I just nominated “sexual emergency” as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2016 in the category of “most euphemistic.” For those who missed it, there was an appalling case out of Austria where a 20-year old man at a public pool grabbed a 10-year old boy in a changing room and raped him. The man then went back to the pool and was practicing on the diving board when the boy notified the lifeguard who notified the police who arrested this guy. This horrible story made headlines around the world because although he admitted he’d made a huge “mistake” and scarred the boy for life, his defense was that he had had a “sexual emergency”: he was a refugee from Iraq and had not had sex for four months. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to 4 years in prison, but in a development out of the Twilight Zone, on appeal the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court because it wasn’t clear if the boy had agreed to the encounter. Fortunately, when the case was then re-tried, the justices found that consent had indeed not been given, and ended up handing down an even longer sentence.
For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that he was a migrant from Iraq, and the bizarre twist in the verdict. Let’s focus on that word. “Sexual emergency” (sexuller Notstand) is new to English, but has been around for a while in the German language. There was a women’s punk band that had a top-selling song of that title back in 1981. I tried to listen to the lyrics, but because it’s hard to hear and because the song itself is not something you’d want to listen to more than about zero times, I gave up. However if you google the term “sexueller Notstand” you come up with a lot of chat rooms where women are trying to figure out what’s going on with their men. Sometimes the term refers to women whose sex lives have dwindled to nothing, and sometimes it refers to men who are desperately in need of sex.
So sexual emergency is another way of saying you haven’t had as much sex in your life as you’d like to. But to try to excuse what this man did … What next? Would we excuse all those attacks in Cologne last New Year’s Eve in the same way? Or just a few days ago in Innsbruck? Viewed that way, life itself is a sexual emergency. We’re programmed by our DNA to want sex, and in fact not just to want it, to crave it desperately and do just about anything to get it at certain times of our lives. Our hormones go berserk and our animal brains seem to demand we give in to the reproductive urge.
But would anyone dispute the idea that one of the most important things in life is to learn to control this urge? It’s called “civilization.” You don’t just follow your desires, your appetites unless you’re some medieval barbarian warlord. Those strands of DNA inside of us are tyrants, demanding that we yield to their decrees if we want to survive. But Reason has elevated us to a different level of being. We’re not beasts anymore, though the veneer of civilization is spread pretty thinly over our lizard brains.
The “emergency” around sex is that we are not treating it as something sacred, something greater than a mere appetite, or vehicle for continuing the race. Until we can figure out how to teach every individual on this planet self-control,to respect women, girls, boys and not treat them as “objects of desire” then stories like this one will continue to plague us. We need to get onto this universal education project urgently. Either that or develop the artificial sex partner, Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jill, at a price anyone can afford. The faster the better for everyone.