Rules for Christian sex and rules about rules

Rules are a lousy way to get people to follow rules.

Just at the most basic level, giving rules and expecting them to be followed doesn’t work unless those rules are explained, understood and owned by the people you expect to follow them. No one will, or can, respect a rule that hasn’t been explained and understood.

So if you’re big on rules, or if you’re trying to make a career or a hobby out of scolding people for not following your rules, then it might be good to step back and consider whether you might be the source of this problem. If you haven’t explained your rules, or if you’re not able to explain your rules, then it’s pretty silly to expect anyone else to treat them with respect.

This is why our Christian Rules for Sex and our Rules for Christian Sex are a dead end. It’s not so much that these rules are widely disobeyed, but that they are largely irrelevant. We don’t bother explaining most of them. We aren’t able to explain many of them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that others don’t understand them either.

Part of the reason we don’t bother explaining these rules is that they seem so simple. The Christian Rules for Sex/Rules for Christian Sex seem to boil down to a single, binary question: Yes or no? Are we talking about sex between a married straight couple? If yes, the rules say, then everything is fine. If no, the rules say, then it is an abomination and a vile stench in the nostrils of God.

Libby Anne summarized this nicely in her “Tale of Two Boxes,” from which I’ve borrowed the illustration used here.

When the church teaches this binary question and the set of rules it provides as the whole of Christian teaching about sex it’s basically inviting people to ignore what it has to say. As long as such rules are asserted without being explained, explored and defended, then no one should ever expect them to be followed, honored or otherwise taken seriously. (And, no, citing chapter-and-verse is not a way of defending the rules, just of reasserting them.)

Now, I think that part of the reason this binary question and its collection of rules haven’t been explained and defended is because these rules, as usually asserted, can’t be explained or defended. I think our usual assumptions about the CRS/RCS are, in many ways, wrong.

This is where my more conservative evangelical critics accuse me of wanting to “do away with the rules” and of arguing that “anything goes.” That’s not true, but such accusations are to be expected from folks who have asserted and embraced a set of rules without exploring or explaining them, even to themselves.

My response to such accusations is always the same: I’m not saying anything goes, I simply want you to treat your “biblical rules about sex” exactly the same way that you’re already treating the biblical rules about money. I want you to take the exact same hermeneutical approach that you are already taking to every biblical teaching on wealth and possessions and apply that to biblical teaching on sexuality. Then treat both sets of teachings — and other people — with more respect than your current practice seems to do with regard to either subject.

My point here, though, is not to argue about the substance of the CRS/RCS, but to note that this rule-based approach is fundamentally misguided — that rules are just about the worst possible method for getting people to obey the rules.

Asserting  and reasserting a list of rules rather than offering a functional sexual ethics won’t ever produce ethical behavior. All you’ll get from asserting a list of rules is a long list of people who break them.

This rules-based approach also has all kinds of disastrous unintended consequences. (At least, I hope these consequences are unintended.) Rod at Political Jesus outlines many of them in a righteous rant titled “India, Ohio, John Piper, Religion and the Triumph of Rape Culture.”

His focus there is on how the “purity culture” of American Christianity feeds and fosters the rape culture of American Christianity. (Yes, the rape culture of American Christianity. When the church is noticeably different from the rest of American culture on this point, then we can start talking about “the rape culture of American society surrounding the church.” But we’re nowhere near that yet.)

Rod says, bluntly, that it’s time for America’s Christian subculture to “kiss purity culture goodbye”:

In the Old and New Testament, purity and religion are never separate from seeking justice from others. Religious purity according to James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” shows an understanding of purification that is not limited to sexual purity.

What complementarians (church going men who see women as 2nd class citizens) cling to is exactly what is impure: the power that men have over women.

He also links to several other excellent posts elsewhere on this same subject of purity culture as a way of enforcing men’s power over women, including Sarah Moon on the Orwellian logic of “complementarianism,” E.J. Graff’s powerful, disturbing essay, “Purity Culture Is Rape Culture,” and a killer post from Wartburg Watch on John Piper and Domestic Violence (about which, see also the latest from Dianna Anderson).

