Dr. Ruth weighed in on the topic of consent and rape by making a statement that Women can’t say no to sex once naked in bed. Her point was that being naked in bed with a man was consent—it took her a lot to get there. As you can imagine, this riled up all sorts of websites. It’s interesting that we’re even having to have this conversation on consent, but it’s not surprising.
Prior to the current cultural climate around sex there was a single place where sexual contact was expected – inside a committed marriage relationship. This is not to say that there wasn’t adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and the like. What I’m saying is that the prevailing culture believe these expressions of sexuality were wrong or sin.
Sex Outside of Marriage Was Considered Wrong
One has but to look at some of the historical works and laws to make this case. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter shows that in early America adultery was considered something that a woman could be shamed for—as is also reflected in the laws, like this law in Michigan that made adultery a felony punishable up to life in prison.
When it came to fornication, the usual result of fornication was a child, as reliable birth control did not come about until the middle of the 1900s. Many stories abound of parents hiding their children to have their baby, this is where we get the picture of coat-hanger abortions to avoid the social stigma, and shot gun weddings.
Homosexuality, up until the end of the 1900s, was considered a mental illness that was to be institutionalized or medicated and it was considered something that was not natural by traditional American culture.
The only place where sex was permitted and considered ethical was inside marriage. Consent did not have to be given explicitly because it was assumed and part of marriage. Sexual access was granted, provision was expected, and it was to be a lifelong covenant.
However, there was a problem. While women were pressured to remain sexually pure and chaste, men were excused for their indiscretions. Men did not bear the children and men did not seem to have a problem getting wives even after these indiscretions.
Sex With Anyone Became Moral and Approved
To combat this, instead of shaming men like women were shamed, the culture decided to cast off the easy rule for where sex was permitted (inside marriage), and to “liberate” sex to happen whenever and wherever “love” was present. Part of this was a gradual change of the definition of marriage or the foundations of it.
We were introduced to the concept of marriage for love, and you had to love someone to be married. Then we were told that women who were in love should be able to have uncommitted sex because that’s what men did—why punish the women and not the men? From there we were told that because men could be attracted and love men and women could love women, then that needed to be accepted as well.
On every front, the whole premise of marriage being the appropriate place for sexual contact was replaced by sexual contact devoid of marriage. On the face of it, this sounds like a liberating thing, except that as human beings this leads to problems.
The Problem and Increasing Scope of Rape
Rape was defined as forced sexual contact. Armies would rape the female populace of an invaded country as a means of displaying that they were conquering them. Men would lie in wait and take women by force. Rape is ugly and vile—it’s more than sexual desire but a display of dominance and sometimes anger.
Rape is always a traumatic event, but when men and women were supposed to be abstinent outside of marriage and faithful within, rape was indeed a tragedy. You can easily see why rape in these traditional times was something that was glaringly obvious. If you weren’t being raped, that means that you were a willing participant in sin. This could cause you to lose the honor to your family, ability to get married, and to be socially stigmatized. A person would know that there were very severe consequences to his or her sexual activity outside of marriage.
Within this context, the Levitical law makes sense. It said that consent could be classified based on whether a woman was screaming (or fighting the rapist) or whether she was quiet and complicit in the activity.
Within the modern context, the issue is a little more grey than that. Since modern culture erased the idea of sex only inside marriage, it needed a substitute. This defaulted back to the concept of having to get consent of the parties before engaging in sexual contact—every sexual contact needed consent. If consent was not given, this made the contact rape.
This opened the door for all new types of rape. There could be marital rape, where the husband or wife did not consent to sexual contact, and thereby made a spouse into a rapist. It lead to date rape, where even though the new conventions meant that sex outside of marriage wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t right either unless both consented.
But that gave sexual partners a potent weapon, because in intimate encounters there are rarely multiple external people involved and the people involved may be under some degree of influence from a substance. So one of the people that made sexual contact could reflect late on and decide that consent was not given, and therefore the other person is a rapist.
What used to be well defined and clean cut became open ended and vague. College campuses have tried to define ways of getting consent with absurd titles like “yes means yes”. The problem is that yes can eventually be no. False accusations come to the front, with those leading the charge in this new cultural dynamic conflating rape from a time gone by with this new broader rape, and challenging anyone that would say otherwise.
Which Is Better?
This has all been brought upon us by the change in standards. The question that I have for you is, wasn’t it better when you saved it for when you were married instead of giving it away and having all the human wreckage abound? I would argue that men being cads was wrong, but this push to open the doors to anything and everything has made the battle between the sexes worse.
Equality doesn’t have to look like this.