When it comes to behavior, society gives them a very mixed message.
Today, I wouldn't trade places with an 18-year-old guy for a million bucks.
It's a wonder our sons don't end up in the loony bin, given the schizophrenic messages we bombard them with.
The latest "you've-got-to-be-kidding" example to cross my desk involved frat-boy antics at Yale University -- home to lots of folks who pride themselves on being among our nation's best and brightest.
A few months ago, it seems, a group of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity pledges marched onto Yale's campus and chanted crude slogans "making light of" rape and necrophilia, according to the Yale alumni magazine.
("No means yes, yes means anal" -- you get the idea.)
A "storm of controversy" erupted. Yale administrators expressed shock and outrage.
"We will confront hateful speech when it has been uttered," vowed President Richard Levin and Dean Mary Miller, according to the magazine. "No member of our community should engage in such demeaning behavior."
The Yale Women's Center went ballistic, of course, and "students, administrators, and alumni all wrestled with how to respond to a public display that many found offensive."
An online alumni petition condemning the chants drew nearly 2,000 signatures. Predictably, the frat boys -- denounced on all sides -- apologized for their crude behavior.
OK, OK, the Yale critics are right. Young gentlemen should not conduct themselves this way. But wait, what else is happening on campus?
Well, there's Yale's biennial "Sex Week" -- a nine-day, student-sponsored event timed to coincide with Valentine's Day and blessed by university bigwigs. Last year, a Sex Week headliner was porn megastar Sasha Grey.
Grey's claim to fame is her insatiable appetite for being sexually brutalized. Among porn performers, she stands out for "her take-no-prisoners attitude toward the hardest of hard-core sex scenes and consensual degradation," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Sex Week's ostensible purpose is to help Yalies navigate "sex, love and relationships," according to the Yale Daily News. No chocolates or roses, though. Sex Week celebrates pornography. (Love, relationships, porn -- hey, what's the difference?)
Last year, the program featured porn stars and/or producers at 11 events, and included demonstrations on everything from sadomasochistic and oral sex techniques to the finer points of erotic genital piercing.
Female Yale students get into the act, too. They strut down a catwalk in a "Fetish Fashion Show," modeling lingerie that evokes such "role-play themes" as "boss and secretary."
But Sasha Grey may capture the event's spirit best. Her numerous adult video awards include "Best Anal Sex Scene" and "Best Oral Sex Scene" for a scene with four men.
Grey's predilection for violence is longstanding. According to Los Angeles magazine, in her first X-rated film --shortly after she turned 18 -- she turned to her partner and said, "Punch me in the stomach."
Grey feels "completed" by sexual degradation -- being "smacked, slapped, yanked, and sodomized," she told the magazine. She likes "peeing, spit, vomit," and at the time of the interview was scheduled to fly to San Francisco, where her vagina would be electrocuted on film.
"I have a high threshold for pain," she said. "I love the energy, the passion, the enthusiasm in being degraded."
Her favorite scenes? "The best ... are when the men want to slap you around a little bit, when they want to pull your hair, when they want to smack your," um, derriere. "They're getting what they want, and I'm getting what I asked for. I guess I've just been blessed."
Who can blame Yale guys for being confused?
Let's get this straight. Yale big wigs invite young men -- buzzed by testosterone -- to experience and celebrate the outer edges of male sexual prurience. They invite them to ogle female fellow students in garters and leather bustiers as they slink down the catwalk in the university dining hall.
But when the guys take the invitation seriously, an outraged chorus denounces them for "demeaning" and "hateful speech."
It's just another example of the blind spot so many our "best and brightest" exhibit. Too often, folks with strings of graduate degrees think they can reshape the world and human beings to their own specifications.
They act as if human beings are infinitely malleable -- as if there is no "floor to the universe." They think they can encourage young people to view sex as a sport, and are shocked when the dark side comes out.
So Yale is crazy.
But the attitudes cultivated -- and legitimated -- there play out all around us. We surround our sons with juiced-up sex -- on TV, in the movies, on the Internet, even in supermarket checkout lanes. Then we tell them to be on their best behavior. At college, they get "date rape" training. On the job, they get "sexual harassment" training.
No wonder our young men are increasingly confused and alienated.
Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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