I want to highlight in particular a post from Julia at Women in Theology on “Sexual violence and the church: talking to teens.” After some wise words on what needs to be taught to teens, and how to teach it, Julia concludes with an important explanation of why sexual ethics is better than sexual rules — and the cruel consequences of the rules-based teaching that predominates in our churches:

The reality of sexual violence is important to discuss and teens, like the rest of us, need to hear that it is a very serious sin. Yes, sin. The churches have language to bring to this discussion that secular society does not. We can talk about gravely harmful behavior without having to resort to legal definitions  and loopholes. We can claim that sexual activities, in every instance, should embody love and respect for oneself and the other. The language of sexual activities as an expression of love and respect clearly exposes the misstep that a rape victim could ever be “asking for it” and the mistake of defining consent exclusively in terms of its minimum requirements. It is important that we keep talking about sexual violence in church.

Julia sees theological language as an asset in teaching sexual ethics, and she employs such language forcefully.

Yet she also shows how the mere assertion of rules — X is sin, don’t do X — isn’t just unhelpful, but harmful. It contributes to the victim-blaming that allows the triumph of rape culture Rod discusses.

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  • If only it were that simple.  Are the two people educated about the fact that their sexual act can create a child?  Do they have a plan in place in case a child is conceived?  The child cannot consent to it’s creation or care.  Do they know how to prevent pregnancy and the statistics of it’s probability of working? 
    Is one of these consenting people in a committed relationship?  If my husband and his friend from work both consent to sex that doesn’t leave anyone un-harmed.  I am harmed and my children are harmed by a broken home. 
    We are societal creatures so our decisions affect other people, not just ourselves.  And this is why we need to be talking about this and discussing it and why simple rules don’t ever solve our problems.
    I’m so sorry to contrarian.  I am not a conservative.  I don’t believe that sex must be confined to happening after an American Wedding.  I DO very much agree that consent must be talked about more and more.  These were just my thoughts that popped up after reading this comment.

  • EllieMurasaki

    All the problems you mention could be solved by changing Neutrino’s statement to say ‘all persons’ (if Anne’s married to Bob, and Anne and Cathy want to sex, Bob’s an involved party who needs to consent whether Bob is a participant or spectator of the sex or not) and ‘informed consent’.

  • Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

  • Whoops.  I should have read all of the comments before posting this.  Apparently these issues have already been brought up.  So sorry.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah… I was never directly exposed to that either, but I’ve heard my share of “it takes a good woman to marry a bad man” tales of redemption and sticking-through-the-abuse stories and they never fail to make me shiver, because it doesn’t take a sociopath to see through the fact that these guidelines ensure that the man gets exactly what he wants for as long as he wants it.

  • Makabit

    In my experience, the men who joke about buying shotguns before their daughters mature are the same ones who talk about women as meat.

    Dunno about always. We’re expecting a baby girl in a few days, and my husband is already planning creative ways to harass her eventual suitors. I’ve never noticed any malevolent misogyny on his part.

  • Makabit

    Dan Savage takes a ‘national park’ approach to older people having sex with younger and more vulnerable people (within legal boundaries, natch)–not only do you need consent and all that good stuff, you have to commit to leave them in better condition than you found them in.

  • Carstonio

    He could have some unquestioned assumptions about the genders, simply because he grew up in a culture that hasn’t yet shed such assumptions. I’m no stranger to that phenomenon myself, and actually being the father of daughters has helped lead me to question those assumptions. Perhaps anyone in his position would benefit from asking why, if you had a son, he wouldn’t be harassing the boy’s eventual girlfriends. 

  • Fusina

     So basically, the same reason that some Muslims make women wear burkas etc… Because a man goes totally out of control on seeing a woman and has to “have” her then and there, right out in public and all.

    Um, I’m aware that doesn’t generally happen, and yes, I was being sarcastic. I guess I am just tired of seeing the same arguments rehashed over and over. I’m fifty, and this same shit has been going around since before I was 18. I really hoped that there would be some progress, and since I have an 18 year old daughter now and am seeing the same discussions… Meh.

  • And if you had a son, would YOU be planning creative ways to harrass his eventual suitors?

    The fact that such a thing probably seems totally absurd should point up to you the differential treatment of males and females, whose origins lie in the idea that women can’t defend themselves and need a man around to protect them.

