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Hip-hop night education

Dr. G. David Moss | Friday, September 30, 2011

If you ask a relationship expert what comprises a healthy sexuality, s/he will most likely talk about the qualities of respect, trust, mutual benefit, etc. If you ask someone in the general public this same question, research indicates that s/he would either 1) have no clue or 2) believe that it means the absence of STD’s.

Our culture has a profound lack of information and understanding when it comes to healthy sexuality. Like the laws of Physics that say air will expand to fill any non-vacuum space, the popular media has expanded its influence to fill the void left by our inability or unwillingness to engage our society (and each other) in substantive conversation about this area of human development. In what could be called benign neglect, we have allowed the media to determine the types of normative behavior one should expect in any given social environment.

This was no more obvious to me than when I attended Hip-Hop Night at Legends over the weekend. It was an experience that encompassed multiple layers of meaning. Present was the full range of human interaction: desire, fear of rejection, physical connection, extreme acting out, the need to be accepted/liked, individuals with privilege, social adroitness and awkwardness, fun, sensuality, oppression, autonomy, freedom of expression, etc. It was an experience I will not soon forget. No need to go into details. If you’ve ever attended this event and stood by the water coolers, you know exactly what I am talking about.

When I asked a group of about 30 Notre Dame students (male and female) to educate me on the rationale behind this method of social interaction, they responded with many voices: It’s fun; It’s a boost in self-esteem; It’s nice to feel wanted; I don’t go to grind, I go to hang out with my girls; If you don’t want to be approached by a man, don’t go inside; This is a stressful environment and this is an easy way to blow off steam; You should know what to expect when you get there; Why should I have to push guys away all night?; How people dress says something about why they came; This kind of dancing is everywhere, not just Hip-Hop Night; You see it in high schools; You see it in night clubs; It can be worse in dorm room dances.

As I listened to the sometimes heated dialogue, it became obvious that “grinding” as a form of social interaction had never been discussed in a meaningful way. In spite of the disagreements, there were some areas of common ground: the desire to be accepted and liked; the realization that grinding is so popular because it’s easy; the one who grinds the best gets the most attention; the discomfort both men and women feel in terms of negotiating the sometimes confusing expectations of these interactions; and the fact that when alcohol is added to this sexually charged, physically permissive, boundary amorphous activity, it can become a recipe for disaster.

To put it plainly, given this type of sexual expression in our social interactions, I am not surprised by the presence of sexual violence on our campus. When physical permissiveness is combined with media driven social expectation, an environment is created that becomes kindling for the flame of abusive alcohol consumption. It is an environment where the line between flirtation and sexual assault is often blurred in the eyes of those participating.

So what is a healthy sexuality and how is it developed? I think this is a topic worthy of extensive dialogue between the brightest minds of this generation … you. It is a question that will bracket your development as a young adult and determine your ability to form meaningful, intimate and lasting relationships.

Although physical intimacy is just one aspect of a healthy sexuality, our culture has made it of paramount importance in how we relate socially. There are 14 steps in the progression of physical intimacy. It begins with a look, continues with hand to hand contact, a hug is somewhere in the middle, and the final step is sexual intercourse.

Popular media has glamorized the need to skip as many steps as possible, and by doing so we fall prey to the mirage of intimacy. True to form, the mirage never fulfills or satisfies the thing we thirst for. We are told to go farther, faster and harder with many partners, but in the end there is still something missing.

If you poll married couples, they would tell you that the most intimate, meaningful and profound moments of their marriage had nothing to do with sexual activity. I am a witness to this fact. The true nature of intimacy is commitment, empowerment, security, selflessness, mutual gain, sacrifice, personal growth and a desire to pull the best out of those you care deeply for.

In the conversation I mentioned earlier, one student talked eloquently about the desire to hold each other to a higher standard. I’m not sure what that is supposed to look like, but I do think it’s time we move towards the Notre Dame we claim to be.

Dr. G. David Moss is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and the Interim Director for the Gender Relations Center. He can be contacted at gmoss@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.