A Rutgers University freshman killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge / Aristide Economopouls / The Star-Ledger
After any suicide, the survivors search
their souls for its meaning and what they might have done to prevent it. The recent
tragedy of a young man diving off the George Washington Bridge after his
roommate posted a sexual video of him is no exception. Advocates of greater
acceptance of same sex sexual activity have seized upon this case as ammunition
for their cause. But I believe
viewing this incident through a wider lens will benefit young people generally,
not just those who experience same sex attraction. For the last 40 years, adult
society has steadily pummeled young people with the message that “sex is no big
deal.” This case proves once and for all, that this claim is false. Adult society should stop sending this
message, in all its forms.
Why did this promising young man kill
himself? Evidently, he negotiated
with this roommate to have the private use of their room for a sexual encounter
with another guy. His roommate
made a video of him engaged in sex and posted it on the internet. The young guy killed himself.
Now, if sex is really “just a normal bodily
function,” why on earth would he be so distraught that he would end his life? Maybe
he wasn’t embarrassed about the sexual act itself, only about the violation of
his privacy. But what if his roommate had caught him in the act of picking his
nose or going to the bathroom? It
strains the imagination to believe that he would have killed himself over the
display of these “normal bodily functions.” If sex is really “just a recreational activity,” would anyone
kill himself over a video showing him playing baseball or checkers or video
Maybe he was afraid people would not accept
him, that he would be teased, specifically because he was engaged in a
homosexual act. But this assumes
that students at a university like Rutgers actually care. Sex is no big deal,
remember? Whether you’re doing it
with a guy or a girl, no problem, as long as you both consent and you use
Actually, this particular student killed
himself before much teasing could even begin from this particular incident. But
let’s say he was correct, and that he could reasonably anticipate sexual
teasing. Parenthetically, let’s
note that sexual teasing is not a specifically “gay” problem. Several girls have committed
suicide over the teasing fallout from “sexting.” These girls
endured months of teasing and harassment before they killed themselves.
Gay or straight, male or female, these
incidents raise a fundamental question about the official position of our
sexual culture. Is it really true
that “sex is no big deal?”
The sensitivity of these students to sexual
teasing as opposed to other forms of teasing, the fact that we all intuitively know
that this form of teasing is uniquely painful, the fact that even bullies,
insensitive thugs though they may be, instinctively hone in on the sexual
aspects of a person’s life as the most vulnerable: all these things point to
one simple truth. Sex is a big
deal. We have not succeeded in
talking ourselves out of this, in spite of enormous cultural efforts to do
so. In fact, let’s not mince
words: we have faced 40 years
worth of intense propaganda trying to break down any sense of sexual decorum.
I’m sure the people promoting these messages
have their reasons. Perhaps they wish to convince themselves and others that
there is no basis for judging sexual acts or the people who participate in
them. Perhaps they wish to
overcome sexual shame, thinking that we will be happier if all that baggage can
be jettisoned. But the persistent
sensitivity of young people like these suggests that sexual reticence may run
more deeply in the human psyche than we have supposed, and that purging it
entirely from the human soul may not be possible.
This doesn’t necessarily prove that any
particular code of sexual conduct is the correct one. It surely does suggest
that it is rational to ask the question of what constitutes the sexual good for
men and women. Reasonable people may disagree. But we are doing ourselves and
our young people no favor by telling them there is no such thing as better or
worse sexual behavior.
It is time we admit the truth that each of
us knows deep in our hearts: sex is more than a pleasurable instinct. Sex is deeply
meaningful, so much so, that we may be forgiven for calling it “sacred.” It is time we stop kidding ourselves.
Roback Morse, PhD, is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, a project of the
National Organization for Marriage, and the author of Smart
Sex: Finding Lifelong Love in a Hook-up World.
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