  • The_L1985

     Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing about that relationship that I wouldn’t mind having a do-over for.

  • I don’t know who originated the idea that women should “fix” men, but it seems a very pernicious thing. :

  • The_L1985

     You have to remember that in abstinence-only circles, there is an implicit assumption that women don’t have any sort of libido at all.  It’s never stated outright, but since all the Stay A Virgin! advice for girls tends to consist of “It’s ok to say no, and he has to respect it” sort of things, with no similar information given to the boys, it’s practically broadcast that Women Don’t Want Sex, Just Marriage And Babies.

    When you’re assuming that half of humanity can’t possibly want to partake in the activity you want to enjoy with them, you’re not going to recognize female desire or consent as such, nor will you see much difference between “Ooh, yes!” and “Well, all right, if it’ll shut you up” except that one is better at “acting” than the other.

  • everstar

    So where do Progressive Christians stand on pre-marital sex?

    Wherever there’s enough room.

  • Carstonio

     If I really believed that women have no libido, I don’t know that I could bring myself to have sex with them at all, and not just out of respect. The woman would be providing me a service out of obligation, which would be a galaxy-sized turnoff. No different from buying a plastic fantastic lover. My preference is to be desired.

  • My use of “mindless” was probably confusing. I was describing the longstanding myth that men lose control of themselves once aroused.
    Not sure what you mean by society failing to make clear what constitutes consent. I would think that someone who respects personal boundaries would assume lack of consent unless the other person makes it explicit in some way. Perhaps understanding content should be a prerequisite for initiating sex with another person. As I mentioned elsewhere, that lack of understanding could also make the person vulnerable to being raped. This issue isn’t about motivations.

    What I mean is that society seems fuzzy on consent.
    When we still have victim-blaming bandied about, there’s not absolute clarity on consent. “Asking for it” is an implied sense of consent: if you ask for something, you are generally consenting to it, if you will. If people still think–and we can see that plenty do–that someone can “ask for” rape, then there’s a failure to be clear about what consent means, and it’s a failing of society as a whole to make that clear.And the motivation relates to the idea that I see “rape is not about sex” stated consistently as unequivocal, absolute and unassailable truth. In most cases–truthfully, maybe even all–it is. But that is a declaration of motivation, and denial of another kind: if rape is never, ever about sex, then a rape that is “about sex” logically isn’t rape. I don’t understand the need to harp on this point, as a rape of lust or excitement, in and of itself, should not be discounted. I realize the value of clarifying the majority as being about power and not sex (in terms of helping to normalize sex in the face of an act that has, in effect, nothing to do with it, for instance), but it just strikes me as worrisome to make that so absolute (that’s the sentiment I got from your original post: rape cannot result from lust/excitement, and people are silly/stupid to even posit it).

    While I’m who I am and disconnected from my emotions or other people or whatever the hell is wrong with me, so this event did not have a distinct effect on me personally, I wrote the below and realized it might need a Trigger Warning for others. So, bear that in mind, folks (you can probably guess the topic from context)

    Plenty of people don’t assume lack of consent  in the absence of explicit consent. You’d think they would, but they don’t. I do, I’m sure you do, but having had someone, as an adult, choose to put their hand on me in a place it most certainly did not belong without my permission, I’m pretty sure she didn’t think a damn thing about whether I wanted her to do it or not, nor that it might actually be ethically or morally wrong. Based on the rest of her behaviour that night–which apparently concluded with her drunk in a bathtub and calling out for me, someone she’d never met before that night, and before that attempting to climb on top of me at midnight (it was a new year’s party) to kiss me despite the knee and shin held up in front of me and against her chest. No one told her this was wrong. No one said anything except, honestly, I swear, “Come on, just let her give you oral sex, it will make you feel good and her feel worth something.” I had an argument about this, because I insisted I did not feel comfortable with any of this, and thought it was wrong for her.
    No one was concerned about my absolute disinterest in being sexually involved with this person, no one saw it as wrong to ignore that and stick us together or let her do whatever she felt anyway. Disturbingly, they were also encouraging me to use their friend sexually and walk away, but that’s something else again.

