Respect sexual choices

In his column Tuesday (“Reject hook-up culture,” Sept. 22), Aaron Sibarium ’18 proposed that we reject hook-up culture in favor of monogamous relationships in order to avoid sexual assault on campus. Given the disturbing data from the Association of American Universities survey, which shows that Yale has a long way to go in preventing campus sexual assault and harassment, it’s understandable that many of us feel alarmed and are casting about for explanations. However, Sibarium’s column was deeply troubling to me. It reflected a complete lack of awareness of the realities of sexual assault.

First, Sibarium casts sex as a necessary evil of the human condition, not something that can be enjoyable, mutual and wanted. The rhetoric that he uses when he refers to sex as “humanity’s most destructive passion” is not only absurdly dramatic, it is also highly problematic. To call sexual arousal a destructive passion implies that it is uncontrollable, completely absolving perpetrators of any responsibility for what they do. Sibarium only furthers this idea when he claims that we expect too much of “20-year-old men” when we ask them to respect strangers as well as those they know well (as an aside, respecting strangers is not even relevant here; as Sibarium knows well, since he wrote about in an earlier column, sexual assault most commonly occurs between friends or acquaintances). The idea that young men are unable to control themselves or exercise restraint fits neatly into a victim-blaming narrative where, instead of asking how to fix the problem of sexual misconduct, we try to tell individuals how they can protect themselves.

On that note, I’m extremely troubled by this claim: “The values of commitment and monogamy provide scripts for sex, channeling our most destructive drives into sustainable, even ennobling outlets. When those scripts go out the window, we must increasingly rely on individual reason and restraint.”

It’s certainly true that commitment and monogamy create “scripts” of sexual interactions. But those same scripts are constraining; they allow no room for people to explore their individual desires and wishes, and are often heteronormative or sexist. Other sexual scripts actively contribute to assault. For example, the idea of the “token no” (women say no when they really mean yes) is often used as an excuse for why one partner proceeded with a sexual act even when the other verbally opposed it. Intimate partner violence, which Sibarium completely ignores in his column, occurs within the framework of commitment and monogamy. Unwanted sex in relationships can be a result of following the script of a previous experience. One partner may pressure another into an unwanted sexual encounter because they “did it last time.”

I also wonder what Sibarium thinks the “sustainable, even ennobling outlets” for sex are. Regardless of his priorities, he’s engaging in the worst kind of shaming by condemning those who have sex because they want to, instead of for some higher, ennobling purpose.

I agree with Sibarium that expectations and norms are key to making students safer in the campus sexual scene. But there’s no reason that we need enforcement of monogamy in order to create a “culture of obligation.” What about the norm that everyone’s sexual choices should be respected? Why don’t we start by saying that, regardless of your relationship to someone, that person deserves respect? To me, that seems like the clearest rejection of “violence, apathy and nihilism” that we can achieve.

Sarah DiMagno

The writer is a sophomore in Morse College.

Listen to their voices

In his Tuesday column, (“Reject hook-up culture,” Sept. 22) Aaron Sibarium ’18 is right about one thing. The results of the recent sexual climate survey are “sobering.” But they also are a testament to the bravery of the survivors among us who had the courage to speak out — or even just to keep living.

In blaming hook-up culture for the high rates of sexual misconduct on our campus and suggesting that “commitment and monogamy” will somehow cure the epidemic of sexual assault, Sibarium reveals not only an unwillingness to engage with the realities of sexual misconduct, but a failure to understand the survey data itself.

The fact is, a significant amount of sexual assault on campus happens in the context of a committed relationship. According to the Department of Justice, nationally, in 61.9 percent of reported sexual assault cases, the perpetrator was an intimate partner of the victim. Most experts believe that the true number is higher, since perpetrators often threaten their partners into not reporting. According to our own campus report, 63.1 percent of Yale students who experienced an assault but chose not to report it cited intimate partner violence as a reason for their silence. In other words, the most common version of sexual assault, both nationally and at Yale, happens when a “committed” partner forges their counterpart’s trust and obligation into a weapon and beats them into silence. Emotional repression is not unique to hook-up culture, nor is sexual assault absent from relationships.

Sibarium’s column contains no empirical evidence to support his point that relationships prevent sexual assault. He can’t come up with anything because that evidence simply doesn’t exist. Instead, he ridicules the culture of consent that the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center, the Communication and Consent Educators and countless others in our community have toiled to build at Yale, a culture that gives a voice to the victims of sexual assault, a culture built on evidence that vindicates a common-sense conclusion. Establishing consent and respect as norms in every sexual or romantic setting is an extremely effective way to prevent sexual misconduct.

Of course, the majority of both hook-ups and relationships at Yale are healthy and pleasant for all participants. But the notion that creating “a culture of obligation” based on monogamous relationships will solve the enduring problem of sexual assault is preposterous. The plentiful body of research linking societies that don’t permit casual relationships to higher rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence show that these social structures of relationships and marriages often serve to enable sexual assault, intimidate its victims and suppress their voices.

Relationships cannot end sexual assault, but they can make it much harder to speak up about it. In his column, Sibarium completely ignores the phenomenon of sexual assault between committed partners, imagining that we can tame “humanity’s most destructive passion” by simply changing our status from “single” to “in a relationship.” That is his fantasy, not our reality.

Instead of spending his time attacking hook-up culture, I invite Sibarium to join me and thousands of Yale students in our efforts to stop sexual misconduct on campus and empower those affected to speak up for themselves. If something seems amiss at a party, if you always hear “those two” fighting or if that person always looks like they’re having a rough day, tell someone. Don’t be afraid to step in if you see a situation that’s going south. If someone you know is going through the ordeal of reporting an incident of sexual misconduct, give them a hug (and maybe even buy them a coffee). And, always, ask for consent. Humanity’s most constructive passion is empathy. Use it.

Max Goldberg

The writer is a junior in Pierson College and the leader of the Yale College Council task force on LGBT resources.