Question: Is this a reference to rape?

One of my favourite George Carlin routines deals with the subject of euphemisms and it includes one of the great “cut the bullshit” observations of all time:

Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people…or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

And…and some of this stuff is just silly, we all know that, like on the airlines, they say want to pre- board. Well, what the hell is pre-board, what does that mean? To get on before you get on? They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance. Cripples! Simple honest direct language. There is no shame attached to the word cripple that I can find in any dictionary. No shame attached to it, in fact it’s a word used in bible translations. Jesus healed the cripples. Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition. But we don’t have any cripples in this country anymore. We have The physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently abled. I’ve heard them called that. Differently abled! You can’t even call these people handicapped anymore. They’ll say, “Were not handicapped. Were handicapable!” These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you’ll change the condition. Well, hey cousin, ppsssspptttttt. Doesn’t happen. Doesn’t happen.

We have no more deaf people in this country, hearing impaired. No ones blind anymore, partially sighted or visually impaired. We have no more stupid people. Everyone has a learning disorder…or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to be told that about your child? “He’s minimally exceptional.” “Oohh, thank god for that.” Psychologists actually have started calling ugly people, those with severe appearance deficits. It’s getting so bad, that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient.

That comes from his 1990 album ‘Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics’ and the world, of course, moves on and the bullshit and euphemisms keep on piling up until…

This is the abstract of a new paper published only this month by the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour (h/t Neuroskeptic) which, according to the title, sets out to explore the question of whether casual sex harms the well being of college students, and as you read it I want you to pay very close attention to the section I’ve highlighted in bold type:

Engagement in casual sex (or hooking up) is generally feared to have negative well-being consequences; however, empirical evidence is inconclusive, pointing toward potential moderators. Using self-determination theory (SDT), we hypothesized that well-being following hookups would depend on the type and level of motivation for hooking up. A university-wide sample of 528 undergraduates completed online surveys at the beginning (T1) and end (T3) of one academic year. After controlling for demographics, personality traits (i.e., neuroticism and extraversion), prior casual and romantic sex, and T1 well-being, having genital hookups between T1 and T3 for non-autonomous reasons (i.e., due to self-imposed pressures, external contingencies and controls, or complete lack of intentionality) was linked to lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and more physical symptoms. Autonomous hookup motivation (i.e., emanating from one’s self) was not linked to any outcomes. Compared to peers without hookups, those with high non-autonomy in their hookups typically had inferior well-being; this was not true of those with low non-autonomy hookups. Gender differences, implications for SDT and casual sex research, and implications for educational programs and clinical work are discussed.

Okay, so let’s try and translate that section into something that vague approximates English, and by all mean if you think I’ve made any interpretive errors along the way that please do use the comments box to say so and offer your own interpretations.

So ‘genital hookups’ would, I presume, mean ‘sex’ of some description, maybe not always full penetrative vaginal, oral or anal intercourse but someone’s genitalia would certainly be engaged in some kind of sexual activity somewhere along the line.

‘Non autonomous reasons’ would indicate a lack of free choice but that on its own covers a wide range of bases. If I had a completely free choice in the matter I probably wouldn’t bother with the washing up but as that would mean having nothing clean to eat off in a couple of days my freedom of choice there is somewhat constrained by other more important considerations.

‘Self imposed pressures’? Again that’s a bit difficult to pin down to specifics. One might impose a certain amount of pressure on one’s self out of a recognition of necessity, as with the washing up scenario I mentioned only moments ago, but this could also cover the act of internalising certain social and cultural pressures derived from one’s wide environment, in which case feeling obligated to engage in certain type of behaviour in order to ‘fit in’ with other people would count as a self imposed pressure.

How about ‘external contingencies and controls’? What do we make of that? I mean I could be wrong but that’s beginning to sound very much as if we’re heading at least in the direction of coercion, maybe not to the point where the threat or, or actual, physical force comes into play but still we seem to be moving into the kind of territory where ‘non-autonomous’ is starting to look perilously close to ‘non-consensual’ in meaning.

And then we come to to ‘complete lack of intentionality’; any objections to calling that either rape or sexual assault – remember we haven’t really got a clear definition of ‘genital hookups’ to work with so either or both is a possibility.

After that we just have ‘lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and more physical symptoms” which we can perhaps pull together under the generic label ‘mental health problems’.

So, on that basis, the statement that:

[H]aving genital hookups between T1 and T3 for non-autonomous reasons (i.e., due to self-imposed pressures, external contingencies and controls, or complete lack of intentionality) was linked to lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and more physical symptoms

Would appear to mean, after we strip it right back to basics:

Sexual violence causes college students to develop mental health problems

Which, as scientific observations go strikes me as being up there with bears shitting in woods and frogs having water-tight arses.

For me then, the only question that remains outstanding, unless anyone has an alternate translation to offer, is the one that takes us right the way back George Carlin’s comments on the nature of euphemisms…

Does that abstract contain the most tortured euphemism for rape in the history of the English language?

If anyone can top that, then please do let me know – leave a comment, send a tweet or just email, your choice.

6 thoughts on “Question: Is this a reference to rape?

  1. I was with Carlin until he started laying into the deaf and blind: people have the right to define themselves.

    There’s a massive difference between a euphemism like ‘neutralising’ people and disabled people wanting to define themselves as something other than ‘cripples’.

    That’s like saying ‘When I was at school kids didn’t have ‘cerebral palsy’, they were just ‘spazies’ and knew their place.

    1. You’re not understanding the context of Carlin’s routine and what he’s driving at, not least because this is only part of the entire routine.

      This is not about self-definition but about how euphemisms and soft-language are used to frame debates around public policy and justify political actions that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier; things like cutting back on social services, welfare and, in the US, Medicare and Medicaid.

      The key phrase in that quote is this one…

      “These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing
      that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you’ll change the

      And by extension, bullshitted into accepting an increasingly diminishing level of support from the state.

    2. He’s not denying that they have a right to call themselves a certain thing, but he is saying that there is not much point in most cases because changing the name doesn’t change anything.

      He’s right. I have experienced this myself, in mental health care, where in the past few years there has been a curious movement to re-define me (and everyone else receiving psychiatric treatment) as a “service user” rather than a “patient”.

      This has changed… well, nothing; how could it? And yet to many people involved in mental health it is A Very Important Step Forward.

      To those people, what happens in the real world is secondary to what words people use to describe it.

  2. Are the authors defining ‘lack of intentionality’ as something like, for instance, dating someone without the express intention of it being a sexual encounter, then having one anyway as the date goes on? Their terminology completely obfuscates the informational content of what they are trying to express.

    I think their ‘non-autonomous reasons’ must include, for instance societal or peer pressure, or percieved expectations from a partner which perhaps would not meet the legal definition of rape, but who honestly can tell.

    1. “Their terminology completely obfuscates the informational content of what they are trying to express.”

      This is a feature not a bug. To them, at least.

  3. Might “complete lack of intentionality” also cover such things as being drunk or otherwise deemed incapable of consenting after the fact?

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