    And I was a man and she was a woman. To think that the reverse would always be seen differently (ie, inherently wrong) is shown to be false by numerous actual events, which is why we have the phrase “victim-blaming” in the first place. She wasn’t motivated by power–if I’m realistic, it was motivated by a desire to “win me over”, believing that sex was the way to do it. It definitely wasn’t power. Logistically, what she did was moving toward rape (or it was, I don’t even know–I like to think that’s my call, but maybe it isn’t). I made myself obviously pretty clear. If someone sticks their leg out and puts their knee to your chest while you’re trying to climb into their lap, I don’t think there’s much question how you feel. But if she could think, no, I really wanted it–why couldn’t anyone else, and then act on the lust that motivates them toward sex in the first place?

    I don’t understand why there’s a need to deny any rape could be motivated by lust. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s mindless slavery to arousal. It could mean someone doesn’t understand when there’s not mutual arousal or agreement that mutual arousal should lead to actual physical activity. But I see that insistence a lot. I don’t get it. It brings motivation into the picture, when I think your final sentence is right: motivation doesn’t matter. But as soon as one motivation is deprecated (and saying one motivation or underlying cause is the never the case most certainly deprecates it) we’re left with the question of whether an event coming from it “counts”. Again, my point is not to debate semantics, it’s that I see that argument and it looks like it’s bringing semantics in in the first place, as it’s denying a cause out of hand. And if it sounds like I’m just being purely theoretical: my story is real, and is it really implausible that the same thing could go further? And would that not still be rape?

  • Content: References made to expressions of intent to commit rape.

    I also have concerns about claiming “rape is not about sex, it’s about power”.

    It seems to me it is more about the expression of power specific to the sexual realm.

    Given that some men will express the intent to force sex upon a woman if she doesn’t “put out”, the implication is that they want sex, but brush aside questions of consent and in doing so, express their power over the women by raping her (whether physically or by browbeating her into sex, the end result is the same).

  • Carstonio

    Without discounting what you went through, my objection to the claim of “rapes of lust and excitement” is the assumption that these alone are capable of causing a person to disregard another’s personal boundaries. That’s a myth that’s almost always used to excuse rape by men. My theory is that rape involves a prior assumption that the person’s desires are more important than the personal boundaries of others. Entitlement. In your case, the person may very well had some degree of disinterest in your personal boundaries and alcohol simply lowered the inhibitions connected to this belief. Not a motivation but a mindset.

  • AnonymousSam

    Hmm. Interesting. I can see the possibility, but I disagree with the premise. One might make an argument and separate it into these five possible motivations, but I see these motivations as all falling under the umbrella of what one values. Appeals to authority are especially dubious and the weight associated with them is a variable whose boundaries are “all real and imaginary numbers.”

    If I live in Uganda, hate homosexuality and say that you should respect the laws passed by the president of Uganda… well, you live in Australia. Why should you? And if you live in Uganda and happened to be homosexual… why would you?

    I feel this way every time a conservative Christian tells me that homosexuality is a sin. It’s not my country, and even if it were, I’d be more inclined to vehemently disagree than accept it. Our values are too different, and any omission on my part is not because I think an appeal to authority is irrelevant, but because I’ve already realized that it’s futile.

  • Tricksterson

    “it’s practically broadcast that Women Don’t Want Sex”

    And if they do then they’re unnatural, which is why one of my “definitions of a slut” is “What a man calls a woman who scares him because her sex drive is as strong as his”.

  • That is both terrible and familiar. I once dated a woman who broke up with me for no clear reason, and then got very upset that I took her seriously and considered the relationship over, rather than interpreting it as a call for me to do something aggressive and manly to win her back (such as cutting her brake lines, as her previous ex had done)

  • EllieMurasaki

    …I hope she got help. Cutting someone’s brake lines isn’t romantic, it’s potentially fatal.

  • I do see your point, and that is a good phrasing that sort of elucidates for me a better definition of where the issue is, in terms of desire vs. boundaries as opposed to simply focusing on the boundary itself (which is obviously where the moral, personal exception occurs). I do think plenty of people are crap at understanding the boundaries of others. My experience, for instance, might relate back, somewhat ironically, to the notion that men are uncontrolled when it comes to lust, and she suspected I “should” have just thought “oboysex!” and happily gone for it–thus being totally unaware that I might actually have boundaries, which makes it hard to feel disinterest in them.

