Let’s Talk About Christian Culture and Consent

by Kathryn Brightbill cross posted from Homeschoolers Anonymous

Note from R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator: The following post does not mention “homeschooling” in any way. It is more about the Christian culture in which many of our homeschooling experiences occurred. But since many of our particular homeschooling experiences occurred within this culture, this post is very relevant. After reading Kathryn’s thoughts, I, too, tried to remember when any of the modesty or purity teachings I received about relationships — in both my church and homeschooling environments — included any discussion about consent. Like Kathryn, I was at a loss. In retrospect, I find this omission rather disturbing.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on August 1, 2013.


Let’s Talk About Christian Culture and Consent

A friend made a comment on one of my Facebook posts today that got me thinking.

The comment was about how a lot of people in the Church don’t have any kind of sexual ethic, just a bunch rules that they follow. I think that’s a good description of how it is that people buy into slippery slope arguments—the old, “if we allow people to gay marry, then what’s to stop them from toaster marrying?” logic.

If you’ve got a sexual ethic based on consent, then the answer is obvious: because toasters are incapable of consent.

If you are just operating by rules, then it makes sense that you’d think that if one of your rules gets tossed then what’s to stop all your rules from going out the window.

The comment on my Facebook post made me realize that in all of the years of growing up in the Church, of getting lectures about abstinence in Sunday school and youth group and True Love Waits, I cannot remember a single mention of consent. I remember Dawson McAllister coming to town to a True Love Waits event and telling us that anal sex was still sex and not a way to remain a virgin (which is not a bad piece of information, incidentally, though really rather stupid if the only reason you’re telling them is to make sure they remain more than just technical virgins), but for all of the talk about what you couldn’t do, the only talk about saying “no” was about not sinning.

I’ve racked my brain trying to remember even a single time that I’ve ever heard consent mentioned in a church-related setting growing up and I can’t remember a single one. 

By not teaching about consent, you produce girls who don’t know that they can refuse consent for any other reason than “it’s a sin,” and you produce boys who have never been taught that no means no. That’s a recipe for disaster. Is conservative abstinence education turning boys into accidental rapists and girls into easy victims because neither one has been educated about consent being an inviolable element in a sexual encounter?

I put this question out there on Facebook and Twitter and I’ll ask it here as well. For those of you who grew up in the church and were lectured about abstinence in youth group/Sunday school/True Love Waits/etc.:

Do any of you remember being taught about consent?

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


Patheos Atheist LogoLike No Longer Quivering and Patheos Atheist on Facebook!

Quoting Quiverfull: Speaking Plain Words Shows Love For Enemies?
The Bad Boy and the Angel
NLQ Question of the Week: Why So Fearful of Every Single Thing?
Answering "Preparing To Be A Help Meet" - Don't Know What To Do...Help Please!
About Suzanne Calulu
  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    I think one of the reasons why consent is a hard thing to talk about with teens is that legally, some of the teens are simply too young to consent any way. But I have certainly heard, and taught, in youth work that “it is not your fault if you did not say yes to it, it is a crime then.”

  • Dawn

    But how can you hold someone responsible if they’ve never been taught the concept of “consent”? Also, there’s that nasty little bit about how women are ALWAYS the “sinful” ones! I was raped even though I said no, but was sick with the flu, and too weak to “fight” him off–like that would have worked, since I weighed 98 pounds and he was 180. So, being a “good Christian girl” (at that time) I married him because the Bible said I had to. You see, even though I had said no and was violated (the fact) I was “tainted goods” and not “worthy” of any other man (what the Bible says and what is taught…or at least it was 40-ish years ago). Also, when this happened to me, it was hard to prosecute “rape”. It wasn’t until the 1980′s that “rape” BECAME a crime, and even now there are some who will deny it, citing what the woman was wearing or how she was allegedly behaving. Boys/men are given a free pass most of the time. I fine it unbelievable how people can justify the belief that “women are sinful because men lust after them”. What a crock of crap!

  • Sara Lin Wilde

    I was a purity ring kid in a Catholic youth group and that conversation never happened. To be honest, I think they just assumed we would learn about consent somewhere else, or that it wasn’t important. They expected us to make sure we were virgins when we got married; I’m not sure whether they knew married people can refuse consent. (I mean, sure, if your husband’s nice he’ll respect that you have a headache, but you *are* married . . . )

    I also think there’s an element of willful blindness here. These nice youth group boys are trying to live out the teachings of Jesus; how could they be rapists?

  • NeaDods

    Dawn, I hope you are free of him now! What a terrible reason to marry!

  • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

    I agree with Nea. I truly hope things have gotten better. It must have been horribly traumatic.

  • Lynn

    I never heard anything about consent being an optional sort of thing. I do remember, while unhappily married to a man who believed I gave up my right to withdraw consent as soon as I took my wedding vows, that I heard a woman on the radio talk about how many young girls were having premarital sex when they didn’t want to. My reflexive response was that before marriage we have to say no, and after marriage we have to say yes. Free consent wasn’t really an issue.

