Thursday, October 9, 2014

With this ring I... enter into a pre-approval relationship of understood verbal consent for a limited amount of time

Sexual Consent

Where to begin? The Sexual Revolution changed society's view of when and with whom it is morally appropriate to have sex. I am not enough of a historian to say what exactly the views of society were before the Sexual Revolution, but conventional wisdom would have us believe that society was repressive in its values in that sex should only take place between individuals who had procured the legal rights to do so. Those legal rights were influenced partially by religion but more so by tradition. I say this because marriage practices vary from religion to religion, but they almost all carry the trait of defining the proper place for sex to happen.

I am not claiming that sex outside of marriage did not happen before the Sexual Revolution. I am simply stating that it was considered to varying degrees at different times and different places to be immoral--or at least for the most part, less than virtuous.

Now, in 2014, we have come full circle and we are making new laws to define the appropriate situation for sexual relations. Marriage has become... an economic arrangement? I can't think of another way to explain it. Marriage clearly no longer determines the legal bounds of sex or child raising. It no longer is a protection for women and children in dealing with property rights and inheritance. It has boiled down to a tax benefit. So since, marriage isn't fulfilling its role as defining "consent" it falls to college student policy handbooks. Yes, that's right, college student policy handbooks are now coming to the rescue of vulnerable female college students. Fifty years after casting off the restraints of sexual repression we are just now addressing a few of the ugliest results of the Revolution. It is not as if sexual assault is a new phenomenon. Perhaps it has been on the rise due to many factors, but the data is not completely clear. There are problems due to reporting and definitions. Part of the current issue with sexual assault is that society is even having a problem defining what consent means.

I don't mean to claim that sexual assault wasn't happening before the Sexual Revolution. Marriage was meant to be a protection for women, but evil men in every situation find ways to do what they will. Still, in communities where marriage was taken seriously and women were valued, it provided a structure of consent that extended not just to the married couple but to the family and community as well. It goes against our ideas of freedom to expect permission to do just about anything, but permission to do whatever we want is not one of our unalienable rights.

I wonder how far it will go. Currently, it seems they are pushing for verbal consent to be the marker for when it is okay to have sex (at least as a college student). How do they plan on enforcing this? Will college students need to use voice recorders to document their consent? That doesn't seem good enough. Video would be less fallible, but just think of the privacy concerns. Perhaps colleges should require a signature or a photocopy of a picture ID. That would be terribly inconvenient and, you know, really ruin the mood.

Some progressive student government might come up with the idea of pre-approval. Students could enter into contracts that would allow them to have consent for sex without a verbal agreement each time. Since this would put physically weaker students (usually women) at risk of sexual assault they would naturally be cautious about entering in to such an agreement. They would only want to have pre-approved agreements with men that they trusted not to assault them. Having sex without a pre-approval agreement would become risky for men since anyone they had sex with based on merely a verbal agreement would be able to deny making the agreement and thus accuse them of breaking the student policies. So all responsible college students would only be having sex with people that they had a pre-approval agreement with.

For these pre-approval agreements to be legally binding they would need to become a matter of public record to prevent fraudulent accusation. So I assume couples would need to register their agreement with the college. The college, since it has assumed the role of protector of its students, will have an interest in curbing STI's and STD's and will seek ways to limit the number of partners students are having sex with. At first it will have awareness campaigns and offer benefits to students who voluntarily limit their exposure. Then eventually, some heavy-handed institutions will restrict students to one pre-approval arrangement at a time. Before long, after a few lawsuits it will become the de facto policy of all colleges. Colleges will go to a policy of no sex without a pre-approval arrangement and students can only have one pre-approval arrangement per semester.

Of course students will roll the pre-approval arrangements into the social landscape. They will form ceremonies to recognize the formation of a new arrangement and social status will be based on whatever the norm becomes. Knowing the number of partners another student has had will undoubtedly affect students decisions about who to have sex with. Psychologist will have tons of new data to explore.

Perhaps over time social pressure, practicality and policies driven by litigation will limit students to having one pre-approved sexual partner for their entire time in college. Any students wishing to have the legal protection of pre-approval agreements will have to submit to the college's policies in order to have sex. Students who have sex without such agreements risk being assaulted with no recourse or being accused with no defense.

If it is good enough for student policy handbooks, perhaps cities and states will consider providing the protection of pre-approved consent agreements. Then finally we can do away with marriage and replace it with a legally binding agreement that protects women from abuse, provides men the incentive to restrict their number of sexual partners and as a side benefit provides stable social structure for raising children. Wouldn't that be great?