    On the flipside, lot of people are also convinced that I don’t want to be touched, ever. I can’t say I have any particular affection for it, but when a stranger can reach for my genitlas completely without my permission and I mostly think “Uhhh…?” it seems like something other than that. Still, my body language apparently says something I’m not actually thinking at all. But, as implied, therapists have generally agreed something’s off in that realm for me. Maybe that should discount me from attempting to understand this entirely and just leave me to operate on my “intense confirmation” approach to consent (much though I don’t intend to even risk my confusion on anyone else).

    On an unrelated note, I got a version of “women don’t have libidos” myself, without celibacy-encouragement involved–more like “all women think sex is gross and icky”, which was validated by a variety of women I’ve known, and defied utterly by others (occasionally going further than my own boundaries of comfort/disgust). Then, I actually had experience with a woman whose perception of sex described the one you mentioned as so off-putting. It was less a turn off than an absolute horror, I have to say–that perception of obligation. On the bright side, she told me this after she learned she had a libido. Still kind of horrifying, but more in a “that would have been awful” sense.

    EDIT: Disqus needs to stop breaking my formatting. And I need to get back to writing my own blog here and not getting distracted.

  • Um. I don’t find it totally absurd. Is the experience of mothers fretting about the hypothetical whores and harpies who will one day steal their beloved little boy away from them a less common experience than I imagine?

  • Even in non-abstinence-only circles, the default assumption is that girls do not want to have sex, and the primary issue of the choice of a young couple whether to have sex is that the girl probably doesn’t want to and needs to be taught ahead of time to have the courage and confidence to steadfastly refuse.

    The closest thing you’re liable to see to a sex-positive message in what we teach our children about sex is something like “If you decide to have sex, don’t worry; you’re not ruined forever.”

  • Only religious faggots get married…

  • EllieMurasaki

    the girl […] needs to be taught ahead of time to have the courage and confidence to steadfastly refuse.

    Which, y’know, she does. So does he. (Or ze or the other she as applicable.) They also need to be taught that there’s nothing wrong and can be much right with saying yes, but if they don’t know that there’s nothing wrong and can be much right with saying no, there’s a problem.

  • Apparently, judging from the sheer prevalence of this kind of male-protector gender-essentialist stuff I see floating around the Interwebs in fiction and in ‘net forum discussions.

  •  No disagreement, but I think that trying to teach the latter without teaching the former  fails to result in learning the actual “there’s nothing wrong and can be much right with saying no” and instead leads to “‘no’ is the only right answer,” with at best a “‘yes’ isn’t necesarily the worst answer, but it’s still bad”

    But my primary point anyway was we teach from the assumption that girls must be taught to say “no” because girls are supposed to want “no”.

  • Lliira

     I don’t understand why there’s a need to deny any rape could be motivated by lust.

    Because it never, ever, EVER is. There have been multiple studies done on this fact. Rapists rape because they like to rape: they know they are committing rape, they know how to get out of paying for it if they’re accused (which they very rarely are), and it’s not about sexual lust.

    Rape is motivated by a desire for power. That is it, that is all, that is the beginning and end. If it were motivated by lust, everyone with a sex drive would be a rapist. If it were motivated by lust, I would have been raped multiple times and committed rape multiple times, and so would virtually every other person in existence. Everyone is sometimes refused. It. Is. Not. About. Sex. Sex is nothing more than a useful tool to have power over someone. It is a massively intimate act, and therefore the most intimate violation; and it’s not like you’re gonna have to pay for being a rapist unless you’re wildly unlucky.

    Also: there have been cultures in which rape was virtually unknown. (Northeast Native American seaboard, pre-colonization.) What, men in those cultures experienced less lust? Please!

  • Lliira

     Females have an organ that exists purely for sexual pleasure and nothing else. Males don’t. I do wonder how anyone who thinks women don’t have sex drives can possibly explain the clitoris.