  • Joy

    I remember explaining to my (now ex-) husband that just because we were married didn’t mean he got to have sex whenever he wanted to. I think we had been married about 24 hours at that point.

    Happy honeymoon! Not.

  • Janet Brown

    Consent was never discussed in the fairly mainstream Baptist environment I grew up in, because then teens might learn to give consent to wanted sex. All sex outside of marriage was supposed to be unwanted. Sex within marriage was supposed to be mutually enjoyable. I was taught a sort of softened and very much mutual marital duty of not withholding sex as a punishment or because of a mere lack of interest. Rape was discussed in my churches’ youth group, and the girls’ were told that the rapist may lie and say that the girl did something to deserve or ask for it. However, we were also told that rape is where a guy wants sex, a girl doesn’t, and the guy forces the girl to have sex. It was easy to conclude that all rapists were ordinary guys whose passions had been unreasonably inflamed, though the youth pastor didn’t put it like that, and tried to be fair and spread the purity doctrine equally. I was given a dose of modesty doctrine, to the point where I would swim in knee length cut off jeans. I used to think that any girl who wore a shirt that revealed her breasts was doing something exactly like engaging random guys in conversation and saying out loud, “Would you like to have sex with me?” Teenage me would have been a terrible burden on a girl who was raped while not wearing a muumuu. I’m sure the rest of the church would have been more understanding, even if she had happened to be wearing a micro skirt and tube top. Whether these things that I and other youth group attendees were taught resulted in harm other then a complete cut off from a huge part of the human experience, I’ll never know.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    Dawn, I am so sorry to hear that…

  • Baby_Raptor

    I did not learn about the concept of consent until…my early 20s? Years after I’d left fundiedom, and after the collapse of my first marriage.

    The idea made sense to me, as I’d managed to develop a rough version of the beliefs myself. I just thought until then that I was a minority in thinking that way.

  • Baby_Raptor

    You have my sympathies, Dawn. I was raped as a teenager, and my grandparents forcefully stopped me from trying to press charges on the man. To do so would have been “sinful,” because I was “just fulfilling my purpose as a woman.”

    There are some *very Fucking sick* views on sex/consent in Fundieland.

  • Baby_Raptor

    We’re talking about sex here, so I’ll continue with that in my explanation.

    A broad definition of the concept of consent is that everyone involved sexually is A) legally of age to consent, B) Fully educated and informed (is birth control being used? Do any of the people involved have other partners? STD history? Those such matters) and C) based on those, are agreeing to sex happening.

    In short, it’s being fully aware of the details and making an informed decision about a matter.

  • http://volunteer11.blogspot.com/ VollyfromtheBlog

    Teenagers can be extremely puritanical and judgmental, even without a church egging them on. I grew up in a secular, liberal environment and am deeply ashamed to recall how we (some friends and I) judged a high school classmate who we learned was being molested by her stepfather. We actually talked about HER being a slut. We didn’t like her because she was remote and unfriendly — gee, I can’t imagine why… So don’t be too hard on yourself for having taken the modesty concept beyond what you were openly taught. The important thing is to know where the errors were and correct them going forward, especially with regard to what you as an adult teach the younger ones.

  • Mary Seeley Stockler

    Ok thanks. Yes, definitely not taught in my circles growing up. We WERE told to save our selves for marriage, but that (and that doing anything before marriage ‘tainted’ you) was about the extent of it. K knew numerous girls who went all the way when pressured because they’d already held hands/kissed and therefore were already tainted.Also girls who were scared they were pregnant when they hadn’t had sex – because they didn’t know the basics of how babies are made.

  • The_L1985

    I always felt like I was deeply abnormal for having a sex drive at all, and tried to repress it.

    The night I lost my virginity, I assumed that because he was a man, he would want it, even though I wasn’t really feeling in the mood. He assumed that because I’d spoken my mind about other things, that I wouldn’t suggest anything I didn’t actively want. So, “I guess you can touch me, if you want to” from me turned into fumbling, uncomfortable sex that neither of us really wanted–and that we spent the rest of the relationship lying to ourselves and each other and pretending was wonderful.

    It gets worse. After the sex, he became possessive, and tried to stop me from hanging out with my male friends. I was deluded and thinking that because I was “damaged goods,” I’d have to marry him. *shudders* I am so glad I dodged that bullet, but it took a complete mental breakdown to actually realize that he was bad for me, and that I shouldn’t have indicated in any way that it was OK to have sex that I did not want at all.

  • Theo Darling
  • Dawn

    It WAS a terrible reason to marry–BUT IT’S BIBLICAL!!!!!! That’s what I believed and was “into” at the time.

    I’ve been free from him for a LONG time! Divorced in 1983, even though family were telling me “God disapproves of divorce.” (REALLY ? So, how does God feel about suicide, because he was very physically abusive, and had beaten me several times. To stay would definitely have been suicide!) Also had my Dad’s associate pastor tell me (when I went for counseling) that my problem was I was “just a harlot”. EXCUSE YOU?!? And people wonder why I am so adamant about NOT EVER setting foot inside a church for anything other than weddings or funerals–and I’ve been known to walk out of funerals if they get too “preachy”.