Note from R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator: The following post does not mention “homeschooling” in any way. It is more about the Christian culture in which many of our homeschooling experiences occurred. But since many of our particular homeschooling experiences occurred within this culture, this post is very relevant. After reading Kathryn’s thoughts, I, too, tried to remember when any of the modesty or purity teachings I received about relationships — in both my church and homeschooling environments — included any discussion about consent. Like Kathryn, I was at a loss. In retrospect, I find this omission rather disturbing.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on August 1, 2013.
Let’s Talk About Christian Culture and Consent
A friend made a comment on one of my Facebook posts today that got me thinking.
The comment was about how a lot of people in the Church don’t have any kind of sexual ethic, just a bunch rules that they follow. I think that’s a good description of how it is that people buy into slippery slope arguments—the old, “if we allow people to gay marry, then what’s to stop them from toaster marrying?” logic.
If you’ve got a sexual ethic based on consent, then the answer is obvious: because toasters are incapable of consent.
If you are just operating by rules, then it makes sense that you’d think that if one of your rules gets tossed then what’s to stop all your rules from going out the window.
The comment on my Facebook post made me realize that in all of the years of growing up in the Church, of getting lectures about abstinence in Sunday school and youth group and True Love Waits, I cannot remember a single mention of consent. I remember Dawson McAllister coming to town to a True Love Waits event and telling us that anal sex was still sex and not a way to remain a virgin (which is not a bad piece of information, incidentally, though really rather stupid if the only reason you’re telling them is to make sure they remain more than just technical virgins), but for all of the talk about what you couldn’t do, the only talk about saying “no” was about not sinning.
I’ve racked my brain trying to remember even a single time that I’ve ever heard consent mentioned in a church-related setting growing up and I can’t remember a single one.
By not teaching about consent, you produce girls who don’t know that they can refuse consent for any other reason than “it’s a sin,” and you produce boys who have never been taught that no means no. That’s a recipe for disaster. Is conservative abstinence education turning boys into accidental rapists and girls into easy victims because neither one has been educated about consent being an inviolable element in a sexual encounter?
I put this question out there on Facebook and Twitter and I’ll ask it here as well. For those of you who grew up in the church and were lectured about abstinence in youth group/Sunday school/True Love Waits/etc.:
Do any of you remember being taught about consent?
I wasn’t. I had to ask my dad what rape was when I was in high school. No talk about consent and very little discussion of sex meant no way for me to know about the sexual abuse I went through. =/
Here’s a pretty brilliant suggestion, imo, as to WHY the concept of consent is consistently neglected in this subculture: http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/you-cant-say-no-to-god-conservative-christianity-and-consent/
Wait, wait, what? Consent? If you’re not an amoral jerk you already know that. “Hey lets go rob someone” “Um, no that would be a sin” “So, I want some money” … What church this century teaches that a woman has to have sex with a guy if he wants to?
And the gay marriage thing isn’t a consent issue. It is seen as a deviation from morality. If a guy can marry a guy, then what is next? (not a toaster, where did that idiot idea come from?) Marry your dog? Such a loving relationship should be recognized, right?
Well, again: a dog can’t consent. A child can’t consent (which is why the gay marriage=pedophilia is also bullshit).
And it’s not just the fundamentalist churches that completely ignore consent. It’s society in general, but fundamentalist churches take it to extremes.
I was never taught consent; I was taught to say “no” but never an appropriate time to say “yes.” Supposedly there WAS no appropriate time to say “yes”, except after marrying the perfect, Godly man, of course. However, teaching only “no” without offering a single clue about how to say “yes” is actually very damaging. When I had a boyfriend, he was a bit coercive in his attempts to get me to have sex with him. At the beginning of our relationship, “I’m not ready” was plenty enough to deflect him. However, as time went by, he would start arguing with me on that.
“Come on, it’s been over a year. Any other normal couple would have had sex by now.”
“You’re not in Sunday school and your parents aren’t looking over your shoulder. What is wrong with you?”
“You need to grow up. We’re both adults; we should be able to do these things by now.”
Honestly, he was right in some ways; the fear that my parents instilled in me was a stupid reason to abstain from sex, and I was acting childish. But it was only because I didn’t have any concept of WHY I wanted to say “no.” It honestly wasn’t just the old morals and rules. It was that I was not attracted to him, and I was revolted at the thought of being physical with him. I was terrified by it. However, with all of the fear and shame built around sex in my upbringing, I figured that this was NORMAL for a woman to feel. After all, there was really no reason to ever consent to sex because sex was bad. If I had been taught that there were actual situations where saying “yes” was okay, I would have also been able to understand better why I was saying “no.”
Instead, I let his coercion break my walls down and he talked me into doing things that left me feeling sick and scared and miserable. I figured I disliked it because it was normal for women to hate sex… plus I was guilty of sin. It never crossed my mind that maybe I disliked it because I had a right to make rules about what I did and did not want to happen to my body and those rules should be respected. They should be respected simply because it was MY BODY. That was never taught to me. Ever.
It finally started to make sense once I actually felt attraction for the first time… for a woman. Whoops, that’s not what a good Christian girl is supposed to feel! I guess I just never fit that mould well. =P
No, I never learned about consent but I’m sure they thought they were teaching it. There was only “married” and “not married” and so if you consented to marriage by default you simultaneously consented to regular on-demand sex with this person forevermore and this was painted as only ever a good thing, a sign of both love and intimacy, and ultimately quite a welcome relief from celibacy. I saw in my own childhood home what kind of horrible reality this actually made though, and it was bad. When there is no framework for consent on a case by case basis for every time you have sex (or try to initiate and then get turned down), you often get coercive sex and marital rape and you also often get low sex and sexless marriages because the partner who has been “submitting” to things that did not fulfill her or that outright made her feel unhappy or used finally gets sick of it and starts sleeping in the spare room. Because she did not feel she could turn down sex (or aspects of sex) that she did not want to have, she finally just opts out of sex altogether. I honestly don’t know why this issue doesn’t get discussed more. Instead of realizing this is a prevalent problem and results in a lot of unnecessary heartache and lonliness (and sometimes trauma) instead we get the myth that women naturally want sex less than men, which, while it or the reverse may be true for certain individuals, is on the whole utter foolishness.