By Samuel D. Samson, University of Texas at Austin
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Since its incipience during the rise of President Trump, and its growth through demonstrations such as the Women’s March, the “#MeToo movement” has brought sexual assault to the forefront of modern politics. This rise in sexual assault sensitivity has been paralleled by a rise in sexual assault allegations, with U.S. News recording a near doubling of such reports between 2016 and 2017, while public and private institutions have put in place new measures to try and combat sexual assault in their workplaces.
Yet for all of the understandable uproar over sexual assault, and despite both increased awareness and an incessant touting of the subject by the Left, there exists a striking hypocrisy when one compares the seriousness by which the modern polity treats sexual assault and the zest it simultaneously possesses for today’s rampant casual sex culture.
Opponent of Sexual Assault, Champion of Casual Sex
The mainstream progressive view of sex and morality demonstrates this dichotomy most clearly. One only has to compare the seriousness of rhetoric used by the political Left in its crusade against sexual assault with the lack thereof when discussing the the sexual act itself. More particularly, though progressives are intently addressing the seriousness of sexual assault, the sexual act itself is treated without any significance—viewed instead as nothing more than an animalistic tendency meant to bring temporal pleasure to its users.
This dichotomy proves troublesome once we realize that sexual assault and casual sex originate from the same motivational foundations, drawing their justifications from the same disordered and cheapened view of the sexual act. More explicitly, both are caused by the same lack of reverence for sex and its natural purposes—a reduction into something self-serving, cheap, and lacking a higher purpose than animalistic urges. Each operates by fundamentally belittling the significance of sex—and this is where the hypocrisy lies.
This nonchalance regarding sex is not unique to progressives. As social libertarianism increases in popularity within conservative circles, the traditional views on sex previously common within the political Right have been usurped by the opinion that sex is an individualistic practice without any public consequences, and is thus free to be whatever its participants intend. As such, the cheapening of the sexual act has found a home in America regardless of political ideology.
Principles Known To All
So why are people so outraged by sexual assault? The off-the-cuff answer given by most progressives is that it is a manifestation of the oppressed over the oppressor, a means for power-hungry men to subjugate vulnerable women. Conversely, a conservative might answer that it is a violation of what is to be a private act between two consenting individuals. What is indisputable, however, is that regardless of personal ideology, there exists an instinctive human repulsion towards sexual assault. Virtually all see unsolicited, aggressive, un-consenting sexual advances as wrong and perverted. They view it as unnatural, sex as it is not supposed to be.
Yet in order to make this claim that sexual assault is wrong, one must (even if subconsciously) assent to the notion that there is a purpose to sex, a way to use it properly and improperly. It requires that one see the sexual act as more than just copulation, rather instead a means for union between two consenting individuals. Sexual assault strips the sexual act down to its animalistic core, a means for dominance, power, and pleasure—derived for the individual rather than for the unity of a couple. To oppose it, as virtually all do, is to know there is more to sex than these carnal appetites.
In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas states that “all human actions must be for an end,” that is, that they are oriented towards a telos, or ultimate purpose. The sexual act is no different, designed in requirement to be the union of one man and one woman with the purpose of procreating children. The complementarity of the male and female sexual organs shows that heterosexual union is necessary for proper sexual functionality, while procreation of children is the obvious natural consequence.Thus sex cannot function properly without working towards these unitive and procreative ends.
Yet as demonstrated by its violent, divisive, and hedonistic nature, sexual assault perverts sex by removing the intention for these ends—so too stripping its victims of the essential human dignity that they are entitled. Yet the same negligence exists in today’s noncommittal hookups. In casual sex culture, humans are viewed as instruments for pleasure rather than beings with dignity. As marked by explicitly avoiding the covenant of marriage, commitment is ignored—and true to its pleasure-centric motivations, procreation is often actively prevented. Though perhaps different in context, both sexual assault and “hookup culture” work against the natural ends of sex—but while one is rightfully hated, the other is accepted as normal, even healthy.
From this follows another question: why is casual sex so popular if it is so disordered? To this St. Thomas again provides the answer, stating “whatever man desires, he desires it under the aspect of good.” This is to say that man cannot desire bad, acting towards wrong things only under the illusion or deception that they are good for him. This is the case with casual sex, in which its participants seek the goods of companionship, unity, self-giving, and pleasure. Casual sex appears to provide an easy and accessible medium to achieve these goods, but as a disordered use of the sexual act, they are incapable of being fully realized.
