A “health promotion specialist” from the “Division of Student Affairs” has just written to inform me that “Sexual Responsibility Week” will soon be upon us, and that I should clear my calendar to make way for a veritable banquet of “program content and activities.” Now I must make clear that the “sexual responsibility” of which she speaks has nothing to do with what used to be known as “conjugal duty” or “repaying the conjugal debt.” Indeed, if it did, there is no program content or activity that could improve on the regimen of Walter Shandy. As his son, the eponymous hero of the Tristram Shandy (1759), explains:
“My father . . . was, I believe, one of the most regular men in everything he did . . . . As a small specimen of this extreme exactness of his, to which he was in truth a slave,—he had made it a rule for many years of his life,— on the first Sunday-night of every month throughout the whole year . . . to wind up a large house clock which we had standing on the back-stairs head, with his own hands:— And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age at the time . . . he had gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and to be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month.”
Rather than touting Walter Shandy’s dutiful notion of sexual responsibility, the Office of Student Affairs will be plaguing and pestering students “to engage in healthy, positive conversations and decisions about sexuality.” Their message actually uses the words “encourage and empower,” but between “encourage and empower” and “plague and pester,” I can see no material difference.
One might suppose that “healthy . . . conversations . . . about sexuality” would be conversations that result in sexual behavior that does not cause madness, disease or long-term incarceration; but to avoid these melancholy ends, one might also suppose that said conversations might be obliged to sometimes hazard a “negative” remark. I had a good friend in college whose conversations about sexuality dwelt exclusively on his desire to commit unspeaking atrocities on the manager of our cross-country team, these involving ropes, a tree, and at least one bucket of cold water.
If you had known that manager, you might have seen his point, but this was one of those “conversations . . . about sexuality” that could not be both “healthy” and “positive.”
If I had spoken to my good friend in the spirit of “Sexual Responsibility Week,” I would have encouraged him to respond to his fantasy after having taken “precautions” to ensure he did not get “in trouble.” I might have suggested, for instance, that he extort silence by way of blackmail, threats or bribery. This might strike you as immoral, but it would not be irresponsible. As the message under examination explains, students satisfy the demands of “sexual responsibility” when they “take an active role in their physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, regardless of how they choose to express their sexuality.”
If I am reading that line correctly, it says that a student exhibits “sexual responsibility” when he or she scratches any itch he or she can get away with scratching.