We typically picture the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley as brilliant if geeky walking intellects, hunched over their computers, inventing new gadgets.
But this week Vanity Fair published a book excerpt by Emily Chang revealing that Silicon Valley is as sexually debauched as Hollywood, the political world and the media. Many titans of the tech world – entrepreneurs, executives, investors, founders of companies – regularly host drug-fueled, sex-laced parties.
Women in the tech industry often feel compelled to attend to get ahead in their careers. But the reality is that joining the party often stalls their careers, as they are reduced to sex objects instead of respected as people. Progress? More like regress.
Chang’s book fuels the post-Harvey Weinstein wave of outrage. Yet merely exposing scandals may not “produce a revolution or a reckoning or a sea change in attitudes,” warns Jim Glassman, a journalist and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, in another Vanity Fair piece.
For real reform, we have to dig deeper. A hedonistic ethic pervades all our public institutions. Universities hold sex weeks where porn stars are speakers and sex toy companies display their wares.
A hedonistic ethic pervades all our public institutions. Universities hold sex weeks where porn stars are speakers and sex toy companies display their wares.
Students attend workshops with titles like “How to Have a Successful Threesome” and a discussion of oral sex called “How Many Licks Does It Take?” The message is: Don’t be boring. Be like porn stars.
It should surprise no one that the hookup culture is metastasizing on campuses. The rules of the game are: no relationship, no emotional attachment, no commitment. You are supposed to be able to walk away from a hookup as if it never happened.
Before reaching campus, students are primed by high school sex education courses that typically focus on the physical: on the mechanics of sex and the avoidance of disease and pregnancy.
These courses reduce the meaning of sex to a how-to manual. Many students even say the programs make them feel pressured into having sex. In one study, teens reported that they felt more pressure from their sex education classes than from their girlfriends or boyfriends.
Other segments of adult culture are complicit in sexualizing children at ever-younger ages. Dolls for little girls have morphed into “tramps” wearing fishnet stockings and red-hot lingerie. Corporations produce slut-style fashions all the way down to infant clothing that says “I’m Too Sexy for My Diaper.” Advertisers use sex to sell, filmmakers use sex to entice viewers, musicians film raunchy videos.
Emily Chang reports that the tech titans of Silicon Valley are self-congratulatory about their sexual experimentation, priding themselves on being bold and unconventional. But in reality they are following a script that was given to them. They are falling for a sales pitch.
A society’s view of sex reflects its deeper commitments – its prevailing ethos or worldview. The sexual liberation ethic stems from an underlying idea that the world is a product of blind, material forces.
As a recent New Yorker article put it, “the loyalty oath of modernity” is that “nature is without conscious design … the emergence of Homo sapiens was without meaning or telos” (purpose).
And if the human body is said to have no meaning or purpose, neither does sex. On one hand, that means we are free to make up our own rules. On the other hand, it means that under all the hype about being bold and experimental is a fundamental despair – the belief that sex is insignificant in a literal sense: signifying nothing.
As a drummer in Austin, Texas, told Rolling Stone, sex is just “a piece of body touching another piece of body”; it is “existentially meaningless.”
This outlook is deeply dehumanizing. No wonder many people keep grabbing at more – and more extreme – sexual experiences, while finding less genuine fulfillment.
And no wonder those with power feel entitled to use other people for their own gratification.
Sexual exploitation is unlikely to stop with drug-and-sex parties in Silicon Valley – unless we are ready to rethink fundamental convictions.
As I put it in my book “Love Thy Body,” at the root of moral issues is the question: What kind of cosmos do we live in? Are we products of blind material forces? Or does the natural world reflect some kind of purpose – and behind it, a Person who loves us and has a purpose for our lives?
A society’s worldview ultimately determines whether it treats the human body as just another piece of matter, or whether it grants the body value and dignity, imbuing sexual relations with the depth and significance we all long for.