We live in interesting times – especially when it comes to society’s attitude toward love and sexuality. In some ways, quite ironically, it seems we’ve almost come full circle as the proverbial chickens from the “free love” movement have come back to roost.
What I mean by this is that the “free love” movement has now been outed as a failed project to the point that radical feminists, who once craved the freedom and empowerment to throw caution to the wind when it came to their own sexuality, are now almost clinging to complete chastity because they are unsure if they are even capable of really meaning “yes” when they say “yes” to sex.
But let me take a step back and set the scene for you as I try to somewhat coherently articulate a few disjointed thoughts that are swirling around in my head.
Last week, a friend of mine linked to an article from The Washington Post that aimed its guns at feminists who seemingly want to label every sexual encounter as rape. Many are now no doubt familiar with the “yes means yes” campaign that has turned into laws in many states in America. Essentially, the movement wants to criminalize any sexual encounter where one of the participants – usually the female – doesn’t clearly and explicitly affirm that she wants to have sex.
In The Washington Post article, the writer cites a number of examples from her own past that, were today’s criteria in place back then, would have been considered “rape.” She balks at such an idea, though, saying that sex is a lot more complicated.
Despite its scorn for reticence, the new sexual revolution has a deep puritanical streak. Consensual sex is viewed as always under control, the result of a rational, fully autonomous choice. In this vision, there is either unequivocal “enthusiastic consent” or reluctant submission. In real life, though, there are many other possibilities.
You could agree to have sex to please your partner, despite not being in the mood, and get enthusiastic later. You could be sexually eager but emotionally ambivalent, or vice versa. You could be torn between passionate desire and ethical or practical reasons not to act on that desire. You could get drunk to quiet your scruples, or you may hope to be coaxed into surrendering to temptation. (Obviously, “coaxed” does not equal “physically overpowered.”) Some of this behavior may be unhealthy or immature. But if it involves consenting adults — who can refuse sex without reasonable fear of harm — those adults should be free to make mistakes.
What I found even more intriguing, however, was an article the writer linked to by a young lady from Harvard who is now grappling with whether an explicit “yes” is even enough; whether “yes” can ever really mean “yes.”
In her article, the young lady from Harvard concludes:
Here’s the point. Feminists sometimes talk about “yes” and “no” like they’re uncomplicated. That’s a messaging thing, and it works: We want everyone who hooks up with anyone ever to do so only with an affirmative, active yes. Teaching that consent is always clear is a tool in making it so, by mandating explicit and affirmative articulation.
But ethical sex is hard. And it won’t stop being hard until we make cultures that enable meaningful choice, cultures wherein we minimize, as much as possible, power imbalances related to sex. That’s a tall order, but we’ve got to get there. For all the confused queer kids and weird mornings after. For all of us to feel safe and valued and of worth.
Such sentiment, for the Post writer, where “yes” may not even mean “yes,” is just too much to bear. In fact, even aside from that, the whole “yes” campaign is madness for the writer which turns sex into a mechanical encounter, sucking all the spontaneity out of it, and oversimplifying things.
As I read both articles, though, something interesting happened in my thinking. My natural instinct would be to heartedly affirm the contrarian views of the Post writer as she aimed her guns at a demographic that I sometimes struggle with: radical feminists who seem to always cry victimhood and are seeking to destroy historic biblical values.
But then a few jarring thoughts suddenly surfaced in my mind; thoughts which I’m still grappling with.
1. While the world argues about what constitutes “rape” from a legal perspective, the giant elephant in the room is that the moment a person propositions another person who is not his/her spouse, even under perfect conditions, that person’s spiritual personhood and innocence are being “raped” and a certain level of coercion is already at play.
As human beings, both male and female, who are created in the image of God and designed to live by the law of love, any time another creature invites us to step outside the bounds of that law of love, our innocence is already being compromised. We are already being dehumanized.
In that regard, all sex outside of heterosexual marriage – and despite what Donald Trump’s people say, even some within – is in some sense “rape.”
So questions of “yes” or “no,” even if answered with great sobriety and lucidity, are somewhat irrelevant. So far has society departed from the sexual laws that protect all – or, as the Harvard writer calls it, “ethical sex” – that we have a hard time even comprehending that extramarital propositions have the seeds of rape inherently contained in them.
So we cannot – and must not – celebrate a philosophy which itself celebrates a loose sexual ethic, even if we are growing tired of the voices that seem to cry victimhood ad nauseum.
2. Reading the article from the young lady at Harvard all of a sudden helped me realize that feminism – radical or otherwise – didn’t simply arise in a vacuum but is, in many ways, a natural and appropriate reaction to a gross masculinity that has wreaked havoc on society since Adam joined Eve in eating the fruit. Feminists are confused about sex – to the point that they are not even sure whether “yes” really means “yes” – because we as men have made it confusing and treated it and them as tools for our insatiable hunger to gratify our sexual selves.
Think about it. In many ways, Adam was the first male chauvinist. When God came to him in Genesis 3 and asked him why he ate the fruit, the first two words (or one in Hebrew) that Adam said was, “The woman . . . ” (v. 12). And men have been blaming women ever since – even, or maybe especially, in the area of sexuality. “She wanted it . . . ” “If she hadn’t been wearing that . . . ”
The reality is, men have spent the last six thousand years failing to show true masculinity – a masculinity that embraces all the good qualities of maleness as Scripture defines it and rejects those which Satan has installed.
So, while I am certainly not advocating that we embrace everything that radical feminism affirms, we men must forgive women for refusing to celebrate – and, in fact, passionately fighting against – what passes as masculinity and our sexual heteropraxy.
3. It shouldn’t surprise us that what really lies at the root of all this confusion about sexuality, and our confusion about what constitutes rape, is a yearning for agape love. Simply put, the world is starving for it – that love which “seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, MEV); that “self-renouncing love” which Ellen White says is “the law of life for earth and heaven” (The Desire of Ages, p. 19).
Such love makes all the questions of “yes” or “no” obsolete because, to begin with, no man would ever put a woman who is not his wife in a position to decide “yes” or “no” – and, in the context of marriage, no spouse would ever push beyond a “no.” Within the framework of agape love, if sex is seen as something one gives for the benefit of the other, rather than something one gets for the benefit of self, then the world would be a lot less confused about love and sex. And women – feminists or otherwise – wouldn’t be constantly wrestling with the question of whether they were raped or not.
But so long as sex continues to be of the self-serving variety, there will always be underlying feelings of violation and rape in the minds of those who are not its initiators.
Ellen White, in Ministry of Healing (her aptly named back whose title and topic has great relevance to the present discussion), pulls back the curtain on this question of what the world is starving for. “The world needs today,” she writes, “what it needed nineteen hundred years ago – a revelation of Christ” (p. 143). A revelation of Christ, of course, which reveals the heart of a completely other-centered, self-giving God.
How does this happen? She continues: “A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual [and we might add, sexual], can be accomplished” (emphasis added).
Through the grace of Christ, we are thus primed to show and give the world what it so desperately longs for: a revelation of God’s agape love, which manifests itself, among other ways, in – using the words of the young lady from Harvard – truly “ethical sex.”
Postscript: if you are interested in exploring further thoughts I shared on sexuality, you can listen to a whole sermon series I preached a few years ago called “Everyone’s Battle” by clicking here.