‘Consent’ is not enough. We need to recover the lost meaning of sex

Apr 7, 2021 by

by Emma Wood, MercatorNet:

If sex is merely a fun activity, why is sexual assault such a grave violation?

[…]  Why is “consent training” not enough to combat the toxicity of what we are seeing in relations between the sexes? Why have so many young women been hurt, and why are so many young men insensitive to the seriousness of sexual assault? The answer to these questions will require some preparedness to challenge a number of deeply held and culturally popular assumptions about the nature of sex itself.

Moral intuitions and sex

Let’s begin with a thought experiment. Suppose you’re at the house of an acquaintance for the afternoon — let’s call him Jack. Jack is in a playful mood. He wants to have a water fight with you, but you don’t want to. But Jack pressures you, cajoles you, persists, and keeps asking. You make it clear that you’re not keen on the idea, and you keep saying no. Time passes, and it looks like Jack has dropped the issue. But then — splash! While you weren’t looking, Jack has hit you with a water-bomb, and is now standing there with a grin on his face, hoping you’ll retaliate. Looks like you’re 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.

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