Rape does NOT equal sex, Jeff Bethke!

Trigger Warnings: We’re talking about rape again today.

A couple weeks ago, when the “Jesus vs. Religion” video was making it’s rounds on the internet, I decided to respond with my opinion that, religion really isn’t such a bad thing. That Jesus and religion can get along. Back then, I wasn’t angry at the video’s creator, Jeff Bethke (though, perhaps I was a bit annoyed at how much he was clogging up my Facebook newsfeed). I was just trying to figure out for myself what place religion had in my life.

And Jeff responded to the myriad of criticisms that he recieved with humility and grace, and I respected him for that.

So I’d like to think that he’s a good guy. I’d like to think that he means well and that he wants to use his talents to help people, and that, like all of us, he sometimes misses the mark. 

That being said, I’m going to criticize him again.

Jeff Bethke, if you happen to read this, this is a bit more serious than the argument over semantics that was the last criticism. I need you to know–seriously, need you to know, that rape does NOT equal sex.

What elicited this blog post is the following video:

YouTube Preview Image

In it, Bethke states:

So take a rape victim for example and once it’s revealed
When her bruises go away is she totally healed?
Nah, the damage is lasting you can see it in her eyes
But if it was just a view as recreation why did it ruin her life?
I mean if sex is just for fun why does it take such a toll?
Maybe it’s cause you don’t just have sex with a body, you have sex with a soul.
Which means for me there ain’t no premarital lovin.
And it ain’t just cause I don’t want a baby in the oven.
Its cause I’m staying pure until the day that I’m a husband.

I watched it and first I was all:

Then, I was all:

And, then, I was all:

But, now, I’ve slept on it. I’ve calmed down, and I’m ready to talk about this civilly. But I have to repeat myself, one more time for the people in the back:

Rape does NOT equal sex.

Now, Bethke isn’t the only person who needs to hear this (looking at you, Fox Sports, and many others, which referred to the horrific events at Penn State as a “sex scandal“). In fact, in the abstinence-only high school that I grew up in, the stories of rape victims were often used as an attempt to scare us teenagers away from anything and everything having to do with sex.

I almost don’t even know how to begin to tell you all how horribly wrong this idea is. But here are some scattered thoughts on the subject:

Let’s start with the basics: (most) Women like sex too. Sometimes we even, you know, pursue sexual partners. Sometimes we even do this without wanting a marriage or a relationship with a person. Sometimes women have sex for recreation too. At the moment, I don’t want to argue about whether this is right or wrong for Christians, but I have to say that just because a man has premarital sex with a woman does not mean that he  forced her. Not all women who have recreational sex are rape victims (though, please don’t jump to the other end of the spectrum and think that women who do have recreational sex cannot be rape victims. Rape does not equal sex, remember?). We women can make our own choices regarding our sex lives. We have a say in the matter. We’re not helpless creatures whose vaginas must be guarded until marriage. We’re humans who have the mental capacity to choose what we do with our bodies. Got it? Okay, moving on.

Why did “sex” take such a toll on that rape victim’s life? Well, with the fact in mind that rape does not equal sex (Yes, I am going  to repeat this until people start to catch on), rape is about power. It’s about a rapist looking at another person as an object to be dominated, to be forced into subjection. It’s about stripping another person’s humanity away. Putting another person in a position where he/she is unwillingly exposed. Trespassing on another person’s body. Rape is a horrible, horrible event that leaves its victims feeling helpless, worthless, violated, and inhuman.

And, sex? Well, it should not a horrible, horrible event that leaves its victims feeling helpless, worthless, violated, and inhuman. If sex does leave one feeling that way, then there’s a problem. Maybe part of that problem is people like Bethke who insist on comparing rape with sex. I’ve talked to far too many women who grew up listening to abstinence-only education programs compare rape and sex, only to get married and feel afraid to love their husbands. When every discussion you’ve ever heard about sex is really describing rape, well, there’s a good chance sex is going to trigger some feelings of fear for you.

Sex, yes even premarital sex, shouldn’t leave us feeling raped. 

Sex (yes, even premarital sex) can leave us feeling healed, comforted, loved, and fully human.

Does it always? No. Are people who choose to have sex sometimes going to regret it later on? Yes. Sometimes, it can even leave us with a broken heart. Sometimes it can leave us feeling used. Sex can have negative consequences.

But it doesn’t strip us of our choice and of our humanity the way rape does.

There is no comparison.

Rape does NOT equal sex.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    THANK YOU.

