Sex is everywhere, but discourse on its consequences and connotations is becoming increasingly fraught.
You only have to take one look at our media-saturated culture to recognize the stark dichotomy that dictates these conversations: individuals who tout the benefits of so-called sexual liberation and sexual freedom are seen as uninhibited and emancipated, whereas those who ascribe to more conservative, modest views of sexuality are called prudish or dangerously traditional. The fact is, though, everyone has morals when it comes to sex; it just depends on how much or how little we subscribe to them, and the carefree, emancipated attitude of sexual freedom requires acknowledgment of sexual morals.
To Forgo Our Morals, We First Have To Acknowledge Them
Whether we want to believe it or not, sex in its very nature has consequences. It’s the human need to manipulate what is ultimately beyond our control that somehow convinces us that we can treat such a thing as casual or meaningless.
We don’t have to look far at all to see this in action. Just a few weeks ago, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy was the target of a lengthy takedown published in Business Insider, which alleges that the entrepreneur is an aggressive sexual deviant, known for targeting young women for violent and abusive sex.
The article, written by Julia Black, originally started out as a profile piece on Portnoy, but Black says the angle of the focus pivoted as she uncovered more and more tales of Portnoy’s disturbing sexual behavior, oftentimes with women who are 20 years younger than him. The piece specifically outlines the experiences of two different women who had sexual encounters with Portnoy in his Nantucket home in 2020. One woman, named Madison in the piece, alleges that her experience with Portnoy was “so rough I felt like I was being raped.” Madison also says that Portnoy videotaped her and choked her to the point of being unable to breathe.
When sexual liberation is everything, how are we to measure the severity of the sexual allegations?
Portnoy, for his part, called the CEO of Business Insider a “scumbag” and denied the allegations of deviancy, calling them “100 percent not true.” He also criticized Business Insider for putting the article behind a paywall, bolstering his claim that the article is nothing more than a hit piece on him, due to what many see as a controversial political past, and a cash grab on the part of Business Insider.
Black’s piece is careful to not pointedly accuse Portnoy of rape and assault, but the implication is definitely there. We have to ask ourselves, though: in a culture where sexual liberation is everything, where porn governs our thoughts from adolescence to adulthood, and where casual, meaningless encounters (however aggressive or violent they may be) are the norm, how are we supposed to measure the severity of the claims levied against Portnoy, when his impropriety is the very thing we’re supposed to aspire to?
Liberation Lets Others Take Advantage of Us
To the generations raised on porn and social media-branded feminism, liberation is everything. But actual liberation, like our laissez-faire attitude towards sex, isn’t empowering in practice.
In a riveting piece for The Cut published in 2020, model Emily Ratajkowski recounts numerous instances of how influential figures in her short career have taken advantage of her image, especially in vulnerable and borderline abusive ways. Ratajkowski is a modern-day sex symbol known for her sultry appearance, but has been extremely critical of the industry, and her writing often conveys the exploitative experiences of a timid girl afraid of displeasing others rather than a powerful, authoritative model.
During one story, she recounts a photoshoot she did at the home of photographer Jonathan Leder – who she would later accuse of assaulting her during the same shoot. She writes, “My body felt like a superpower. I was confident naked – unafraid and proud. Still, though, the second I dropped my clothes, a part of me disassociated. I began to float outside of myself, watching as I climbed back onto the bed. I arched my back and pursed my lips, fixating on the idea of how I might look through his camera lens.”
In liberating ourselves, we’ve lowered our walls, our boundaries, our inhibitions, and our morals.
In the early days of her fame, it’s easy to surmise that Ratajkowski felt emboldened and empowered by the attention and notoriety she received from modeling, especially from her more provocative appearances. But in her reflections in The Cut and her recently published book of essays, My Body, Ratajkowski talks about “buying herself back,” and having her image owned, appropriated, and used for profit by others.
When we’re liberated in the progressive sense of the word, we’ve essentially already given others the freedom and permission to take advantage of us. In liberating ourselves, we’ve lowered our walls, our boundaries, our inhibitions, and yes, our morals, and in doing so, made ourselves susceptible to the machinations and exploitations of others who are less concerned with our liberation than they are with taking advantage of it.
We As a Generation Are Ill Prepared and Ill Equipped
Over the last few decades, we’ve seen sexual liberation in action. And unfortunately, we’ve seen its consequences as the younger generation begins to explore this theory and tries putting it into practice.
The results – like Ratajkowski’s plethora of creepy experiences and the allegations against Portnoy – are extremely disturbing. We see a generation that has become so focused on eschewing sexual morals that they’re completely unprepared and unequipped for its oftentimes inevitable outcome.
It’s this rhetoric – meaningless, casual sex with whoever, whenever – that is damaging an entire generation of men and women. It’s porn that’s conditioning us from a young age to view sex as a meaningless act, to view morals as rules that are made to be broken. The result, on the less serious end of the spectrum, is exploitation, heartbreak, and despair.
Sexual “liberation” enslaves us to view ourselves and others as objects that merely exist for temporary pleasure.
Allison, the second alleged victim named in the Portnoy piece, discloses that when he spat in her mouth during their encounter, “I didn’t want to disappoint him.” She says that although the encounter made her uncomfortable, she didn’t protest – and was pressured into going to his house in the first place by her friends. Days after, she says she was depressed and suicidal.
Her story, whether heavily fabricated or entirely factual, is an unfortunate but timely warning of an outcome both men and women need to be examining: why am I doing this when there are consistent signs that I shouldn’t be, and who stands to gain from me putting myself in this position?
We are all born knowing the difference between right and wrong, or having some grasp of what’s really beneficial to us and what isn’t. It’s if we end up paying attention to those inherent feelings (or if we end up ignoring them and injuring ourselves in the process) that matters.
To take part in a sexually liberated society (and consequently, one devoid of any substantive relationships), we have to first acknowledge the moral aspect of what we’re doing. A sexually free culture isn’t one where morals don’t exist – on the contrary. It believes that morals are only adhered to by imprisoned, repressed people slaving against their own nature, when in reality, it’s the supposed “freedom” of liberation that enslaves us to view ourselves and others as insignificant objects that merely exist for temporary pleasure.
Many of us know this firsthand, but we also know that real satisfaction and happiness are found in acknowledging and celebrating the significance of others, whether they serve our own ends or not.
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