Let’s talk about sex


Gwyneth Shoecraft

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown passed a law that legally clears up when an act is or is not sexual assault on college campuses. The law says that a “yes” is not a “yes” until it is verbally spoken and agreed to by both parties.

While reading articles and listening to commentary on the new law, I’ve been doing some of my own thinking about sex in our society.

Sex is a natural human function driven by our hormones and instinct to reproduce. That’s it.

But, culturally, sex is not that simple. We categorize sex in so many different ways that it loses all resemblance to what it physically and fundamentally is.

First, as the new law shows, we categorize sex as an act with consequences. The consequences can be positive, such as physical or emotional pleasure. The consequences can also be extremely negative: any survivor of sexual assault would understand that.

But here’s where society gets strange about sex. We compartmentalize it, and yet base so much of our lives around it.

I would argue that sex is the root of a large part of our cultural humor. We laugh at it, we make jokes about it, and some people humiliate and tease others about it.

We also draw artistic lines: Some visual representations of sex are considered obscene, while others are respected art. Some sex humor is clever, some of it is foul.

Finally, we judge people on the basis of sex, and often quite unfairly. As a whole, our culture tends to humiliate people who choose not to have sex. Then we villainize people who have too much of it.

These judgments are so powerful that they can even take away the rights of particular populations based on their sexual preference. The true fight for marriage equality is, in reality, the fight to keep laws out of the bedroom of consenting adults.

This Monday the Supreme Court stepped out of the bedroom, and cleared the way for marriage of same-sex consenting adults in five additional states.

That’s the key: consenting adults. If nothing else about sex in our culture can be black and white, let it be that sex should only take place between those who consent to it.

Other than that one stipulation, sex resides in a completely grey area of life. No matter how much we research, read, write or talk about sex, we can never quite pin it down. Sex is too fluid of a cultural concept to be contained.

However, the new law does remind us that there are two important things to grasp onto and to take as non-negotiables: keep sex safe and keep it consensual.