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Don't talk dirty to me

In our last editorial, we revisited the treatment of Duke student Miriam Weeks, whose porn identity caused a scandal in 2014 and has recently inspired a Lifetime movie. Today, we turn to examining perspectives of sex and morality on campus and how they are discussed. Sex is often a taboo subject on its own; mixed with morality and judgment, it can easily become a dangerous and awkward topic.

Just as different places vary in their unique cultural traditions, they also vary in how they view, talk about and engage in sex. And since Duke’s application process plucks from such wide range of locations, a diverse amalgam of strong and often opposing viewpoints about sex on campus is to be expected. After all, each of us not only brings a unique point of view, but brings 17 or 18 years of reinforcement of those views.

Ideally, Duke’s diversity and depth of perspectives could be a gold mine for learning about how different cultures view sex and the complex array of factors that influence that. Instead, it often devolves into a passive aggressive stew of shaming, condescension and self-righteousness that boils over in our efforts to turn our own moral preferences (“I should”) into outward crusades (“you should”). Certainly, some perspectives, such as certain religious beliefs, may encourage the active persuasion of others to a side, but when judgment is dispensed so quickly without truly understanding perspectives, persuasion seems improbable at best.

When perspectives about sex other than our own are judged before they are understood, they can be misrepresented or oversimplified. Take for example, the starting place of sex talk—the view that is good to openly discuss sex. Someone with that view who often talks about sex might be labeled as immoral simply because their ethical code covering “proper topics of discussion” differs from another person’s. Similarly, someone unwilling to discuss sex might be shamed as prudish or lacking self-discovery, when they may have “sexually discovered” themselves just fine and decided to keep their thoughts private. After the discussion starts, judgment might turn to sexual preferences. Those with more conservative preferences may label others participating in Duke’s hookup culture as desperate or attention seeking. Meanwhile, those uncomfortable with participating, once again, are told that they simply have not found themselves and that they ought to fast forward to the 21st century.

This simplification of perspectives other than our own not only serves as a missed learning opportunity but also silences future conversations. One party, having loudly validated its own beliefs, thinks that the conversation is over. The other, having been silenced through shame, is too frustrated to pursue future, possibly equally pointless, belief sharing sessions.

In truth, there are no right answers to moral questions about sex. We urge students to seek to thoroughly understand others’ perspectives before deciding where to place them on a scale or trying to win them over to a side. Echoing our conclusion from yesterday’s editorial, respect others and allow them to settle into their own place, wherever it may be.


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