Recently the story of a 2015 graduate of a prep school in New Hampshire has received extensive coverage in the Boston press. While details are not clear, he was charged with what is often called “statutory rape.” There existed at the school a tradition (apparently of fairly recent vintage) called the Senior Salute, in which seniors would ask underclassmen to date them. This particular 18 year old senior at the school cajoled a 15 year old freshman into meeting with him as his “senior salute.” According to news reports from the trial, the two ended up in a darkened room on campus, where some sexual activity took place. To what extent it went was disputed. He was acquitted of the most serious charges, but convicted of others.
Commentators generally seemed to assume that the only real question was one of consent, and if there had been consent, there would have been nothing wrong. They suggested that in one way or another we need to teach boys to refrain from any sexual activity to which girls have not clearly consented. Some wondered what has gone wrong that we have failed to convey that message.
It seems to me that the problem lies not so much in failing to convey that message as in the message which we do convey loud and clear. It is, “Have sex. Have all the sex you can. Enjoy.” We used to tell young people, “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” People didn’t always live up to that standard, but we knew it was the standard.
Theoretically, perhaps, the standards of consent and no sex between adults and minors could be sufficient if the basic rule of having sex whenever you want with whomever you want were valid and those were the boundaries and we could just present them effectively enough. But, as we see, it’s not working. The encouragement to have sex — it’s actually presented as an expectation in contemporary culture — overwhelms the cautions.
Not only is our contemporary standard not working; I believe it’s wrong. Instead of encouraging a “hook-up” culture of meaningless sex between strangers where the only purpose is physical pleasure, we should realize once more that sex should be an expression of loving self-giving within marriage. We should realize that the standard of “Have sex. Have all the consensual sex you can as adults. Enjoy,” is the wrong standard. We should affirm the right one.