Obtaining Consent Doesn’t End with Marriage

I am deeply troubled by She Only Said “Yes” Once, an article I recently came upon on Faith It by Pastor Reggie Osborne. It’s very long. Let me give you a sample:

I stood on a stage in the church I’d grown up in.  I can only vaguely remember my wedding, but I’ll never forget seeing Allison emerge from the hallway at the back of the sanctuary. Beautiful.

 

. . .We stood before the pastor, and we went through the motions of the service.  It feels sacrilege to says this, but they were just words at that point.  The promises had already been made.

Finally:  “You may kiss your bride.”

We kissed.  A real kiss…nothing obscene…but not a peck either.  My wife is so shy about showing affection in public, that even to this day we don’t really kiss when we’re out and about.  But we kissed right then and there, with no shyness at all.

And in that moment, on that stage, when we were married, my wife – Allison Lynne Osborne – said, “Yes,” to me. 

Before that moment, the answer had always been, “No,” – “no” in my heart and “no” in hers.  “No” in parked cars, in movie theatres, in empty living rooms – “no” to all of those emotions and desires that threaten to sweep away young people in love.  The answer had always been, “No.”

Not anymore.  On, July 28th, 2001, the answer we gave each other before God and everyone was: “Yes.”  “Yes,” until the day that we die.

Yes, I could kiss her.  Yes, I could sleep with her.  Yes, I could steal glances of her in the shower because I think she looks great even after 5 kids. She said, “Yes,” to me, forever.

I wasn’t asking for a one night stand or permission to touch her after a party.  I was asking for forever, and that’s what she gave me.  That’s what I gave her.

She has never had to say it again.  She said “yes” only once.  She meant it to last.  I meant it to last.  It has lasted fourteen years.  It will remain in effect until death parts us.

I’ve rarely seen this switch from “no, no, no” to “yes, yes, yes” illustrated so clearly. Evangelicals oppose sex before marriage—no, no, no. But where they stumble most seriously is after marriage—I’m sorry, but it doesn’t actually switch to yes, yes, yes, especially if there are five kids in the mix! A married man can’t just walk up to his wife and have sex with her whenever he wants (and vice versa). The other person’s consent matters.

But Osborne doesn’t like consent—not at all.

Last October the New York Times published an article describing what sex education is like for tenth graders now in San Francisco.  A new law requires that teachers give lessons on something called “affirmative consent”.  These children are taught to ask for consent at every point in a sexual encounter.

Do you want to kiss her?  Ask for consent.  Do you want to touch her breasts?  Ask for consent again.  Do you want to take her clothes off?  Ask for consent again.  Do you want to penetrate?  Ask for consent again.

If that’s too graphic for you, just remember, this is 10th grade material.

So I looked up the article referenced here and it’s Osborne being graphic, not the article or the teachers. There’s nothing about penetration or breasts or details. Really. The article states that the children were taught “how and why to make sure each step in a sexual encounter is met with consent,” but that doesn’t mean each step had to be outlined. Osborne seems to be the one with the fixation here.

Osborne also seems to find all of this way more awkward than the students in the article. Sure, the students had lots of questions and were concerned about making sexual encounters awkward or breaking the flow of things. They didn’t approach the issue with Osborne’s horror. To the students it seemed to make sense, they just wanted to make sure they understood it.

Anyway, Osborne explains that the teacher gave the students an assignment to come up with ways of asking for consent. Ultimately, the students came up with a way to do so in just two words: “You good?” As Osborne discusses it:

Two simple words: “You good?”

A boy is about to take the top off a girl:  “You good?”

He touches her underwear: “You good?”

Before kissing her body:  “You good?”

Before taking her virginity … before losing his own, he asks: “You good?”

The answer is no. I’m not good. You’re not good. None of this is good. This is not what sex is for. This is not what love is for. We’ve ruined it.

I get that Osborne believes sex should be confined to marriage. I get that. What I’m less clear on is his disgust with the very idea of consent. He advocates a no, no, no / yes, yes, yes dichotomy that makes sex wrong outside of marriage and right inside of marriage, thus (he believes) eliminating the need to even talk about consent. What this means for marital rape is horrifying to contemplate.

I have been married for nearly a decade now. My husband and I have always valued consent. When we want to have sex, we communicate about that, and we accept a “no” from the other partner as the case may be. We get busy. We get tired. We have two children, jobs, and chores! The need for consent does not end at the altar—not in the least.

Let’s look at one last bit from Osborne’s piece:

One generation … two generations, have grown up in a culture where sex means practically nothing on TV and media, and so they’ve actually embraced the idea that it means nothing in real life!  They’ve heard the message and believed it:  “Sex is no big deal.”  They feel totally inadequate and unfulfilled if they aren’t having it.

And we have done such a good job teaching that message, that now 1 in 5 women who attend college for four years say they’ve been sexually assaulted.  Or is it 1 in 7, like the authors of the study tried to clarify in TIME Magazine?  Am I supposed to feel better about 1 in 7, as opposed to 1 in 5?  Is that supposed to comfort me?

Virtually every single major publication in our country, from Sports Illustrated to the New York Times has written extensively on the dangerous places that college campuses have become for young women.  The violence of sex has become so undeniably prevalent in our culture that now governments feel they must act, they must do something – ANYTHING – to teach young people the one truth about sex that should be the most common, basic, intuitive part:  it should be CONSENSUAL.

Think about that for a moment.  We have so RUINED our image of sex that we now have to PASS LAWS requiring teachers to explain to our children that they must be sure someone wants to have sex before they go through with it.

Does Osborne think there wasn’t premarital sex two generations ago? I’m honestly curious! What’s changing here isn’t the rate of teenage sex—that’s actually going down—but rather the rate of sexual assault. Osborne appears to believe that there has been a rise in sexual assault in the past two decades. I sincerely doubt that this is the case. There may have been a rise in reporting, but sexual assault took place in past generations whether people realized it or not.

But now to the bigger question—why shouldn’t consent be the most common, basic, intuitive truth about sex? Yes, we should teach kids about contraception, and that they don’t need to have sex as a right of passage, and that they shouldn’t shame either virgins or the sexually active. Yes, we should teach kids about healthy relationship skills. But what is so horrifying about teaching children that consent is the most important thing to remember about sex?

Osborne says he has worked with youth in his position as pastor and that he believes that “the number 1 reason why children leave their homes and wreck their lives is a desire for sex that our culture has SCREAMED that they must have.” I think Osborne is missing something here. The schools are no the same thing as media or other sex-saturated industry. Schools work to teach teens about potential pitfalls, to inform them, to help them approach sex responsibly without ruining their lives.

Even if we decided that sex should only take place in marriage, as Osborne believes, teens would still need to learn the importance of consent. Abusive marriages are far too common. Marital rape still happens. The idea that someone need only say “yes” once is terrifying. In a 1996 study of male college students, 50% did not believe it was possible for a husband to rape his wife. Education in consent isn’t just about premarital sex, whatever Osborne may think, and it sounds like something he still needs to learn.

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