Consent is Not Enough


I read a wide variety of media, and stumbled across this article in MercatorNet today. MercatorNet is, I believe, a Catholic publication. The piece was by a Dr. Emma Wood from Australia, whose doctorate is in moral philosophy.

She argues that the new emphasis on consent to sexual relations is not enough. I've seen some excellent arguments that consent will surely be coerced in many cases, and that this will actually backfire against women. Men already have a consent "app" that they can use to document you've given consent. It will be next to impossible to later claim the consent was coerced and made under duress.

But Wood's argument is not of that variety. She argues that for men, the ubiquity of online porn of the most degrading and sadistic sort, has turned sex into some of absolutely no consequence whatsoever to men. She writes:

"Letís begin with a thought experiment. Suppose youíre at the house of an acquaintance for the afternoon ó letís call him Jack. Jack is in a playful mood. He wants to have a water fight with you, but you donít want to. But Jack pressures you, cajoles you, persists, and keeps asking. You make it clear that youíre not keen on the idea, and you keep saying no. Time passes, and it looks like Jack has dropped the issue. But then ó splash! While you werenít looking, Jack has hit you with a water-bomb, and is now standing there with a grin on his face, hoping youíll retaliate. Looks like youíre having that water fight after all.

"Did Jack do anything wrong by initiating the unwanted water fight? Perhaps. At the very least, what he did was annoying; at the worst, an inconvenience.

"But supposing that what Jack did was wrong, how wrong was it? Was it seriously wrong? Would you be justified in claiming that Jack violated you, and that what he did was so bad that he deserves jail time for it? Probably not. The worst we could say is that Jack ruined your afternoon. What Jack did was a bit wrong. Maybe moderately wrong. But not seriously or grievously wrong. Why not? Because it was just a water fight. Jack pressured you into a trivial recreational activity that you (and most people) normally don’t mind that much anyway. So the fact that he disregarded your wishes can’t be that big a deal.

"Now, substitute “water fight” for “sex”, and we might begin to see why it seems unintelligible to so many young men today that sexual assault is a big deal. Young men have grown up in a culture that tells them that sex is a recreational activity with no deeper significance. Unsurprisingly, then, young men have come to internalise the idea that initiating unwanted sex is on par with initiating an unwanted water fight. It is just a bit of fun, and nothing that any reasonable person should get too upset about."

Unless sex is somehow special and significant, we find ourselves in a quandary. Wood writes, "We can believe that sexual assault is a particularly grievous wrong or we can believe that sex is a trivial recreational activity, but we cannot consistently believe both. And this, I submit, explains the trouble we’re currently having. If our condemnation of sexual assault is inconsistent with a broader cultural idea that we are tolerating, we should not be surprised that the message about sexual assault is not getting through."

Wood anticipates some criticism in this manner: "A little reflection should show us that this “pregnancy risk” explanation for the seriousness of sexual assault just won’t do. No one would view the rape of an infertile woman as a lesser violation than the rape of a fertile woman. Nor will it do to appeal to the fact that sexual assault is often violent or physically painful. Most women I know would rather have a leg broken than be raped, even if the rape involves less physical pain. The real explanation for the seriousness of sexual assault is that it is an intrusion into an intimate personal sphere, the sharing of which is supposed to be a precious thing."

But our pornified world has made sex anything but precious. This also puts young women in a terrible bind: "Our culture’s embrace of the 'recreational view' has deprived young women of the ability to say 'no' mainly, perhaps, because it has deprived them of the rationale for saying 'no'." If sex is trivial, what's the rationale for saying no?

Alas, Dr. Wood does not tell us how to rectify this situation. She suggests our youth need "re-education" in the significance of sex. I don't see how that is done without a family imparting to their children a religious significance to sex that transcends place, time, and culture. And, of course, that same family prohibiting the consumption of pornography. I suspect such families are as rare as hen's teeth these days, though . . .