The coincidence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day seems the right moment to air my dark, wintry perspective on human commingling. I think the new sensitivity to sexual misconduct is partly a good thing. We have begun to admit that there is dark difficulty in sex, that it’s not innocent adult fun. It pains young feminists to admit it, but they sort of are. They want to pin all the blame on male aggressors, but only most of it lies there. In both genders, sex accentuates pride, ego, insecurity, and little moments of cruelty can mutate to monstrous proportions.
I got round to reading ‘Cat Person’, the New Yorker short story by Kristen Roupenian that has prompted much reflection on sexual mores. A young woman goes on a date with an older man; she decides she’s not attracted to him, and finds his opening sexual moves inept, but submits to sex for a tangle of motives – boredom, vanity, the awkwardness of extricating herself. And when she then rejects him, we glimpse his deep confusion and pain.
What is surprising, in the present ideological context, is that she is rather more culpable than him – unless being bad at sex is a major moral fault. On one level, she is just a free young woman looking for a good time, willing to express her sexuality in conformity with the spirit of the age. But on another level she is guilty of a profound inauthenticity: acting the part of lover, when her heart’s not in it. And the story hints at the harm of this. It hints at the truth that is routinely drowned out in the righteous chatter of girl-power types: there is more to sexual immorality than male aggression.