Therefore, one cannot authentically be opposed to sexual assault and also maintain affinity for modern sexual liberality. To oppose sexual assault is to make the claim that the sexual act has significant, life-altering value, something that the liberal view on sex does not allow.
At this point an objector might assert that the outrage over sexual assault is not caused by the sex itself but rather in the violence and lack of mutual consent. But to remove sex from the equation is to diminish the significance of the crime. There is a reason that sexual assault specifically has been the target of so much recent outrage—it attacks an institution viewed by most, even if subconsciously, as sacred, life changing, social, and unifying.
If progressives, and Americans en masse, indeed oppose sexual assault on the grounds that it is a perversion and violation of the purposes of sex, they must also reckon with the same perversion and violation, albeit in different context, running rampant in modern sex culture.
More Than Coincidence
An interesting observation can also be made that sexual assault reports have increased at a time where sexual liberality is also increasing. As the #MeToo movement encourages victims to come out and share their stories, usage of hookup apps, pornography, and contraceptives is also on the rise. This is not to say that there is a causation or even correlation between these two trends—but it seems more than coincidence that extreme sexual perversions like sexual assault are increasing as sexual liberality, the mentality that one can use sex however they deem fit, becomes more popular.
To engage in sexual assault requires reason be disregarded, morality be ignored, and law (both human and natural) be viewed as irrelevant. With the exception of violating human law, casual sex requires its participants to shun all the same premises. As indicated by the virtually universal abhorrence towards sexual assault, we all possess the knowledge that sex has a purpose and setting above carnal appetites. Yet casual sex diminishes the sexual act down to those very same appetites, too. It does not make sense that one can see this to be wrong in the context of sexual assault, but be completely fine with it in all other sexual encounters.
This is not to say that sexual assault has only existed in times of liberal views on sexuality, nor to diminish its gravity. Indeed, unsolicited and aggravated sex has been an occurrence as long as sex has existed, a crime worthy of severe punishment. However, it does point out that sexual assault receives its motivations from the very same self-serving, casual, impermanent origins as does modern sexual liberality. To adopt the modern view of sex is to cheapen it. Sexual assault, by violently and viciously perverting the sexual act, is the ultimate means for such cheapening.
Thus exists the hypocrisy of many progressive (and nominally conservative) sexual assault opponents. The point is not to say that progressives are incorrect in their outrage towards this trend. Sexual assault is an egregious crime that demonstrates the worst of human behavior. Indeed, the #MeToo movement, in its essence, has done something good by bringing awareness to a grave issue. Yet its advocates must not be cherry-pickers. If sexual deviancy is truly something worth taking a stand to combat, which it is, then it must be combated on all fronts.
A Gift for Good
Sex is a gift that strengthens bonds, unifies couples, and creates families. However, it is often prevented from achieving these good ends. Such is the case with sexual assault, but also in modern casual sex culture. The seeming ideological contradictions of those who oppose sexual assault but champion cheap sex are worth allocating some critical thought. Thus, how might we solve this issue in a country as hooked on sexual liberality as America?
While the intricacies of solving the problem of sexual assault and its traits mimicked in casual sex are far too complex to outline in a single article, a proper response to combat these phenomena will inevitably require a reshaping of our current understanding of sex and a re-education on its purposes. People might subconsciously understand that the natural ends of sex lie beyond pleasure, domination, and selfishness, hence their opposition to things like sexual assault. But they cannot explicitly understand these things as long as the world around them only defines sex as self-serving and pleasure-seeking. If we want to combat the use of sex in disordered ways, we must first redefine our current understanding of sex to more closely align with its natural purposes.
As sensitivity increases, sexual assault remains a hot-button political issue. Nevertheless we cannot address it fully without also addressing the popular casual and misguided attitudes on sex that it manifests. In order to do so, we must look deeply at our own consciences and teloi, directing ourselves as best we can towards those things which help us reach our ultimate ends.
Samuel D. Samson is an undergraduate in Government at the University of Texas at Austin, and an Undergraduate Fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. His work focuses on the intersection of conservatism with religion, the family, localism, morality, and public policy.