Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yes, No, Maybe So...

I saw an article floating about the interwebs this morning: 

"If It Feels Right" by David Brooks in the New York Times.

I apologize for linking to a site that requires registration, but I think you can access the article for free. The gist of it is that this next generation growing up is steeped in "rampant individualism" and doesn't know how to make moral choices--or even how to pose moral questions. Kids these days...all they wanna do is what feels right.

I am critical in some ways, because I think this is the latest You Kids Get Off My Lawn scenario. But I am also critical because I think we are missing something very important about the idea of "if it feels right."

Years ago in high school I was part of a church youth group. Our intrepid youth pastor fearlessly offered a "sex ed" conversation in the month of February, coinciding with Valentine's Day. I was new to church as my parents never attended; I did not know much about church culture or expectations regarding sexuality.

Our pastor threw out some discussion questions to get us started. One of them was, "How do you know where to draw the line with sexual activity? How far is too far? Is there some amount of sexual activity you can engage in that is consistent with our Christian values."

There was a bit of a pause in the conversation. I raised my hand and said, "I think if it feels good, then it's probably ok." There was an audible gasp from my fellow youth groupies. The youth pastor gave me the side eye. <_<

I'm not fifteen anymore, and I've had a lot of time to reflect on that question. I still don't have all the answers, but after 25 years of thinking about it, I think there was something important imbedded in that answer: "If it feels good."

My own sexual experience as a woman, already by age fifteen, was a history of sexual violence and violation. I was just beginning to discover at fifteen that sexual activity was something I could choose. It was a lot (and I mean a lot) of years later before I became convinced that I had the right to insist that sex be pleasurable and the right to leave a situation if it was not.

"Does this feel good/right?" is a question I wish every woman would ask in every sexual encounter. There are plenty of other questions to ask, but that one ought to be at the forefront of our minds. Every sexual encounter, whether we are married, single, in a committed relationship, or on a booty call, every sexual encounter should be evaluated with the question, "Does this feel good/right?" And frankly, I wish men would ask themselves the same question--more men than are willing to admit find themselves in sexual situations in which they are uncomfortable. "Does this feel good/right" is a vital starting point.

Right along with that question is, "Does this feel good/right to my partner(s)?" How many of us have been asked that question by our partners and not known how to answer? How many of us have lied in our answers because the other person desired us, we didn't want to offend, etc? If we can't answer this question for ourselves, then how can our partners make ethical decisions with us?

We've been taught, a lot of us, that our own individual wants and needs in this life are not relevant to moral decisions. But I want to put out on the table that "If it feels right/good" *is* a place to begin. It's not the ending point, and neither is "If it is good for the community." Moral decision making is a complicated exercise, and we spend a lifetime working on it. "Does this feel good to me?" is an excellent question to begin with, and I'm glad our youth are learning to listen to their bodies, hearts, and minds. A strong basis for understanding others begins with understanding oneself. 


  1. Excellent Jumping off point Katie. I remember those years in your life. I have not read the article of which you speak, but understand the concept. The idea of "If it feels good . . . " Leaves open too many things for an immature mind to consider. There are consequences of cause and effect that are not considered even in the mind of many 30 somethings that fall by the wayside for others to deal with these days that have made chaos in our society leading to everything including over population of pet, & people to over consumption that have lead to medical conditions of obesity, heart disease and death.
    As long as there is some caring to the aftermath to the cause and effect of what happens after doing the what feels good happens, let the young have their fun, otherwise the world will have a heck of a time continuing to deal with the rise of oral cancers from HPV, drug addictions, Obesity, Heart disease, as well as the mental problems from what people have done to themselves and each other.

  2. David Brooks is an old fart. Katie, you are wise beyond your years, and you have chosen the better part. Keep on keeping on, and I thank you for letting me into your life, if even on a virtual plane.

  3. Let me clarify that I am not saying "let the young have their fun", as the young will have their fun whether we let them or not. I'm saying there is validity to starting one's ethical reflections from the question, "Does this feel good/right." And I'm saying that those of us who never get to that question are missing an important part of our ethical reflections.

  4. It is past time for a resurgence of Eros. We have so abused Agape, so overused duty and responsibility and self-sacrifice in our ethics and ideology that we suspect anything which is fun or pleasurable is inherently bad. We are suspicious of sugar and fat and sex and art and pop music and movies and video games like puritans who insist through tightly puckered lips that God wants us to be miserable our entire lives.

    It would be better for us to say that God likes us than that God loves us.(See James Alison: On Being Liked) Because we've somehow gotten the crazy idea that it is possible to "love" someone while you hold your nose. You can barely tolerate being in their presence, but you "love" them. That isn't love at all. Love rejoices and delights in the beloved. Love wants to have a party with the beloved. Love wants to kiss and fondle and go hang-gliding with the beloved.

    So, yes. It isn't sufficient by itself, but your relationships had better feel good/right or else you might either be degrading yourself to accept abuse, or inflicting your sour disapproval on another in the name of "love" - which isn't loving at all.

  5. I think you're right generally, but I think that you are especially right that this is a more widespread problem for men than is generally acknowledged. My take is that the ability to take pleasure is tied to vulnerability. It is difficult to take pleasure in something if you are not also exposed to the possibility of being hurt, as well as able to appreciate the limits of pleasure as somehow being part of its perfection rather than as a source of shame and embarrassment to be overcome. So I think a lot of men want to show pleasure who's boss by doing all sorts of things they think should be pleasurable, but which aren't, at least not to them.

    I also think that making this a matter of ethics is important. I don't have anything to add to what you say, other than that Martha Nussbaum is probably the person in philosophical ethics I most associate with a view like this. Sadly I am not nearly familiar enough with her work to say more than that.

    As for David Brooks, meh.


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