Should We Care What Consenting Adults Do in Private?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “What consenting adults do in private is none of our business. It’s between them, and it doesn’t affect anyone else.” What would you say? The phrase “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” was a popular tourist campaign that encouraged people to think they could experience a kind of anonymity and freedom there that they couldn’t achieve anywhere else. Of course, it wasn’t true. What we do anywhere, even Vegas, has real consequences. In the same way, people often claim that sex is an entirely private act between consenting adults behind closed doors, and therefore, no one should criticize or regulate sexual behavior. Of course, sex - like going to the bathroom or taking a shower - is not meant to be a public act. However, though sex is meant to be experienced privately, that doesn’t mean there are no public consequences for the sexual behavior we allow as a society. There are. So, the next time someone says sex is merely a private act, here are three things to remember: Number 1: Sexual activity affects public health. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) roughly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in America. Half of these infections are among young people ages 15-24. The estimated health care costs for these infections are $16 billion per year. This is an expense everyone pays for—sexually active or not. And there is also a cost of human life. In 2017, there were 94 infant deaths related to syphilis. Sadly, these newborns lost their lives because of what their parents did “behind closed doors.” Which leads to our second point. Number 2: Sexual activity is procreative. Sex is the natural means by which humans procreate. Since sex has the potential of creating new life, a result that affects the entire community, its consequences are not limited to within the walls of the bedroom. Sex quite literally affects entire societies. Think about it: I’m here talking, and you’re here watching, because of what our parents did in “private.” Everything we say and do, every moment of our lives, is a testimony to the fact that what our parents did that day did not just affect them. This point is so obvious, we often forget it. We’re constantly told that we can do whatever we want with our own bodies. The music we listen to and the movies we watch tell us that sex is just a fun act that people do behind closed doors. But each one of us is affected by this so-called “private” act. Number 3: Our sexual experiences affect our mental health and deeply shape our character. Sex is a big deal, and it affects us deeply. Our sexual experiences shape the development of our character and influence our psychological health. Given that sex is such a powerful bonding experience, there is good reason to believe that casual sex contributes to feelings of loneliness and depression. People are vulnerable in sex, and as a result, it’s impossible to separate our private experience of sex with the effect we have on our community through our character and our health.   Sex may be practiced in private, but for at least these three reasons, it is the concern of the whole community. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, and what happens in the bedroom doesn’t stay in the bedroom. So the next time you’re in a conversation and someone says that sex is just a private act, remember these three things: Number 1: Sexual activity affects public health. Number 2: Sexual activity is procreative. Number 3: Our sexual experiences affect our mental health and deeply shape our character.

“Adolescents and Young Adults” (Dec. 7, 2017): (accessed Nov 4, 2019).

Jacqueline Howard, “Three STDs reach all-time highs in the US, new CDC report says,” CNN (Oct 8, 2019): (accessed Nov 4, 2019).