemy of pleasure, let me say this: I’m all for the sex. Have it. Have lots of it.
This argument is not about sex itself. The physical and emotional benefits of intramural hanky-panky are incontrovertible: the spirited games of late-night musical bunkbeds, the postcoital entryway gossip, the suspiciously ruddy cheeks in afternoon section. Multiple partners before marriage is a cultural norm that isn’t changing anytime soon. And while individuals who choose abstinence until marriage should be lauded for their psychological fortitude and expertise in onanism, people who hold out hope that America will return to a standard of premarital celibacy would do well to catch up with certain other cultural developments, such as the combustion engine and the telegraph, and reconsider.
Rather, it is the lack of questioning about the hook-up consensus that grates me, the dearth of criticism about the actual physical and psychological utility gained through a widespread system of randomized sexual encounters. I do not want to roll back the sexual revolution or take back the Pill. But questioning the hook-up consensus — or, radical as it may sound, considering monogamy as a relationship model that seems to have held up fairly well over the millennia — is a necessary first step for understanding a question that affects all of us: Why is sex seem so common here, yet intimacy so rare?
Through our silence, we turn the Yale Hook-Up Consensus into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
From the day we arrive on campus, we are bombarded with facebook groups like “Laxstitutes: I Have Hooked Up With Someone On the Women’s Lacrosse Team” and its enlightened feminist counterpart, “Laxstitutes Part Deux: I’ve Hooked Up With A Sick Men’s Laxer.” Every Friday, this newspaper’s scene columnists recount their romantic escapades in nut-busting detail. And while Mama Yale has yet to install soap dispensers in the Old Campus bathrooms, free condoms are available in every entryway to ensure that a meaningless sexual encounter will never be spoiled by a five-minute walk to the corner store.
During freshman year, the mythical sex-cycle of high school is replicated in warp speed. In high school, the cinema tells us, you’re supposed to woo the object of your fancy for four years, then don black tie and consecrate your passion on prom night. At Yale’s freshman screw, you don the same costume, your roommates pair you up with a virtual stranger, and as long as things don’t go miserably awry, the expectation is that the night’s activities will end in the same result.
By the time junior year hits, an unspoken code has developed. If you fancy that cute Humanities major in your Nietzsche section, Yale wisdom dictates that it’s best not to get too attached: Monogamous relationships, after all, consume time that could be used for enriching extracurricular activities and ritualistic self-worship. Prudence dictates that the best course of action is to hook up for a few weeks, find enough flaws to convince yourself that it never could have worked out, then call the thing off before “officially” starting it in the first place.
Ironic hipsters and purveyors of the cold, bitter and disembodied: I know. I’m pathetic. I have emotions and occasionally feel a sincere and earnest attachment to my fellow human beings. What’s worse, sometimes I even like to experience these inexplicable feelings of human attachment while sober.
It’s embarrassing, I know. I’ve been trying hard to kick the habit. But it’s tough when the Yale Hook-Up Consensus is treated like sacred gospel, and other voices are drowned out by the raucous crowing outside of Toad’s.
Daniel Weisfield is a junior in Calhoun College. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
Is sexual immoderation the new marijuana?