ABOUTORABI: Right and wrong sexual choices

It was heartening to see Ted Lee’s ’12 column grace the op-ed page of Friday’s paper (“Love, sex and intimacy,” Sept. 22). Lee offered a sincere reflection on the intricate relationship between sex and love, the physical and the emotional. He encouraged us to consider the fundamental question that must underlie any proposed reform of our sexual culture, something that the back-and-forth about “rape culture,” in my opinion, has only obliquely touched upon. We cannot envision a better sexual culture until we have settled the meaning of sex.

Nevertheless, Lee’s conclusions rest on a number of crucial confusions, some of them dramatic. I was particularly taken aback by these sentences: “To follow UBYC’s logic … requires some sort of separation between the mind and body. My experience suggests emotional and physical intimacy are inextricably linked.”

As an active member of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, I am somewhat distressed that there has arisen so fundamental a misunderstanding of our advocacy. I can only conclude that we have not been clear enough in articulating exactly what we stand for.

We do not advocate a separation of mind and body. On the contrary, we oppose hook-up culture precisely because it seeks to divorce the physical pleasure of sex from the mental, spiritual, and interpersonal dimensions of sexuality. In so doing, it reduces sex from an experience of total intimacy with another human being to the mere relief of a simple bodily appetite. We are against Sex Week because it reinforces this mindset and the culture that exists around it.

Likewise, as my friend Eduardo Andino has ably pointed out (“Clarifying the Sex Week debate,” Sept. 21), the repeated suggestion that UBYC is trying to “silence discussion” about sex makes no sense. The very first clause of our petition against Sex Week explains that we are “[c]onvinced that issues of love and sexuality are integral to the human experience, and that both individuals and communities must therefore address them with responsibility, integrity, and respect for the dignity of all human beings.”

What is obnoxious about Sex Week is not that it has the brashness to acknowledge that humans are sexual creatures. Rather, it is the way it talks about that fact and the specific sexual ideology that it pushes, an ideology of narcissistic pleasure-seeking that wrenches sex out of any meaningful or humane expression. One third of Sex Week 2010 events were about pornography or hosted by porn stars or directors. Another event offered instruction in masturbation; two divulged helpful hints for oral sex. My college, Trumbull, hosted a dance called “Se7en” to which attendees were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite sin. Meanwhile, only two events addressed the subject of dating. One of these, a speed dating session for charity, bore the suggestive title “Give Some, Get Some,” betraying Sex Week’s constant insistence upon the salacious.

Sex Week masquerades as an open forum to discuss all things pertaining to love, sex, relationships, and intimacy. In fact, it serves to impose one hegemonic sexual culture on Yale’s campus. This was clearly illustrated two years ago at the Yale Political Union’s Sex Week debate on the topic, “Reject hook-up culture.” As one student argued from the podium that hook-up culture made women vulnerable, a group of students from the Pundits began aggressively making out in the audience, interrupting her speech. One pair launched themselves onto the stage, tearing off each other’s clothing and forcing the debate to halt. This was more than a juvenile act of exhibitionism. It showed the dominant sexual culture’s inability to abide disagreement when faced with a true open forum.

Lee ends his column with a string of well-meaning platitudes about the choices we all face in negotiating the thorny issues of sexuality. He misses two points. The first is that none of us makes choices in a vacuum. We are all influenced by the values of the culture surrounding us. The darkly alluring world of hook-up culture seduces us into neglecting the interpersonal meaning of every sexual act, and tricks us into believing that our complex sexual nature can be satisfied by a mere physical sensation.

The second point Lee misses is that not every choice can be a right choice. If every decision is equal so long as it is freely chosen, the very idea of choice becomes meaningless. There can be no grounds for selecting one choice over another. Put concretely, there are right choices about sex, which we ought to encourage, and wrong choices, which we ought to discourage. The wrong choices — like meaningless hook-ups, like Sex Week — naively divorce the physical from the personal, failing to see that they are indeed, as Lee put it, “inextricably linked.”

bijan Aboutorabi is a junior in Trumbull College and a founder of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College.

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