  •  If it were motivated by lust, everyone with a sex drive would be a rapist. If it were motivated by lust, I would have been raped multiple times and committed rape multiple times, and so would virtually every other person in existence.

    Wait, do we not agree that rape is defined by the absence of consent?
    If so, you’re saying the majority of humanity has participated in nonconsensual sex acts, but that, it doesn’t count as rape because it was motivated by lust…?!
    By everything I hold dear, I am terribly glad to be an exception from virtually all of humanity then…

  • Or in other words: don’t be a jerk. Don’t objectify
    people. Don’t lie. Don’t use sex as a tool to manipulate. Don’t withhold sex from your partner for petty reasons.” Do others as you would have them do you.

    I have a big, big, huge problem with the text that I’ve bolded there. It rests on the assumption that there are times when your reasons for not having sex aren’t good enough. I don’t care if you’re “withholding sex”* because you have a headache, because you’re not in the mood, because you’re petty enough to use this as a means to punish your partner for not loading the dishwasher right–it’s your body. It’s up to you and no one else, at any given moment, whether to have sex with it.

    By counseling people not to “withhold sex for petty reasons,” you are basically reinforcing the rape culture attitude that because we can refuse to have sex our reasons have to be “good enough.” And you’ve got to know it’ll overwhelmingly be women who get that message reinforced more than men.

    “I don’t want to” is always a good enough reason, no matter what “because” statement gets tacked onto the end. If the “because” statement is “petty,” that may point to problems in the relationship, but the answer to those problems is not “You better put out unless you have a good reason.”

    *Come to think of it, I pretty much despise the phrase “withholding sex”; it rests on the assumption that sex with me is something my partner is entitled to by virtue of being my partner, that it’s something I must and should give.Sex isn’t an object to give. It’s an activity to partake in. I’m not withholding some object I owe my partner; if I’m withholding anything, it’s consent, because I do not wish to partake at this moment. Scolding your readers for withholding consent is pretty damn rapey, no two ways around it.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You have to remember that in abstinence-only circles, there is an implicit assumption that women don’t have any sort of libido at all.

    That’s reaching.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    While moral arguments do rely strongly on emotion, only harm and fairness could reasonably articulated on their own into ethical principles.

    You’ve just illustrated what Haidt found in his research. You have asserted as self-evident that only the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations are valid–which is apparently typical of a US-style liberal. You say loyalty isn’t a sufficient basis for moral decisions; someone else will say that it is. Either of you reasserting your claim doesn’t make the gap any narrower.

  • The_L1985

    Not by much.  I went through abstinence-only, and felt like I was some sort of a freak because I had sexual urges sometimes.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Maybe “some” would be an appropriate adjective, is what I’m suggesting.

  • Fusina

     Yeah. And you don’t want to be there for the anti-mastubation lecture. Yeep.

    And if Slactivist is reading these, can he do something about this Blake character? He’s harshing my bliss.

  • Carstonio

    You say loyalty isn’t a sufficient basis for moral decisions;

    No, I’m saying that I know of no way to argue on behalf of an assertion such as “everyone should be loyal to their nation” without using another principle such as harm. Otherwise, it’s not about loyalty making the world a better place for everyone, but loyalty for its own sake.

  • Shallot

     …I think you may have misread Lliira’s post, because I’m getting something completely different.  “It doesn’t count as rape because it was motivated by lust,” is what she’s arguing is false, because it puts lust in a different category from all the other emotions that we can and are expected to control.  And it falls apart at any scrutiny, which is how I understood the part you quoted above.  After all, we don’t see people having spontaneous, uncontrollable sex at the grocery store, no matter how cute the guy behind the deli counter is. 

    To put it a different way, my father has been described as someone who has an “uncontrollable temper.”  This is completely wrong.  If he could not control his anger, then when his boss at work irritated him (for example), he would have yelled or thrown things at his boss.  He didn’t, because he knew he would get fired or go to jail.  Instead, he would finish his shift, go home, find something to get angry about, and then go ballistic.  He had control of his anger, he just chose to only intimidate people weaker than himself.

