Mere consent is not enough

Mere consent is not enough
Separating sex and love has been a disaster for men and women, writes David Quinn


Even Freud believed a certain amount of repression of our instincts was necessary to civilisation. Freud was the ‘patron saint’ of anti-repression but he saw that a certain amount of repression, or to put it another way, of ‘civilised behaviour’ was a sine qua non for, well, civilisation itself.

This belief of Freud’s, and it was by no means original to him, comes to mind as we read about the sexual predations of the likes of Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, various Hollywood actors, and at the lesser end of the spectrum, the former British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon.

Each of these men acted on instincts they ought not to have acted on. Thousands of women have now come forward using the hashtag #metoo on Twitter to describe the ways in which they have been sexually harassed or abused at work and elsewhere.

Weinstein’s behaviour, which includes allegations of rape, is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Fallon’s behaviour (that we know of) involves a complaint, which he has basically admitted to, that he inappropriately and repeatedly touched a woman on the knee.


It is interesting to speculate upon the reasons why Fallon felt he had to go and Bill Clinton managed to survive in office despite the far more serious complaints against him. Most famously there was his relationship with a much younger intern, Monica Lewinski that involved a huge imbalance of power between the two even if it was, on the face of it, consensual.

But much more serious allegations were made against him by other women, including Paula Jones, Jaunita Broderick and Jennifer Flowers. Bill Clinton was nothing if not sexually predatory and yet for the most part feminists remained silent when these allegations surfaced in the 1990s.

They are not silent now, not about Weinstein or Fallon or any of the other sexual abusers and harassers whose names are coming to light. Women are being encouraged to fight back and show zero tolerance towards this kind of behaviour whether it is of the worst kind (which is obviously criminal as well), and the milder, Michael Fallon-kind.

They are being urged to do this on behalf of all the other women who might become victims of these men and to make the workplace and all other places of interaction between the sexes, safer places.

What are Christians to make of this? Insofar as feminism seeks to make male sexual behaviour more civilised, they will be with them every inch of the way. Christianity, like all of the major religions, seeks to civilise the behaviour of both sexes. They have strict rules of sexual behaviour and for a long time had cruel sanctions, especially for women, when anyone stepped badly out of line.

Even leaving aside these cruel sanctions, Christianity’s rules of conduct were still criticised, especially as the 20th Century progressed, for being overly repressive. Christianity said people had to wait until marrying before having sex. This was also a way of saying marry before you have children.

But people didn’t want to wait until they married before having sex and so, with the advent of the pill, the sex revolution dawned, and new rules of sexual behaviour had to be found.

In the end there was only one rule; consent. So long as the adults were consenting, no objection would be raised to them having sex, and that included ‘casual sex’, which is to say, having sex with someone you don’t know, or barely know.

In fact, one of the leading feminists of the 1970s, Erica Jong, encouraged casual sex (which she described by a name I won’t burden you with here) because she thought it could be the best and purest sex (‘pure’ as in the encounter would be about nothing but the sex).

But life is an awful lot more messy and complicated than that. ‘Consent’ alone does not a civilised society-make.


To begin with there seems to be an awful lot of confusion about what is and is not ‘consent’. For example, is there consent when both parties are drunk? Universities are now running consent classes to try and clear up the confusion.

Also, what if one of the consenting partners is married? Shouldn’t the principle of consent give way to the higher value of fidelity?

The sex revolution basically told both sexes that they did not have to be in a relationship, never mind married, to have sex. This communicated to many men (encouraged by the likes of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner) that women were constantly sexually available and it was worth your while seeing how far you could get with them.

Even if we lived in a world of perfect consent, one in which women’s sexual boundaries were perfectly respected, it would still be a cruel and exploitative world because this kind of sexual morality still encourages us to objectify the other sex, with men doing most of the objectifying. (No female Harvey Weinsteins have been revealed to date, for instance.)

A world of casual, consensual sex, will still result in many women feeling used (studies indicate that women are much more likely than men to feel ‘used’ after a casual sexual encounter). Untold numbers of women will still find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, hence the vast numbers of abortions that take place worldwide every single year.

No matter what a person’s position is regarding the morality of abortion, that still represents a huge amount of emotional pain because who, in their ideal life plan, would ever want an abortion?

This is why Christianity insists that a sexual morality which rests only on consent simply isn’t good enough. It still wants us to connect sex with marriage, but at a minimum to connect it with a strong and loving relationship. That way, the potential for exploitation is greatly diminished and the chances that a pre   gnancy will be carried to term rather than aborted greatly increased.

Separating sex from marriage was seen as very liberating, but for very many people sex was also disconnected from love as the price of ‘liberation’, and that has been a disaster. This is why feminist sexual morality based only on consent is so inadequate and fails women as well as men.

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