One would think that the right to say “yes” or “no” when it comes to sexual intimacy would be basic and easy to understand. Unfortunately, there seems to be profound confusion in both secular and Christian culture on what constitutes consent and what constitutes assault. Let’s begin with secular culture. One particularly shocking study (on a relatively small sample size) indicated that 1 in 3 college males would admit they would rape a woman – if the word rape was removed from the question and the question simply referred to forcing a woman to have sex. The study indicated that men who would answer “yes” to the question which included the word rape displayed the explicit misogyny and hostility towards women that we typically associate with predators. The men who admitted they would force a woman to have sex with them if they could get away with it did not display such explicit hatred towards women– they seemed genuinely confused, to have genuinely believed a cultural message that they have a “right” to access to women and that sexual aggression is normal.
Within Christian culture, the concept of consent typically gets even more difficult – enter a raging debate about the dangers of what is often called “purity culture.” In conservative Christian sub-culture, often the only message about sex is that it is wrong before marriage and in some way causes permanent harm to whoever engages in sex. Within that subculture, admitting to a sexual relationship in itself brings such shame and condemnation few would admit that a consensual sexual relationship became forceful or even violent. Christian leaders may have so much trouble getting past the fact that someone is sexually active that they will dismiss any allegations of assault. The idea seems to be that if someone is sexually active, then they are not reliable witnesses and probably “wanted” whatever they are reporting.
In a fascinating video which has recently gone viral, London’s Thames Valley police make an initiative to get the public to understand the critical concept of consent by comparing the right to say yes or no to the right to refuse a cup of tea. The analogy borders on hilarious at times, but it gets the message across: at any point in a healthy relationship, a person always has the right to say no. “If you say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then — this is the important bit — don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it.” The video is from a secular perspective but it’s well worth watching and spreading. Bottom line: for anyone, whether Christian or not, consent is important, and it’s really not that complicated.