ONE afternoon, while reporting for a book on girls’ sexual experience, I sat in on a health class at a progressive Bay Area high school. Toward the end of the session, a blond boy wearing a school athletic jersey raised his hand. “You know that baseball metaphor for sex?” he asked. “Well, in baseball there’s a winner and a loser. So who is supposed to be the ‘loser’ in sex?”

That question has floated back to me over the past 10 days as the stream of revelations about Donald J. Trump surfaced: the vile comments he fobbed off as boys will be 59-year-old boys bluster; the allegations that he jammed his tongue down the throat of a People magazine reporter; grabbed the rear of a woman who was visiting his home in Palm Beach; came at a stranger on an airplane “like an octopus”; groped and kissed a former “Apprentice” contestant during a meeting in his office; and barged into the dressing room of the Miss Teen USA pageant on seminude contestants, some of whom were underage.

The reports have sparked unprecedented discussions in the news media of “rape culture” and sexual consent. Except that the discussions aren’t really unprecedented. They are part of a cycle of soul-searching that is repeated whenever news of a high-profile incident of alleged harassment or assault breaks — Robert Chambers; the Spur Posse in Lakewood, Calif.; Glen Ridge, N.J.; Clarence Thomas; William Kennedy Smith; Mike Tyson; Steubenville, Ohio; Bill Cosby; Ray Rice; St. Paul’s; Roger Ailes; Brock Turner. In each case, by the time it’s over, we turn away from the broader implications toward a more comforting narrative: The perpetrators are exceptions, monsters whom we can isolate, eliminate and occasionally even prosecute.

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