Is Rape Culture Awareness Making College Men Celibate?

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A few years ago, one of my male co-workers was telling a story about his first semester at college. Let’s call him Ted. Ted had just gotten back from a party, and walked into his dorm room to find his roommates having rough sex with a drunk girl. From the way he told the story, she was too drunk to really know what was going on. The roommates asked if he wanted to join them, and he said no. Mind you, this wasn’t because he had a problem with what was going on—he just thought it would be awkward.

This was a new job, and I barely knew Ted, so of course I drew a whole bunch of conclusions about him. He was telling a group of us this story about interrupting what was most likely rape, and laughing about it. For him, it was just one of the many raunchy, drunken moments of freshman year. For the girl, it might have caused irreparable damage.

The thing is, I ended up liking Ted a lot more than I thought I would. He wasn’t a monster, or a misogynist, at least not by my standards. He was easy to talk to, friendly, and seemed to treat his girlfriend well. His cavalier attitude about what he saw that night wasn’t so much a reflection of his character, but of the world we live in. Rape culture is real, and there probably aren’t many places where it thrives more than a college campus. Does that excuse rapists? Absolutely not, but it might excuse the naivety of a guy like Ted. Ted never took a women’s studies course, and he probably never spent time browsing Jezebel. In Ted’s eyes, things are more black and white. Rape takes place in a dark alley at 4 in the morning, not a frat house.

But in this Bloomberg News article, Harvard psychologist William Pollack says that the tables are starting to turn. Society has started to become more aware of what goes on behind closed doors. Survivors and activists are speaking up to let the rest of the world know that no matter how drunk she is, or how short her skirt was, no still means no.

Good, right? Not for hook-up culture, according to Pollack. He told Bloomberg News that this increased awareness of sexual assault–especially on college campuses–is scaring the wrong guys. According to Pollack, it’s creating a “witch hunt” environment. Meaning, college men are being overcautious, and missing out on hookups that are consensual.

In my opinion, this is a small price to pay in exchange for a world where men think it’s acceptable to have sex with women who are too drunk to speak. In other words, rape culture.

Are rape culture and hook-up culture so closely related that one cannot exist without the other?  Does a Harvard professor really think that college boys—excuse me, adult men—can’t discern between a girl who’s tipsy and a girl who is unconscious?

Well, I don’t think that’s the case. The alleged decline in hook-up culture is, according to the Bloomberg article, a reaction to the highly publicized cases of falsely accused rape. But although these cases receive tons of media attention—and subsequently, widespread paranoia—they are extremely rare. To put it in perspective, an average straight male has a better chance of getting killed by a comet or an asteroid than getting falsely accused of rape. Even so, men are not taking any chances.

As one of Pollack’s patients told him, “A vision of his school’s disciplinary board flew into his head,” right as he started to make out with a girl.

“’I want to go to law school or medical school after this,’” Pollack said, recounting the student’s comments. “‘I said to her, it’s been nice seeing you.’”

Because, obviously, no one has ever gotten into law school if they’ve made it to first base.

For the record, I give this person credit for trying to do the right thing, however misguided his judgment.  But that doesn’t mean I sympathize with his plight. There are worse things than not getting laid your freshman year. Like, for example, getting raped.

I might be way off base here, but if men are collectively being more cautious when it comes to hookups as a result of an increased awareness of sexual assault, isn’t that … a good thing?

And let’s be honest—it’s not a collective movement. The Bloomberg article didn’t link to a single study about the effects of sexual-assault-paranoia and dwindling college hookups, because there are none. Instead, the bulk of the argument was based on anecdotes from several students and a psychologist. Which is, as anyone who’s taken a college statistics class will know, simply not enough proof.

So, no, guys, unless your sex life relies on Rohypnol, that pesky movement to end sexual assault is not going to ruin it.

Lisa Divenuta
Lisa is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She is currently working on her master's degree in nonfiction creative writing (a bit of an oxymoron) at the New School. Her poetry can be found on Follow her on Twitter @lisadivenuta
  • Kat Pao

    Seriously, how many news stories do you see about “that poor guy who got falsely accused”? If this stops even just one woman from being assaulted then great, who cares if some dudes abstained from a drunken hookup?

  • Richard Damien

    A witch hunt is not a small price to pay.

    • guns or die

      but there’s no evidence of any “witch hunt” — that’s what these kids are saying, but there’s no increase in disciplinary action

      • Richard Damien

        Going by the article, Harvard psychologist William Pollack categorized it that way and the author didnt disagree with the categorizations. She just said it’s a small price in her opinion.

        But it’s definitely not a small price. This is being left to many college campuses to adjudicate and the accused doesn’t get legal counsel or due process in many cases. Reason has been covering this pretty well:

        • guns or die

          I agree that if someone on campus rapes someone, that should be handled by the justice system and not by the college disciplinary board.

          I think there really isn’t a witch hunt, even if the author thinks that’s “a small price to pay”–if that’s what she’s saying, I guess I disagree with the author. I just don’t think that’s happening. Any college campus you go to, there are chicks and they’re willing to hook up. The colleges are not cockblocking anyone. Trust me, my college friends are getting plenty.

          I think Pollack is blowing this shit out of proportion, which is typical because rape is such a hot button issue right now, most of these issues are manufactured for shock value. Nothing has really changed, because colleges are just going to do the same song and dance they do any time they’re worried about bad PR.

