Sex Amidst Semicolons

THE SOCIAL AIR IS HEAVILY SCENTED WITH SEX. It saturates commerce and amusement-advertising, entertainment, recreation. Eros is rampant everyWhere. Make that almost everywhere. In Yellow Springs, Ohio, home of Antioch College, the god of love has a migraine, the result of reading that institution's rules regulating "interactions" of a sexual sort.

Declaring the frequency of "sexual violence" on campuses "alarming," Antioch displays nice even handedness regarding eligibility for the coveted status of victim. Antioch notes that most victims are female but "there also are female perpetrators and male victims." Furthermore, "there also are many students who have already experienced sexual violence before arriving at Antioch; healing from that experience may be an integral part of their personal, social and academic lives while they are here." Having postulated a vast supply of unhealed victims and probable new ones, Antioch lays down the law:

"All sexual contact and conduct between any two people must be consensual; consent must be obtained verbally before there is any sexual contact or conduct: if the level of sexual intimacy increases during an interaction (i.e., if two people move from kissing while fully clothed--which is one level--to undressing for direct physical contact, which is another level), the people involved need to express their clear verbal consent before moving to that new level: if one person wants to initiate moving to a higher level of sexual intimacy in an interaction, that person is responsible for getting the verbal consent of the other person(s) involved before moving to that level; if you have had a particular level of sexual intimacy before with someone, you must still ask each and every time...Asking 'Do you want to have sex with me?' is not enough. The request for consent must be specific to each act."

Antioch meticulously defines terms ("'Sexual contact' includes the touching of thighs, genitals, buttocks, the pubic region, or the breast/chest area"), although some terms seem somewhat spacious. For example, "insistent and/or persistent sexual harassment" includes, "but is not limited, to unwelcome and irrelevant comments, references, gestures or other forms of personal attention which are inappropriate and which may be perceived as persistent sexual overtones or denigration." Imagine being charged with making a "gesture" that was "irrelevant" or "perceived" as denigrating.

Campuses, being concentrations of young people, are awash with hormones, which are powerful. However, hormonal heat may be chilled by Antioch's grim seasoning of sex with semicolons. This is what happens When sexual emancipation comes to a litigious society. Antioch's many dense pages setting forth procedures for prosecuting and reforming offenders will keep batteries of lawyers busy debating whether a particular request for consent was sufficiently specific. ("May I touch that?" "Is a caress more than a touch?" "May I unbutton that?" "Have you consented regarding all the buttons?") Imagine the litigation that can arise from questions about what constitutes movement from one "level" to another. (Is the movement of a hand from this body part to that one necessarily a movement to a new level? If only John Marshall were alive to help us cope.) And what is the significance of the "(s)" attached to the word "person" two paragraphs above? Sexual freedom sure seems to require an elaborate regulatory apparatus.

Our nation opted for the moral deregulation of sex a decade before deregulating airlines. About 20 years ago colleges, like a lot of parents, stopped acting in loco parentis regarding sexual matters. Official indifference about what students do with their bodies includes all organs except the lungs: about smoking, colleges are as stern as they once were about copulating. (Health care may be paid for partly with a "sin tax" on cigarettes. A million abortions a year is a mere matter of "choice"--an achievement of the "pro-choice" movement--but choosing to smoke is a sin. Interesting.) Today students can do anything their physiognomies will permit regarding sex, but they must observe due process.

Rules like Antioch's are both causes and effects of an odd "crisis" on campuses. Such rules are written in response to supposed "sexual violence" that supposedly is so frequent that "many students" arriving at Antioch already are victims in need of "healing." By punctiliously codifying due process regarding "levels" of consensual "interactions" with "other person(s)," the rules multiply the opportunities for, and increase the probability of, sexual offenses. All this serves the interests of two classes that have much in common.

The rules, and the assumption of "crisis" that they reflect, give the "caring professions," as they like to be called, lots of victims to care for. These professionals include counselors, "gender equity" bureaucrats, sensitivity "facilitators" who conduct "safe sex workshops," and others. And the rules, by postulating a culture of female victimization and by creating many permutations of sexual offenses, delight those feminists who consider America a predatory "rape culture." The title of Antioch's Sexual Offense Prevention and Survivors' Advocacy Program encourages a sense of intense peril, of life lived precariously in a sexual jungle. People who experience, say, "irrelevant comments" are survivors.

One function of the "caring professions" is to heighten the sensitivity of persons who might not "perceive" sexual harassment where they should. Professionals can help young people be as offended and frightened as they should be in phallocentric America. A really caring professional can get a young woman to see that if she has no memory of being a victim of sexual violence, that may prove either how awful the memory is that she has "repressed," or how inadequate her definition of "sexual violence" is.

At Antioch, as young people go from level to level in their interactions, they are taught that there is one cardinal value: consent. The rules say, "Do not take silence as consent; it isn't. Consent must be clear and verbal (i.e., saying: yes, I want you to kiss me now)."

Actually, not now, dear. I have a headache.