Let’s talk about sex
Letter to the Editor | Friday, February 23, 2018
I’d like to start this conversation with a quote from the book of the Bible that I have read more than any other, Song of Songs: “Come, my love, let us go to the fields. We will spend the night in the villages, and in the early morning we will go to the vineyards. We will see if the vines are budding, if their blossoms are opening, if the pomegranate trees are in flower. Then I shall give you the gift of my love” (Song of Songs 7:12-13). Any sort of basic theological or literary discussion should grant that this is about the promised bride’s budding sexuality and the groom’s encouragement to act on that, which they do. Allow me to be clear: Song of Songs is about premarital sex. Like, really great premarital sex. It’s discussed here as beautiful and poetic, to the extent that we should see the Church as the bride and God as the bridegroom.
Why, then, do we have such an aversion to premarital sex? If it indeed can be beautiful enough to emulate God’s love for his Church, why are we taught to feel shame about this natural bodily process?
A lot of Notre Dame students attended Catholic school prior to their education here. It’s likely that your school taught sex education much like mine, only insofar as that premarital sex is a sin (and as they are not procreative, so are all instances of oral and anal sex which result in an offshoot of onanism, pun not intended). Why might this be? For much of the Church’s history, the prescribed rules about sex were written by celibate men. Sex was thus seen as somewhat of a necessary evil to allow children, which the evangelizing Church has always encouraged. It seems probable then that pleasure, specifically female pleasure, was not valued much by these men (or arguably anyone but women, ever). Obviously, male pleasure was prioritized within the sex act because without it, conception could not occur. But what happened to the female pleasure and sexuality so explicitly discussed in Song of Songs?
Women, specifically, are frequently shamed for seeking out sexual pleasure. Society praises men for their sexual prowess, while at the same time shaming women if they do have sex. Even the social construct of virginity is unfairly seen as something women lose and something men take. This creates, especially for women, a culture of shame often centered around religion. Catholicism indeed shames women for their sexuality more than men. Ask yourself: When was the last time, in a theological discussion of sex, the idea of female masturbation was even touched on? I would guess these instances are rare, as the Church still does not take seriously the idea of female sexual pleasure except to paint shame over all aspects of female sexuality with a broad brush.
Again, this is likely because, for a long time, women were not included or considered in Church discussions. Obviously, this has horrible side effects for the men as well, as they can often be seen as naturally sexually aggressive or addicted to sex.
So then I ask you, why at Notre Dame do we perpetuate this culture of shame around sexual pleasure? Perhaps it is the Catholic ideals of the University, but I would push it further than that. Rather, I argue that Notre Dame still maintains such outdated ideas regarding sex — specifically single sex dorms, the condom ban and the removal of birth control by Fr. Jenkins under the cover of darkness — because for a long time, women had been absent here. Moreover, women continue to be absent, especially in positions of power, given that our president must always be a priest and thus male. Of course, I will admit we have made some progress since 1972, but compared to our peer institutions, we are eons behind in terms of gender equity.
This manifests itself in numerous places, from the underpay of our support staff, unequal pay for male and female professors, policies, etc. But I specifically want to note the continual undermining of female sexuality present on this campus. For some reason, Catholic guilt and shame is forced on women here, even those who are not Catholic. Though sexual pleasure is an innate and amoral desire, like that for food, sex is typically only discussed in one day in Moreau that touches only on sexual assault briefly and gives what I, and our peer institutions, consider to be a flawed definition of consent. No, I’m not advocating for Notre Dame to give us a full sex-ed class (though it probably could not hurt the thousands of students here who only received abstinence-only sex ed). Instead, Notre Dame should simply be realistic about the sexual habits of students and faculty and allow them to make decisions regarding their sexual health and well-being — including having sex with another consenting adult as well as obtaining and using birth control and other contraceptive measures if they so choose. UHS already suggests using condoms to prevent STIs, so providing them for free seems to be the next logical step. As Notre Dame also already fully covers Viagra, a drug used only for (typically male) sexual pleasure, the administration seemingly is supportive of men who have sex. It does not seem like it is overreaching to suggest that it is logical to also cover birth control.
The long and short of the matter is that Notre Dame students have sex, and a considerable amount of it. On campus, off campus and basically anywhere they want. Especially given that we’re forcing students to stick around until they are 21, it seems absurd to think that no students will engage in this natural bodily process. Thus, we demand the University gives us the ability and tools — via real consent education as well as coverage for contraception — necessary to make our own decisions about our bodies.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.