          • Richard Damien

            Yeah I doubt it’s a witch hunt in the sense that they are actively looking for people to nail to the wall. I just think it’s a hunt in terms of if you’re accused, the colleges are under a ton of pressure to come down hard on you. Which is fine if you’re guilty, but there needs to be due process.

    • Lisasaysss

      Let me clarify–I meant that college guys missing out on potential hookups is a small price to pay for increased sexual assault awareness. Not that a witchhunt, or installing paranoia into college men is a small price to pay!

      • ManOfSatyagraha .

        I experienced a really weird dichotomy during my time in college with regards to how sexual assault education was presented and how disciplinary action was handled. Basically the first thing we did during freshman orientation was a two hour seminar about sexual assault that was way on the conservative side. It boiled down to, if either partner has had any alcohol, then they are incapable of giving consent. Which is a good point to make, that alcohol impairs judgement and can lead to situations where confusion makes it impossible to make your will clear, but a little extreme to expect any college student to take seriously.
        Then, my friend was date raped later that year, and the perpetrators got away with it while she had to take time off of school to deal with the trauma.
        And now I’m seeing news stories about the girl from Columbia, and it seems like a lot of universities have put all their eggs in the prevention basket because it’s way more favorable from a monetary and public relations standpoint than it is to make such an ugly act as rape public and therefore associated with the schools image by expelling the perpetrator and/or pressing charges. You want to talk about a witch hunt? The students at Columbia started a list in the library bathroom stalls-an anonymous public forum specifically to accuse fellow students of rape and sexual assault. That’s pretty much the definition of a witch hunt. And they did it because neither the police nor the people responsible for enforcing school conduct (like, you know, not committing a violent crime against another student) addressed their victimization.
        So, yeah. I guess it’s good that good people are being extra careful about their sexual experiences but I really believe that good dudes aren’t the ones raping women on college campuses. It’s the assholes who did the sexual assault education, and then heard about every woman who was forced to remain on campus with her attacker because of impotent administrators in theist twenty years, and realized they could get away with it.

  • pandora delphy

    “For the record, I give this person credit for trying to do the right thing, however misguided his judgment.”

    So he’s doing the right thing but you still have a problem with him. In what world does this kid make the absolutely correct and proper decision, according to you? What IS the ‘right’ thing for him to do?

    If I were a young man navigating the psychotic world of ‘rape culture’, I would stay far away from all women. End of. Luckily I grew up as a very sex-positive woman in much saner times.

  • Charles Curtis

    Not to point out what should be blindingly obvious, but at certain point male celibacy becomes the only honorable and sane option for a decent (caring, ethically conscious, non-coercive) single guy.

    That point comes sooner for some than others. If you realize that in having unmarried intercourse you as a man cede your reproductive rights to the woman under this legal dispensation; in so far as the woman if she becomes pregnant can do whatever she wants without reference to you – meaning she can abort, give up for adoption, or keep the child and not marry you but leave you with child support payments for 18 years, and you cannot stop her – Well, to my mind there is no ethical option but chastity or “outercourse.”

    Contraception fails, given long enough pregnancy will often occur, and venereal diseases (HPV, herpes and worse) are rampant.. Being promiscuous is irresponsible in the extreme.

    Add into the equation the outside chance that what you are thinking is consensual behavior could later be (re)defined by your partner retroactively as sexual assault, then leaving your genetic material inside a woman you don’t have an established relationship (for myself, I say marriage) with becomes simply irresponsible to the point of insanity.

    Hormonal birth control and surgical abortion frees women from the “threat of pregnancy”, putatively allows them to “behave without consequence more like men” as the propaganda has it.. But the deeper logic of human biology and reproduction nevertheless inescapably remains. Men still have on average 2/3’s greater upper body strength than women, can run faster, are much more aggressive, and have very different sorts of sexual urges.. As well as very different social dynamics/responsibilities regarding any potential children. All of this means that the old Victorian logic is still in force: you *must exhibit sexual discipline to be bourgeois,* and women are still not, and will never be, as free as men sexually.

    Also, if you want to have healthy relations between the sexes, you have to have sexist double standards regarding behavior. The exact nature of those double standards are now in flux, is all. Parietals and chaperons, or else consent forms and sexual assault tribunals on campuses (whatever have you) – some sort of legal and cultural regimen must, and will, apply.

    Many guys will under the arising circumstances in ever greater numbers prefer porn to sex.. I generally prefer cultivating my inner life and channeling my libido in other, more fruitful ways myself. But sacrifices will be required for most men.

    The logic is the same as it has ever been. The consequences by their nature will be sexist (because our biology demands the distortion of some form of sexism or other, be it misogynist or misandrist) and fraught, no matter what we do. In the current circumstances we are seeing a rise in cohabitation and singles, a collapse of the family in at least the lower half of the economy, and a withdrawal of men from the blue collar workforce, etc. Men in general really are being to a great degree emasculated, and by far more than one force (not merely the overwhelming force and logic of the sexual revolution) is what I am saying.. We aren’t bonoboes (hah) and we can’t have it all. Tant pis, c’est bien dommage.

  • Cobra_x30

    False Rape Claims are about 10% of all rape claims…. and that is being very generous. You only arrive at her number if you pretend that every rape claim ever made is true unless proven false by media outlets… which is likely what the author believes!