Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Brad Henning visit targeted for a younger audience

by Kelsey Hilmes, A&E Editor

When I heard about the event “Building Relationships in a Sexual Culture” coming to Pacific Lutheran University this Wednesday, my first thought was ‘this sounds a lot like a speaker that came to my high school.’ 

Days later, as Facebook events and posts popped up all over my feed, I figured I should look up this man everyone was worrying about. As it would turn out, they are one in the same. Brad Henning came to speak at my high school when I was 15. It was WASL week, and those who didn’t have to test that year were required to attend the assembly.

A major part of the controversy, from my understanding, is that students are concerned about a staunch conservative point of view. I’ve seen lots of posts about how he is anti-LGBTQ, Sex-Negative and a slut-shamer. In my experience five years ago, he presented none of these things. He was simply very outdated.

Brad Henning is going to flop at PLU. Even a student who agrees with everything he has to say will admit that his subject matter targets a younger demographic. I remember the day he came to speak at my high school very clearly.

Young teens with hormones ablaze packed into the auditorium, thirsty for any kind of guidance about sex, fueled by the prospect of learning taboo tidbits. At that age, the majority of us were doe-eyed virgins.

We knew sex as a practically sacred act: openly judging - but perhaps secretly envying - our sexually active peers. We were sponges, at the ready to soak up whatever understanding of sex and relationships we could get. We didn’t have any other basis for understanding.

One of the most memorable parts of that day was leaving the talk. All of us starry-eyed and smug, feeling so good about ourselves for waiting for ‘the one.’ And then I noticed my friend. A week before Henning’s visit to my school, she had become sexually active. And she was in tears. She said “I wish I had known that a week ago.” It broke my heart.

You see, much of Henning’s presentation was anecdotes about friends and audiences he had spoken to years ago. He told of how one acquaintance had sex with so many people before marriage, that it was destroying his relationship with his wife.

He talked about the clear ‘differences’ between men and women, like how women don’t like their bodies but men love theirs, and how men think about sex a lot and women don’t want it as much.

As we grew, of course, I think my friend and the rest of us came to an understanding that sex before marriage does not ruin your chances at a happy marriage. More than anything, we were all caught up in the hype. We were young, inexperienced and had never been provided adequate sex education in school. What Henning said surely must have been the only way.

College students are a different story. Lutes are adults, and most of us have already experienced the situations that are going to be addressed. First kisses, first dates, first boyfriends - twenty year olds don’t drop what they’re doing to hear about these things. While good manners are always in style, advice on courtship and date ideas may not be helpful anymore. When it comes to Henning’s subject matter, it’s a been there, done that world.

College students now have the education that public high school lacked. All of us, even those who continue to abstain, know that a person’s first sexual encounter does not define them, and that it doesn’t hold as much weight as young teens think.

There is no waking up like a Disney princess as cartoon animals sing to you, no clouds part and no souls fuse together for all of eternity. It’s just sex, and I think that’s the way most people like it. Afterwards, you think ‘I enjoyed that,’ ‘why did I do that?’ or ‘yes, I am definitely gay.’ No angels appear to hark their heralds for you and your partner, and no one radiates purity like Gandalf the White.

We understand that there is no normal kind of sex. Sex drives and behaviors are not determined by gender. There is legal sex, there is illegal sex and there is what you and your partners have agreed to.

Henning’s stories of remorseful non-virgins don’t change these facts. Those stories are probably true, and some people really do wish they had waited longer. But he fails to account for the massive population of people who do have sex long before marriage and are perfectly pleased with their decision to do so.

I disagree with students who are choosing to protest his visit. PLU has a population of students who strongly maintain traditional Christian values, and they have a right to pursue extra-curricular education about it. Sex+, PLU’s award winning education program on sex and sexuality, often discusses topics like BDSM, fetishes, and polyamory. Likewise, student groups are allowed to invite whatever speakers they wish in order to learn about sex from their own point of view.

Henning’s act was funny and moving in high school because we bought everything he had to say without hesitation. I disagree with a lot of what he said, but he is harmless. I have no doubt he will be met with much enthusiasm from his fans.

If he provides misinformation, one of PLU's many progressive and highly educated students will be there to counter his point. Realistically, as long as he’s speaking to a crowd that has their facts straight and a level head, he probably won’t make much of an impression in anyone’s lives at all.