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Society needs sexual evolution: permissiveness vs. authentic liberation.

The scandal surrounding the 1991 convention of the Tailhook Association, that group of U.S. Navy aviators we've been reading about of late, provides more proof that America's sexual revolution is really a form of sexual aggression.

This month, the Pentagon's inspector general issued an investigatory report describing the convention as a three-day drunken debauch in which crowds of men sexually assaulted 83 women and seven men. Women were forced to run a gauntlet, others were pinched, bitten, fondled, stripped and harassed.

Officers who were not gentlemen were photographed in T-shirts bearing the motto, "Women Are Property." Raucous attendees competed in crude acts of exposing genitals, baring bottoms and biting buttocks.

Admittedly, some women in the melee were voluntarily engaged. A nude stripper and other female guests participated in consensual and public displays of oral sex, sexual intercourse and genital exposure. Apparently, at previous conventions of this group, spouses and cameras had been banned, and the only women present had been prostitutes and willing "groupies." But in 1991, unsuspecting women who appeared were assaulted.

This instance of deteriorating sexual behavior could be seen as one isolated incident if Americans were not regularly affronted by accounts of rape, date rape, spouse abuse, sexual harassment and other acts of violence against women. Moreover, reported cases of incest, pedophilia and child sexual abuse increase every year.

At the same time, more Americans are reported to approve and practice recreational sex or casual sex -- engaging in sex without any long-term mutual commitment with partners. Significantly, the major change in American sexual practices over the last three decades has been the increased sexual permissiveness of females. More women now act the way many men used to act when they could get away with it. And premarital sexual activity for both women and men starts at increasingly younger ages.

Permissive American sexual practices, before, during, between and after marriages result in a lifetime average of seven sexual partners per adult. Serial sexual encounters on the part of individuals produce a host of negative social consequences: AIDS, 56 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases and 1.5 million abortions a year.

In addition to abortions and venereal diseases (the brunt of which are borne by women), we see the decline of sexual sensibilities and moral responsibility. A glance at television, the press, movies and new music reveals the ways sexual crudity, exhibitionism and sexual exploitation coarsen our common life.

Can this society be saved from its slide into sexual regression? A few cases here and there seem to shore up sexual standards -- or at least punish egregious offenses. The U.S. Navy promises to discipline its sexual offenders and plans to institute other reforms. Several teenage boys were convicted of sexually assaulting a mentally retarded girl in New Jersey. Rapists, date rapists and even a celebrity like Mike Tyson can end up in jail. New laws and regulations against sexual harassment appear.

On other fronts, our awareness of spouse abuse, child sexual abuse and incest has been heightened. Psychiatrists, priests, judges, senators and lawyers who sexualy exploit the vulnerable now meet stiffer punishments and increased policing from professional colleagues.

Even colleges and universities have begun to institute rules against faculty-student sexual liaisons. Recently, the faculty at the University of Virginia passed a measure forbidding the faculty from romantic or sexual relations with students whom they teach, coach or evaluate, or to whom they allocate money.

Many of the Virginia faculty resisted the new rules, fearing what some professors called the "sex cops." As always, America's rampant individualism stands ready to impede women's struggles against exploitation and domination by men.

Make no mistake about it: Male aggressive sexual behavior is the problem. Men rape and abuse women; men commit more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse; men sexually harass their employees, clients and students. Men support prostitution and pornography.

Whether by biology or culture or some combination of the two, American men grow up to be more aggressive, violent and sexually promiscuous than women. If we want our regressed and rape-prone society to change, we must change the way males behave -- no more "boys will be boys."

A vision of human sexuality that unites love, equality, friendship, passion and commitment has not, heretofore, been a male ideal. It is women who have wanted and needed to have love, sex and commitment joined.

How sad that so many young people have bought into the idea that sexual liberation means sexual permissiveness in the male mode. Women in particular suffer in this male-dominated sexual morass. Oppressed once more, this time in the name of sexual freedom.
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Author:Callahan, Sidney
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 4, 1993
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