College dudes worried that movement to take rape seriously is ruining their sex lives

"Some men feel that too much responsibility for preventing sexual assault has been put on their shoulders"

Topics: Rape, Sexual assault, campus assault, college life, sexual violence, Rape Culture, victim blaming,

College dudes worried that movement to take rape seriously is ruining their sex lives (Credit: auremar via Shutterstock)

Trend pieces about so-called college hookup culture tend to overestimate how much sex students are actually having. Last year, a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association found that less than 30 percent of college students had more than one partner in the previous year. Which about equals data from surveys taken over the last twenty years. This means, as Time’s Maia Szalavitz noted at time time, college students “aren’t hooking up more than they ever were, or even more than their parents did.”

So with this in mind, I didn’t put much stock in a Bloomberg News headline declaring that hookup culture was waning “amid assault alarm.” According to the piece, heightened awareness about sexual assault on college campuses and a greater move toward justice for survivors has made some college men’s boners shrink in terror. We are, it seems, meant to feel alarmed at these shrinking boners.

From Bloomberg:

Sex and relationships are always tricky terrain for college students. Those arriving this year are finding schools awash in complaints and headlines about sexual assault and responding with programs aimed at changing campus culture that has been blamed for glorifying dorm-bed conquests, excusing rape and providing a safe haven for assailants. For many young men, it’s an added dimension in a campus scene that already appears daunting, said William Pollack, a Harvard Medical School psychologist.

Pollack said a patient recently told him about making out with a girl at a party. Things were going fine, the student said, when suddenly a vision of his school’s disciplinary board flew into his head.

“‘I want to go to law school or medical school after this,’” Pollack said, recounting the student’s comments. “‘I said to her, it’s been nice seeing you.’”

Malik Gill, the former social chair of the Sigma Chi fraternity at Harvard University, told Bloomberg he has witnessed something similar happening among his friends. He recounted an anecdote in which he gave one of his guy friends a woman’s number after she had expressed interest. Gill’s friend never called her. “Even though she was interested, he didn’t want to pressure her,” he explained. “He was worried about making her feel uncomfortable.”

Earlier in the piece, Gill said he no longer offered female classmates beer at parties because he doesn’t want to “look like a predator … it’s a little bit of a blurred line.”

And here again is the trouble with how we talk about sex, consent and sexual violence in the United States. There are so many ways to flirt and have really enjoyable casual sex without being predatory, but we never talk about them. The importance of listening to the person you’re interested in having sex with and being alert to non-verbal cues certainly isn’t being taught in schools, and this kind of thing generally isn’t modeled in pop culture. So we have a vacuum about relationships and healthy sexuality. And that vacuum gets filled by banana brains like George Will, Caitlin Flanagan and the people on Fox News who can shout the loudest, people who believe that much of what’s called sexual assault is actually just “regretted sex,” a product of the “ambiguities of hookup culture.”

Which is why we now have young men telling Bloomberg News that they basically view their female peers as rape bombs just waiting to explode and ruin their lives. “Some men feel that too much responsibility for preventing sexual assault has been put on their shoulders,” according to one of the men interviewed for the piece.

This is what happens when we when we publish stupid piece after stupid piece blaming women’s behavior for sexual assault, when we don’t encourage young people to communicate openly and regularly during romantic and sexual encounters, when we don’t teach affirmative consent or really any kind of sex education.

The Bloomberg piece is mostly framed to support the idea that women cry rape and that asking men to assume any responsibility to prevent sexual assault is asking too much. I don’t doubt that young men with little sexual experience feel anxiety about negotiating new relationships and sexual encounters, but claiming that the push for more education, a focus on consent and stronger systems of accountability to hold perpetrators accountable somehow means that men can’t call women on the phone to ask them on a date is absurd.

But not all college guys see themselves as the victims of a newly galvanized movement to prevent sexual assault. An incoming freshman from North Carolina named Clark Coey told Bloomberg that he is aware of the schools that are under investigation for Title IX violations, and is “concerned how [consent] will be defined when other students, including women, may be using drugs and alcohol that affect their decision-making.” Coey is the only person interviewed in the piece who makes clear that more education is needed to address consent and healthy relationships in the brave new world of university life. “I haven’t learned anything about consent since I was a freshman in a health class,” he said. “They have to give you a better understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

More people should listen to Clark Coey. He is correct.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...