If Everyone Consents, Why Not “50 Shades” or Incest?

Is it really true that anything consenting adults agree to is acceptable?

As one professor of psychiatry recently wrote, consent is “a very thin and insufficient defense against sexual coercion and sexual abuse.” Why? Because people sometimes consent to things that they are not really comfortable with. Sometimes they even agree to do things that are harmful to them. Sometimes their consent isn’t always informed. There are a number of reasons that consent alone is an insufficient moral criterion, yet the sexual revolutionaries are claiming otherwise.

 

At this point in our culture’s sexual devolution, the only recognized boundary on sexual expression is consent. If two or more persons are of age and if all parties agree to a given sexual activity, then that activity is deemed acceptable—no matter what it is. Any attempt to suggest moral obligation beyond consent is treated as repressive and as a throwback to puritanical austerity. That’s simply where we are right now as a people.

Certainly Christians would agree with our secular counterparts that consent is a necessary moral condition for sexual expression. No one disagrees with that. The problem we have is with the suggestion that consent is the only necessary condition. Nevertheless, our culture has been experimenting with the “consent only” norm for many decades now. How is this working out for us? Is it really true that anythingconsenting adults agree to is acceptable?

Two stories in the news today illustrate the problem with this kind of thinking.

1. College Student Accused of ’50 Shades’ Sexual Assault (NBC News) – A college student is accused of trying to reenact a scene from 50 Shades of Grey with a female student. Prosecutors say that the young woman went along with the scene until the young man became physically abusive. She asked him to stop, and he wouldn’t. The young man is arguing that what they were doing was consensual. She says it was not.

So this case is likely to boil down to whether the young woman consented to this activity. I think it is obvious that she did not. But even if she had, are we really okay with that morally? As one professor of psychiatry recently wrote, consent is “a very thin and insufficient defense against sexual coercion and sexual abuse.” Why? Because people sometimes consent to things that they are not really comfortable with. Sometimes they even agree to do things that are harmful to them. Sometimes their consent isn’t always informed. There are a number of reasons that consent alone is an insufficient moral criterion, yet the sexual revolutionaries are claiming otherwise.

I would suggest that we would be much better off as a people if young men understood that beating women is morally evil. And it is evil even if the woman gives permission to do it. In fact, it is evil even if the woman asks for it to be done to her. It’s not okay to stab a person in the stomach merely because they consent to be stabbed. Consent is not a sufficient reason to allow such a thing. Likewise, why would we think that reenacting scenes from sadistic pornography is okay so long as everyone agrees to it?

2. “Genetic sexual attraction is normal, and very real”: A woman describes the reality of parent-child incest (Salon) – By now, we have all heard of SSA (“same-sex attraction”). But have you heard of GSA (“genetic sex attraction”)? In case you haven’t, GSA is the new term of art for incest. The woman featured in the Salonarticle highlights GSA as the reason for her sexual relationship with her estranged biological father. The story is too sordid and sad to recount here. Yet the entire moral premise is that no one should question her relationship so long as it is consensual. But again, is that really where we want to go as a people? If consent is the only criterion for sexual morality, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people defend incest on such grounds.

I am a Christian. I believe that the Bible’s vision of sexual morality is the best and happiest way to live. Having said that, one doesn’t have to be a Christian to see thatconsent alone will not do as a basis for sexual ethics. I’m hoping that we won’t have to see too many stories like the ones above before people realize that.

Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.