HomeEmotional aspects of sexualityConsensual sexConsent is vital even within loving relationships

Consent is vital even within loving relationships

Sexuality is about the choices we make to explore our sexuality both alone and with a lover. The way in which we express our sexuality should show consideration towards others. Everyone should be free to make their own sexual decisions without undue influence. We have the choice to remain a virgin or to be celibate. We should respect other people’s sexual decisions. Ideally sex is an emotional or erotic pleasure rather than being an obligation.

Sex education should discuss sexuality in a coherent and consistent way. We must explain how intercourse can equate to lovemaking on one occasion and rape on another. For example, date rape involves a more passive female role than usual and a more proactive male role. But it is essentially the same as any other intercourse. So why do women object so vehemently? And why are men so desperate that they need to drug women? A man initiates and proactively engages on sexual activity with a lover because of his sex drive. A woman merely accepts or rejects a man’s sexual advances. Consent is about the receiver’s right to control when and with whom they have intercourse.

We need to be able to explain why men can love women and yet also be a threat. Before puberty, most children play with their own sex friends. Adolescence brings men and women together but it is men who actively seek women out. Women are pursued. Women need to be wary of strange men for their own protection. Women’s behaviour of displaying their bodies to obtain platonic admiration acts as a bait. Sex is a game that women try to play but they need to understand the risks of dealing with younger men’s sex drive. Our society is full of male violence and the victims are often women.

Men are typically physically stronger than women and children. So the law protects these two vulnerable groups. Most societies have laws that make it illegal for children under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity (either with an adult or another under-age person). Sexual scenarios are very different for a woman, especially if she is inexperienced or has a new lover.

Consent is not about responsiveness or even mutual pleasure. Women are not aroused by sexual activity with a lover at any age. But by the time they are adult, women have gained an appreciation of what they want from men. Consent is more about a person having the social maturity and life experience to understand the consequences of engaging in sexual activity. An adult is assumed to have the experience and confidence to make their own sexual decisions and, if they are unwilling, to stand up to anyone who puts pressure on them (emotional or otherwise) to engage in sexual activity.

A woman is assumed to have the maturity to understand the risks associated with sexual activity. A woman is expected to know that intercourse may result in her becoming pregnant if she doesn’t take precautions (use a contraceptive). A woman learns how she can use sex to obtain a man’s emotional commitment to her. Women interpret male devotion as love in the way they experience it. Men’s love is conditional on obtaining a woman’s consent to regular intercourse. Similarly most women, especially if they want a family, will not stay long with a man who cannot support them financially.

A man may realise that a woman is less sexually driven (than he is) because of her lack of enthusiasm or because she takes steps to avoid sex. As long as this apathy goes unacknowledged, a man can continue to obtain intercourse from a woman on the basis that she does not object. Many women are far from enthusiastic about sex but they rarely object explicitly. During sex, a man explores a woman’s body within the limits set by her tacit approval.

One of the issues with consent is that women tend to passively accept sexual activity that men initiate. Men are proactive because of their arousal. Unhealthy relationships are where people use intimacy, sex or a show of affection to get what they want: to manipulate, to exploit or to control. Women have much less control than men have. This explains why women are less enthusiastic about casual sex than men are. A few men are violent and abusive towards women. Some men have deviant sexual behaviours.

Women do not know if a man will be dangerous or just a nuisance. So any man is a potential threat, regardless of whether he is likely to make an advance (even if he were attracted to a woman). This is a shame for the many men who go about their business without hassling women at all. Most men engage in friendly conversation first and then look for a sign (encouraging feedback) that a woman is attracted to them before they make any advance.

Different women are rewarded to varying degrees by love, ego (of being popular with men) or financial benefits (that men offer a sexual partner). But most women want a man who demonstrates caring behaviours and respects their need for affectionate companionship, before they offer regular sex. They are also looking for a man who is willing to support their family goals.

Traditionally marital intercourse has always been a fully condoned (even encouraged) sexual activity even by the strictest of religions because of men’s need for regular sexual interaction. An implicit assumption of marriage is that a woman consents to intercourse with her husband. A wife’s refusal to consummate the marriage (by offering intercourse) is grounds for annulment. Regardless of her relationship status, a woman retains her rights over her own body, including what she does with it and what a lover can do with it. When it comes to sexual decisions, we should only do what we are comfortable with and not what others (even a lover) tell us we should do.

In marriage the male more or less assumes that coitus is his privilege, and the law confirms him in this interpretation. (Alfred Kinsey)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)