In an attempted face-saving interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh played the V-card, using his high school and college virginity to rebuff allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. The logic of his argument? He would not have attempted rape Ford or exposed himself to Ramirez because he wasn’t even sexually active yet.
“We’re talking about an allegation of sexual assault,” Kavanaugh said. “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
This argument makes no sense and we all know where it ends — in a panic about teen sex. One does not need to have had sex to commit sexual assault (ask a Catholic priest about it) and virginity is not a marker of virtue any more than non-virginity is a marker of vice. Plenty of high school kids have sex without ever sexually assaulting anyone. Plenty of high school kids also sexually assault people without ever having sex. The defense is, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsensical. It plays on the puritanical fear of sex without offering a cogent argument or evidence of any kind.
Why would a man with a powerful legal mind make such a silly case? Kavanaugh knows a significant portion of President Trump’s power base (the evangelical portion) conflates virginity with morality and sex with violence. He’s drumming up support, not refuting a charge.
This is how we end up having yet another regressive sex-negative public debate. This is how American adults wind up performing hypocrisy in front of American kids.
It’s important to note that nobody has accused Brett Kavanaugh of having consensual sex in high school. And, in fact, if a woman had come forward about some kind of mutual high school tryst, it’s quite unlikely that there would be any controversy. Why would there be? But there would also be no need for a woman to come forward with that information because having sex in high school is largely not a crime in America.
In most states, the age of consent is between 16 and 17-years-old. In fact, two 16-year-old high school sophomores could consensually get it on in 29 states. Juniors? Add another seven states. Sexual harassment and assault, on the hand, remains criminal behavior in, let’s count ‘em, 50 states.
The problem is that sex and the expression of sexuality remain taboo for teens. They are told that they are not ready for the urges that they feel towards one another. They are told that their urges will lead them to immoral acts and a lifetime of regret. Sex, then, becomes a monstrous and frightening mystery. And for many rebellious teens, it’s a mystery they are eager to solve.
But when sex is so big, everything else becomes small. Forced groping? At least it wasn’t sex. Sending unwanted dick pics? At least it wasn’t sex. Sexual harassment? Well, at least they’re still virgins.
There are plenty of criminal virgins. More every day.
And these sorts of news cycles exacerbate the problem. Making sex taboo also makes it aspirational. Young men are competitive men. Is it any wonder they would brag about conquests in yearbooks? Is it any wonder that as adults those same men would suggest an attempted rape in high school was just something every boy does?
Making sex taboo is even more dangerous for girls. With the taboo comes shame. It’s important to note that according to Department of Justice statistics two out of three sexual assaults go unreported. One of the factors for that statistic is the shame young women might experience in reporting the crime. These girls have often internalized the moral messaging around sex and assume that they must have done something to bring the assault upon themselves and are therefore unworthy of justice. When puritanical posturing surrounds sex, the unspoken message is that only bad girls and “sluts” get sexually assaulted. To be attacked is to be stigmatized.
This is the devastating reality brought to light by Kavanaugh’s virgin defense.
What would help? Empowerment and education. Teens should understand that sex is not amoral. It is, however, complicated — complicated enough that it requires courageous honesty to speak about in public. It’s a pity that courage is in short supply.