Sex and models of consent; more questions than answers
One of the things that makes any attempt to change human sexual behavior so difficult, is the extreme disconnect that already exists between how people think they should behave sexually, and how they actually do. (Look at all the people, for instance, who carry on affairs outside of supposedly monogamous relationships. Or then, look at the outrage Sandra Fluke attracted. You’d almost think that adults having sex with other adults was an unusual thing.)
What this means is that any attempt to change people’s sexual behavior (from the left or the right or wherever) runs headlong into this problem: even if it succeeds in changing people’s idea of how they should act, how people say they will behave, perhaps even how they say they do behave, it may not affect what people actually do at all.
Me, I’m interested in consent. I think rape is bad (there’s a daring and controversial position, right?) I think that being pressured into something you’re not sure you want to do is bad. I think that two people going ahead and doing something when they’re drunk/high/swept away in the heat of passion, that they wouldn’t do if they’d thought about it clearly first, is probably a bad idea even if it’s otherwise consensual. Basically, I’m in favor of sex that doesn’t cause harm. Sex that’s mutually respectful and where both people are mindful of the potential harm to their future selves.
And nobody really disagrees with that, at least not in situations where they’re careful what they say (school? a workplace sexual harassment training?)
And we have stories where the hero sneaks into the heroine’s bedroom and watches her sleep, without her knowledge, and this is called romantic.
And we have a culture where most rapes don’t get reported, especially when the perpetrator knows the victim and relies on alcohol or drugs rather than physical force.
Yesterday there was a letter to Dear Abby from a woman asking whether, in a long-term sexual relationship, attempting to have sex with a sleeping partner is a problem.
And many anti-rape activists point out that the burden of preventing rape should not be put entirely on the shoulders of the potential victims, as it so often is, but rather on the culture as a whole. And it should be. As a culture we should rewrite our stories that say that knowing what to do sexually without saying a word is romantic and talking about it is unsexy; we should talk about sex more so that everybody knows what healthy sex looks and feels like; we should give support to people who have been raped who speak up about it.
What I am concerned about is the question of how to talk about consent without making it another ideal that people ascribe to in theory and ignore in practice.
Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing? In sports, everyone always talks about the value of being a good sport, and how it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. And yet you see bad sports everywhere. Perhaps this is because wanting to win is human nature and we need the value of good sportsmanship for people to have a chance of being decent to each other in the face of that natural drive.
I don’t know; this is more of a question than an answer. Part of me thinks that it’s different with sexuality: it’s not a matter of necessary ethical ideals combatting base human nature, but rather a problem of unhealthy and unrealistic (and unnecessary) expectations.