  • histrogeek

    Interesting thought, though not especially practical or reasonable. Too many older people justify their behavior toward younger people as “teaching” them or releasing them from repressive social strictures (as in Lolita, if read without understanding that Hubert is an unreliable narrator). To say nothing of tempting the older person to be super-patronizing, which really won’t help the younger person.
    My guideline would be that the older person commit to behaving as close as possible to what would be appropriate if their partner were also older. Still not perfect but it’s a seriously bad ethical situation to begin with. I imagine it can be done (not that I have just to be clear), but it’s one of those cases that is more likely to work out in an ethics discussion than in real life.

  • because it puts lust in a different category from all the other emotions that we can and are expected to control. And it falls apart at any scrutiny, which is how I understood the part you quoted above.  After all, we don’t see people having spontaneous, uncontrollable sex at the grocery store, no matter how cute the guy behind the deli counter is.

    This makes no damned sense.
     If someone thinks they got consent and acted on it, but was wrong, then it is not “uncontrolled”. That’s not about “uncontrolled lust”, which is not one whit of what I have said at any point. I already addressed that with “mindless”.  It’s about controlled lust being used wrongly. Acknowledging that some dipshit could think they got consent and be wrong says, “You absolutely must be clear that you have received it, because thinking what you’re doing is okay and consensual is not what makes it okay and consensual: it is what the other person thinks and feels.” 
    This “it can’t be lust” requires that every rapist ever is 100% capable of reading every other human being on the face of the earth under any circumstances whatsoever.That is fucking ludicrous.I know people who gave “consent” under social or similar pressures. I most certainly don’t discount their experiences (even though some of them do). Some people are terrible at reading other people. Some people are also just stupid. Some people will hear “yes” as “yes”, even if it isn’t a yes that is actually comfortable. If we want to legally or morally or ethically define that as “not rape” because they “gave consent, however technical”, it doesn’t do shit about how it affects that person.And that, to me is the crux: what matters is that it harms another person, not swearing up and down the field that the person who did it knew what they were doing, no ifs, ands, or buts, and definitely no exceptions of any kind ever. The person doing it is not my first concern. If you tell someone “All rapists like to rape, and it is never done for sex,” then someone who thinks “Well, I don’t like raping, and on this particular occasion, I just want to have sex,” is basically being told they should go ahead, that can’t be rape. It doesn’t matter if they actually shouldn’t or that maybe it actually is, because the definition given tells them, they, as “not-rapists”, cannot rape. It narrows the definition, turns all rapists into explicit, simplistic, pure evil. It allows people to go, “Whew, not me,” and go on with whatever they are going to do, even something harmful. Regardless of retrospective perceptions (or awareness of those who know better), it tells people that they’d never be able to violate someone else’s will unless they were already going to.There are two people in these scenarios. They can easily have different perspectives. And I do not want those scenarios discounted because we just cannot believe that Person A was absolutely convinced they had Person B’s permission and proceeded with what they thought was just sex. Because that says it is Person B’s fault for not making it clear enough  to Person A that they couldn’t be confused. And if you seriously think that alcohol and people who feel pressure from society to “consent” against their own interests don’t confuse anyone, you’re throwing a bunch of people under a bus and saying, “Nope, all rapists can always read everything you do and say and know you were not consenting.”The emphasis of that definition is on making sure people know rapists are evil, not rape. Except it’s the action is the problem. The people wouldn’t be the problem if not for the action. A “rapist” that never rapes isn’t a good thing, but it’s a hell of a lot–incalculable amounts–better than a rapist that does. The point is the action. Not the person. Or, if any person, the person harmed. Insisting on rendering people who perform evil actions as evil before the action is even performed opens you up to evil performed by the ignorant, the stupid, and the confused.

  • PatBannon

    Aaargh, Fred, you’re tap-dancing around the notion of consequentialism versus deontology – the notion of results-based as opposed to rules-based ethics/morals. Asserting a rule again and again without regard to its results makes one a deontologist, and a deontologist will never convince a consequentialist that that rule is to be followed. The consequentialist will ask “Why should that rule be followed? What is the result of following this rule? For what reason was this rule put into place?” These are questions to which the deontologist not only has no answer but considers them offensive, useless and almost non-sequiturs.

    Fred, if you could make a post about consequentialism and deontology directly, that would be just about the best thing ever.