Sex is Serious


Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig in Boston Review:

It is a strange season when culture warriors and women’s studies departments find common cause, though not unheard of—think pornography. But while Gail Dines’ Pornlandwon acclaim from The Christian Post, conservative Christian sex ethics and feminist sex ethics maintain disparate opinions of sex itself. For the conservative Christian, sex has always been a matter of the most sincere gravitas, the ultimate (and sometimes sacramental) union; feminist sex ethicists have a more liberal view of the matter, favoring personal experience over some sublime essence. In other words, the two don’t seem to share a conception of the kind of thing sex is.

This gap appears to be closing.

In late August, the California legislature passed bill SB 967, a bundle of regulations pertaining to educational institutions receiving public funding. Most notably, it enforces a standard of ‘affirmative consent’ in sexual assault proceedings. Roughly a month later, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. According to the text of the law, a standard of affirmative consent

means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

No, in other words, means no. But nothing also means no, and a variety of intermediate expressions between perhaps and absolutely now must also be presumed to mean no, and body language is also no longer sufficient to communicate consent.

More here.