Before I jump back into the conversation about sexual ethics that has unfolded on the Web in recent days, inspired by Emily Witt's n+1 essay "What Do You Desire?" and featuring a fair number of my favorite writers, it's worth saying a few words about why I so value debate on this subject, and my reasons for running through some sex-life hypotheticals near the end of this article.
Until I was 17, the Catholic schools I attended focused on the teachings of the church. Then, as high school juniors, my friends and I studied general ethics under Mr. Holtkamp, a dry-humored man who coached the mock trial team, ran an X-Files fan club, and managed, within a Catholic institution, to give believers and skeptics alike the gift of thinking more clearly and expansively about morality. He'd have smiled to see us the summer after we graduated, when we'd sneak onto deserted beaches and build bonfires on the sand to light our conversations. We burned melaleuca logs, drank lukewarm Bud Ice or Mickey's, and debated our respective Catholicism, agnosticism, atheism, Buddhist flirtations, impulses toward utilitarianism, and everything else about how we ought to think and live. The particulars of the conversations are forgotten. Yet few memories are more precious to me, now that I understand why those nights are forever gone. It isn't that the people, with whom I'm still in touch, love one another any less. If we gathered tomorrow--we're scattered across the country now--we could still talk in the ways that deep friendship permits. But at 18, 19 and 20, as different as we were in our personalities and inclinations, we spoke to one another in the same vocabulary, which we'd learned from the same teachers in the same community, where many of our experiences were alike.