    When I first saw this video (months and months ago), I was outraged at it, but couldn’t put my finger on it (other than it being terrible poetry). And I wasn’t about to listen to it multiple times to make sure that he said what I thought he did. Thanks for breaking it down. :)

  • http://mosaicsynapse.blogspot.com/ Pam Elmore

    Like Dianna, when I first saw it several weeks ago, I kept getting stuck on the bad poetry of it — I just figured it was because I’m not the target demographic — and that kept me from really dissecting the ideas. (In fact, it kept me from listening to it more than once.

    Dang it. Rape is not sex any more than getting stabbed is sex. Why is this crap so prevalent?!

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      Well, this guy is apparently from Mars Hill (the Driscoll one), so I guess that makes sense.

  • http://singleandpicky.blogspot.com Jenn

    I have to say I also took issue with the woman caught in adultery reference. Because it’s another one of those examples we pull out from the Bible as a signal of God’s grace and forgiveness and we completely skip over the part that there was a man involved in the act of adultery… where the hell is he? Oh right, women can’t have sex but men can… I forgot. And while we are on that discuss since when is pre-marital sex the same as adultery – because I feel like he’s making that connection too and that doesn’t work for me either.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      “since when is pre-marital sex the same as adultery…”

      That’s a really good point too! Yeah, a lot wrong with this video. I took up almost 1,000 words just dissecting one point, but there are so many other ways in which this video gets it wrong.

    • http://stitchinguptheseams.wordpress.com Stitch

      I was taught that pre-marital sex is adultery because you’re not having sex with a person you are currently married to. Messed up, I know.

  • Ed Taylor

    Agreed, BUT that was not Jeff’s point. He was suggesting that something big is happening any time the sex act takes place. Unfortunately, there is a lot more going on than that in the rape scenario, but I think what he’s trying to say is that that is what makes rape so devastating when perpetuated – not that every act of premarital sex = rape. His mistake was putting both so close together

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      I’m sure he wasn’t trying to say that all premarital sex = rape, but putting the two so close together leaves us with some harmful implications.

    • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

      And to reiterate Sarah’s mantra (since she didn’t), rape is not sex. It’s not the “sex act” that makes rape (and sexual abuse) so devastating. It’s the degradation and violation of a person’s body. It’s stripping them of control, dignity, and ownership of their body that’s so devastating. Physical abuse without any “sex act” can and does produce the same effect, though it generally takes longer. Rape as a violation of the body packs the biggest wallop.

      At any rate, that was hardly the only problem with the video, but it was probably the biggest one.

      • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

        exactly this! thanks.

      • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

        That reminds me of Fred Clark’s comment about the Mars Hill flare up this last week:

        But the cheating isn’t what caused this to flare up into a Defcon 1 crisis for which the entire church leadership had to be mobilized. That only happened because this particular sin involved sex. There’s a fundamental confusion at work there — one that can be found in many, many places other than Driscoll’s mega-church. It’s the confusion that sees sexual betrayal as bad because it involves sex rather than because it involves betrayal. The same confusion leads many Christians to see sexual predation as bad because it involves sex rather than because it is predatory. This arises from a warped and stunted notion of sexual ethics which offers nothing to say about the subject other than that it’s acceptable within marriage and unacceptably wicked in any other context. Thus even a malicious act within marriage is commended while even a loving act outside of that context is condemned.

        • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

          fantastic quote!

  • http://museandthequeenhoneybee.blogspot.com DHannah

    And rape can and does occur in marriages. Marriage is not a liscence to do ‘whatever one wants’. Anytime there isn’t mutuality, and consent. It. Is. Rape. Married or not. And being us tried and consenting to sexual relations doesn’t always mean there has been a grievous harm done.
    Any how. Just wanted to add this as it seems so often in Churchy circles this can be grossly overlooked. Thanks EE. Great post. And a much needed message.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      yes yes yes! great point there too.

      • Anonymous

        Aw shoot. Just caught my typo. It should read, and being SINGLE and consenting….
        Again thanks for getting this message out there!!!!

  • Ed Taylor

    Yeah, but who says that? Seriously? Who says you can do whatever you want in marriage and it’s okay? No pastor I know, certainly. Post 1959, who has ever made that case?

    And I reiterate my point that there is something spiritually deeper about the sex act that makes it more profoundly affecting. My suggestion was not that the sex act is what creates the devastation of rape, but it is what makes it SO devastating. As you said, it is like other forms of abuse only worse. My point exactly. There is something about sexual violence that is profoundly affective. And my point was that THAT was Bethke’s point, poorly made or not, that something spiritual is set in motion when people engage, voluntarily or otherwise, in sexual congress.

    And science is now bearing this out, as we are discovering that repeated, casual sex with multiple partners is desensitizing people to lasting relationships through alterations in brain chemistry. In other words, our casual sexual encounters are making it impossible for us to have anything but casual sexual encounters. So…maybe there is something to this whole eschewing purely recreational sex. Which is what I think Bethke is really trying to say.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      “Yeah, but who says that? Seriously? Who says you can do whatever you want in marriage and it’s okay? No pastor I know, certainly. Post 1959, who has ever made that case?”

