Strange though it seems to have to point this out, shouldn’t someone notice that there is something more profound than irony in the following juxtaposition?
Under the law, a student who has been accused of sexual assault can’t defend himself by saying he thought the accuser was a willing partner. There has to have been “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Consent, so defined, must be “ongoing throughout sexual activity.”
Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.
Specifically, shouldn’t someone notice that the desired “liberation” of sexuality has–quite unsurprisingly to those who heed the experts in human nature–resulted in ever-more-detailed, ever-more-intrusive regulation of sexuality? That it has not resulted in greater capacity to enjoy the goods of conjugal union, but in raising the stakes in rationing those goods, so that practically every facet of our commercial and cultural life is dominated by efforts to consume as many “others” as possible? That the slender reed of “consent” has become the sole moral commitment involved in that putatively mutual consumption, and as such has been expanded beyond all reason to account for the vast, plurivocal range of real moral implications of real conjugal union–an act whose “implied consent” definitely includes the possibility of child support payments, health risks/rewards, “preventive measures,” psychological and social changes, relational expectations, etc. etc.
The weight of what is denied in “liberated” sexuality–that is, that a conjugal union is in every case potentially life-altering in ways that go beyond any possible reckoning beforehand, and that the proportion of the consequences to the desire is itself descriptive of the act’s proper intelligibility and discipline–reappears in the judicial, legislative, and social machinery ordered to accounting for and enforcing the meaning of “consent.” The explicit “consent” required to justify the act makes truly “consensual” sex–even sex “between consenting adults”–increasingly unlikely to occur at all.
Meanwhile, the social costs mount. Rule of law suffers as legislators and judges are turned into diviners of increasingly minute definitions of “consent” which can never be mutually well-informed and proportionate to the consequences (surely at some point we will realize that ad hoc sexual encounters are, pretty much by definition, an unconscionable bargain).
The problem is that “consent” can never properly be understood while we attempt to deny the reality that we consent to in honest conjugal union. In an effort to “liberate” sexuality from consent to a permanent, exclusive, open-to-children bond between a man and a woman, we have engaged in critical solicitation, yielding this cipher “consent,” by which pharmakon we hope to foreclose at the end of foreplay the end the play’s for.