Sex

Progressive Liberals, Christian Conservatives Unite to Criminalize Sex on Campus

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Heart of Jesus
Istvan Kadar / Flickr

An interesting facet of the "Yes Means Yes" campus rape debate is the overlap between the progressive liberal feminist position and the Christian social conservative position. Libertarianism's two main opponents on culture issues are taking similar stances—albeit for different reasons—that college students' sex lives should be encumbered for the greater good of society.

Over at National Review, David French doubles down on Heather Mac Donald's assertion that we are witnessing the unravelling of the sexual revolution—at least on college campuses:

It turns out that sexual "liberation" has not led to sexual fulfillment, but instead to a landscape littered with broken hearts, long-lasting psychic pain, and a consequent desperate effort to create and enforce a bizarre "neo-Victorian" sexual ethic grounded not in any real morality, but instead in an effort to use institutional power to shift the emotional, psychological, and legal consequences of sexual regret and ambiguity to men and — as much as possible — men alone.

Just like those on the left who say something must be done to challenge campus rape culture, French favors a college intervention of sorts. For liberals, the answer is a law that tips the scales of justice against those accused of sexual assault, which will result in more wrongful convictions, more legal disputes, and quite possibly, less sex (sex is sex, sure, but when the government increases the likelihood of being expelled for having it, one would expect a discouraging effect). For social conservatives, the answer is Christian sexual norms. In fact, the current kerfuffle over campus culture is a "Vindication of Christian Sexual Ethics," writes French:

This is exactly the time when Christians should step forward with a different ideal, the holistic, healthy, and proven model of sobriety always, chastity before marriage, and fidelity afterwards — all because marriage is sacred, our bodies are a temple to God, and we love our spouses more than we love our own lives. …

We must propose to replace the current mess with something – not just point our fingers and shake our heads at other people's desperate foolishness.

And that something isn't a new law, nor is it exactly a new culture. It's an old culture, an old morality, one that we can never live perfectly but will be better for trying. And it's one that has the benefit of pointing us to the oldest story, the story of our Creator and Redeemer.

So, Christians on campus — to the extent you're still allowed to meet and speak – now is your time to step into the breach with a sexual ethics that is actually viable, sustainable, and life-affirming, a sexual ethics that is grounded in eternal values. It will likely be the best message you will ever share.

My reaction: They are welcome to try that, as long as no one is forcing anyone else. Everybody is free to be an advocate for a cause—just don't ask the government to mandate it. (And to be fair, in the specific case of public university campuses, social conservatives are almost universally the ones being aggressed against rather than the aggressors.) I don't expect such an approach to work, nor do I agree that restoring antiquated sexual norms is an inherently good idea. But they are free to attempt it in non-coercive fashion.

Mac Donald, on the other hand, is totally in favor of achieving the Christian conservative goal vis a vis the governmental controls favored by the left:

Unlike the overregulation of natural gas production, say, which results in less of a valuable commodity, there is no cost to an overregulation-induced decrease in campus sex. Society has no interest in preserving the collegiate bacchanal. Should college fornication become a rare event preceded by contract signing and notarization, maybe students would actually do some studying instead.

That's a more obviously anti-freedom view, and should serve as powerful reminder that libertarianism's foes are always lying in wait, ready to use the powers of the state to enforce some dubious social good.

In any case, since depravity is the justification for government action, it's worth considering whether campus culture is indeed as depraved as the far-left and far-right claim it to be. An interesting exploration of hook-up culture conducted by Time's Maia Szalavitz last year cast doubt on some of the hand-wringing over declining teen morality:

Despite racy headlines suggesting that college kids are increasingly choosing casual liaisons over serious relationships, a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association finds that just under one-third of college students have had more than one partner in the past year.

And that's exactly the same proportion of students who were surveyed between 1988 and '96, and between 2002 and '10; both groups also had the same number of partners. So kids aren't hooking up more than they ever were, or even more than their parents did, which is what recent media coverage has implied. …

How students think of their liaisons with fellow students has clearly changed, and so has the college culture, apparently. All of the evidence points to the fact that college kids today are drinking less, taking fewer drugs and even having less sex than their parents' generation. Hooking up just isn't what it used to be.

Many journalists have also criticized the supposed epidemic of college rape and insist that sexual assault rates on campuses are not nearly as high as activists claim. The unavoidable conclusion is that claims of depravity seem almost universally overhyped.

Whatever the actual levels of binge drinking and sexual assault are on campuses, if people want to lessen them, I maintain that they should join libertarians in demanding a lower drinking age. Unlike clumsy consent regulations and outdated sexual norms, a lower drinking age could actually incentivize better behavior for reasons I detailed here. As libertarians long have recognized, the creation of a better society usually requires merely that the government get out of the way—and that's precisely what it should do here.