      Mark Driscoll…
      http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=30700

      • Ed Taylor

        Yeah, he says you can do a bunch of stuff, most of which is cool (I’d rather not hear you talk about it, but it’s your bedroom, right?), but he never says men can force themselves on their wives and say it isn’t rape, does he? That is the suggestion I was questioning…

        • Anonymous

          Really? I listened to a quote from John Piper on women and abuse, and granted , he didn’t say it was ok, he was squirming on how Not to say it. I’m sorry, I don’t have the link. I haven’t heard it from the pulpit, but I have met women who’s pastors have councillled them to stay, to submit. It is in the comments and the attitudes found in Women’s circles and prayer groups. Don’t kid yourself. Wherever the attitude that the man is inherently the more important, the greater the risk for abuse ( of all types) to occur. And as long as the myth remains that rape = sex, it will remain a problem in the Church and outside it.

          • Ed Taylor

            Ok, good point. Now that you mention it, I have had to deal with this myself, but I think the roots of this are different than sexual purity or equating sex and rape. I think this is spiritual abuse, not sexual abuse. It might lead, as you’ve said, to physical rape, which is heartbreaking, but it starts as spiritual rape, which as pastor, makes me sick. Like rape, it is all about power and control and it is an act of violence against an individual and against the church.

          • Ed Taylor

            This is what Driscoll and his church were trying to do to that poor kid (Andrew?) under the guise of church discipline, and I’ve seen it a number of times in our community disguised as “marriage counseling.” I’ve actually had someone who was told her husband’s infidelity was her own fault, and one who was told her husband’s psychological and physical abuse were her “cross to bear.” Sickening.

        • anonymous

          This is not just a religious issue. Rape within marriage was not considered rape in the US until the 1980s/90s or later, depending on the state, and there are still plenty of loopholes in the laws that were passed.

    • http://gravatar.com/tiarali tiarali

      I grew up being told that rape cannot happen in marriage because a woman has no right to deny her husband.

      • Ed Taylor

        Ugh. I’m sorry. I’m now apologizing on behalf of all clergy everywhere.

  • http://skeptigirl-blog.blogspot.com/ skeptigirl

    In a world where people are not taught the ownership of their bodies and the self respect which differentiates between rape and sex and stereotypes men and women in oneway or another and not allowing for individuality, arises another problem. It is harder to defend yourself against rape, it is harder to even recognize it. A man raped thinks he should have enjoyed it, he is a man. A woman should submit to her husband and well, it was just sex, how can she even know if she was raped. This inability to tell the difference perpetuates the problem further.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for that post! Thank you for speaking up.

  • Anonymous

    I was so moved by your post that i have written a response straigh to him saying his video was hurtful for me and many others.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, let’s just say i got a little crazy and emailed him a huge email about how rape does not equal sex.

    Here is his reply – i think everyone should read:

    Hey,

    Thank you for your email and your input I really appreciate it.

    First, I hope you know I do take this issue very seriously. Rape and sexual abuse is a grievous crime that needs to be addressed with care, gentleness, and grace.

    Hopefully I can clear a few things up though and articulate what I was really trying to say. Sorry for the confusion.

    What I was trying to say is that while rape is not just about sex (you’re right it’s about power and violence) it still has a deeper element to it than simply violent and powerful crime that doesn’t involve rape. There is something deeply spiritual in us where when our sexuality is abused or perverted it goes to the depth of our soul. This is why many abuse victims (myself included so please don’t label me as the guy who has no idea what he’s talking about) feel the need to take showers in hopes of getting “clean.” I wasn’t comparing rape and recreational sex at all. I was making the statement that they both show sex is something deeply spiritual not just two bodies smashing together.

    Lastly please forgive me if it came off as if there’s no hope. I’m sure you can guess that was the opposite of what I wanted. I think apart from Jesus’ radical healing though then it does seem to ruin people’s lives, which is what I was saying. I’ve had hundreds of rape victims email me, talk to me, and write me, after they watched the poem thanking me for it expressing that they found the real, deep, and radical cleansing and healing that Jesus provides in His cross and resurrection. How awesome is grace that it can do that? It still blows my mind. The whole second half of the poem is all about how we are healed, we are new, we are cleansed.

    I hope that helps and i hope you receive this in good spirit. I’m thankful for your input and advice and I hope my clarifications help. Also feel free to show the forum my email if you’d like in hopes that it clarifies to them as well.

    Thanks again and praise God for His wonderful healing we have both experienced.

    Jeff Bethke
    @jeffersonbethke


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