Andrea Mrozek and Rebecca Walberg, who are working on a book about the sexual revolution, had a column in the Calgary Herald this past weekend about Jian Ghomeshi that is less about the (alleged) serial abuser of women than it is about the culture that created him. They question why consent is the only standard of acceptable behaviour and note that sexual mores in recent decades have not delivered the utopia of happy relationships promised by the Playboy culture and uninhibited feminism (an unlikely coalition, and my characterization, not theirs). Ghomeshi crossed a line, certainly, but there is reason for confusion in a culture that permits almost anything. Mrozek and Walberg say:
One of the most harmful things about 21st century sexual morality is that it refuses to condemn anything that is not outright criminal, even though tremendous suffering is caused by immature, unkind and possibly immoral, but legal, behaviour …
Yet, even if there was “only” confusion, if consent meant one thing to the men and another to the women, then there is something wrong with a culture that allows for such confusion over something so intimate, so often. Consent will fail where commitment to the whole person is absent.
Let’s be clear: consensual adultery, promiscuity and BDSM are not illegal, nor should they be. But in the race to replace higher sexual standards with consensual hedonism, we have lost sight of the guidelines that define not what makes a criminal, but what makes a decent person.
Marriage as the sole appropriate context for sex is a high standard, and an imperfect one. Yet in theory, it demands commitment, not for a single encounter, but for a lifetime. It encourages respect and care not only for your partner’s body, but also for their heart, mind and soul.
This may sound archaic, but there is old-fashioned wisdom — and protection — in upholding marriage as the norm and the best relationship in which to have emotionally fulfilling (and safe) sexual relations. That is not to say that a husband (or wife) will never harm a spouse, but that people committed to each other for the long haul are less likely to assault their partners.