Binge Sex: How Kids Learn About Rape

DSC_0023

Is there an epidemic of binge sex?  Is there a week that goes by without a story about teens or young adults drinking way too much who end up in an encounter of unwanted sexual contact and rape?

In response to the recent onslaught of these stories Emily Yoffe’s post urged women to stop drinking. That provoked a reply from Soraya Chemaly who said that the males need to be told to stop binging and raping.  As a psychologist in private practice my experience suggests that Yoffe and Chemaly both have points. Yet blaming the kids doesn’t get to the source of this problem. Nor does the finger need to be wagged at parents or schools. Rather, it’s the people making lots of money off of binge sex who most warrant the scolding.

Lots of forty and fifty-year-old big shots strongly profit from creating a fantasy youth culture overrun with edgy sex, drugs and alcohol. In this fantasy, teens find themselves through binge behaviors. Boundaries don’t matter. Everyone has fun and no one gets hurt. Why are we surprised that some kids grow up enacting boundary violations with one another?

In my line of work, I have access to hundreds of stories.  They form a national narrative that concerns me.

I know a thirteen-year-old girl who led “an army” of girls into a closet to perform oral sex on some boys. Tough and assertive, she explained, “I’m in charge.”  Later she tried to kill herself.

An eighteen-year-old woman hooked up routinely and easily and thought nothing of it until she almost died from vaginal lacerations that had become infected from a violent and unwanted sexual experience.

A vague memory of date-raping a classmate in high school haunts a twenty-year-old man. He explained that it all seemed like normal fun, so ordinary but he now realizes that he might have been ignoring important clues that the woman didn’t want his advances.

An MTV executive once explained that his work simply reflected the culture. “We don’t make it,” he said. I disagree.  Without even limited attempts to give voice to the majority of teens and young adults who still commit to making better lives in a better world, the constant stream of naked, gyrating and wasted young people does create the illusion of a norm.

Oral sex at teen parties and especially bar and bat mitzvahs has become the stuff of urban legend – but it really does happen.  For the most part the kids involved hardly recognize that what they are doing is sexual. They have seen so much sex that it seems relatively meaningless.  The kids generally understand it as an experiment with power, and as an opportunity to try out the very identities that they see around them.  As the thirteen year old said, “Giving boys blow jobs is fashionable, it’s like carrying Gucci.”

The eighteen-year-old hooking-up woman’s parents never wanted to interfere with her adolescence.  They considered her teen years to be her sacred space.  Growing up they had been part of the generation that associated a freer sexuality with the expanded consciousness of drug use and liberal politics. Her dad believed that breaking down boundaries ended racism, sexism, and other forms of social discrimination. He explained that he still smoked weed and didn’t want to be hypocritical.

His daughter explained, “ I think the fact that there no longer exists an end point has made it hard for me to reign myself in. I’m not pushing up against anyone or anything. We aren’t crossing new societal thresholds. Blacking out is fun.”

Finally, the young man who worried about having sexually abused a classmate reflected that all his life he had been praised for not respecting boundaries – in sports, in competitive academics, even environmentally. Guys killed animals and ripped trees out of the ground. During the encounter he felt that he was so busy being himself, exhibiting “good” male behavior that it never occurred to him that he was hurting another person.

Most kids deal with binge culture by carefully walking a line between avoidance and tolerance. But every year some good kid makes a very bad decision that ends up hurting him or her self or someone else.  The motivation for the behavior may be internal. The decision to act on the impulse comes from external validation provided by society.

Nobody wants to return to an overly restricted culture dominated by sexism, racism and homophobia, nor to shotgun marriages. Some limit setting and careful ground rules about intimacy and meaningfulness won’t harm the development of teenage sexuality.  Alternative stories about hard working kids who have committed themselves to social integrity won’t impede adolescent development.

Is there a reason we all continue to allow such large profits to be made at the expense of the well-being of our kids?

Our kids become our dream of the future.  Why do we tolerate any child’s fragile and sensitive sense of self being assaulted by a barrage of binge imagery? Art can still tell life’s sad stories without normalizing boundary violations. Binging doesn’t lead to higher consciousness.  It leads to pain.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s