The place of consent in a Christian sexual ethic

Kory Plockmeyer

Marta L.
June 12, 2013

Reading this, I found myself pondering sexual ethics and sexual freedom, and whether the two are one and the same. I don't think they are, or at least they don't have to be. Certainly sexual freedom is a good and important part of good sexualities, and I am so(!!!) glad to see someone talking about the importance to move beyond shame and taboo in this area. This is something individuals and communities should definitely be encouraged to think about and explore, as it is such an important part of lives these days. (The beginning and the end of what matters? Hardly - but it's still very significant, I think.)

But while the freedom to explore sexuality (both intellectually and physically) is important, freedom means the ability to choose wrongly. So I think we need to go beyond thinking about sexually freedom to ask: is this choice a good choice? We can ask this in the context of certain situations or more generally about certain kinds of sex acts. And we can recognize that sexual freedom has a value all its own, without that meaning it's the only thing we need to consider. And as with most other areas of life, this doesn't have to downplay the importance or value of freedom - it just requires that we recognize, beyond the value of having a choice to make, it's also important to make a choice that's actually good.

Esther Aspling
June 12, 2013

I like your question about the other factors; socio-economic, life history, and power dynamics. I think looking at these types of questions is important in light of human trafficking. Would 99% of the woman want to be there if they weren't made to feel as though it was there only source of income (other than the obvious abused held by another party)?

Lots of questions. But I would like to reiterate (as someone who has been raped) the statement that non-consensual sex is wrong. Period. Exclamation Point!


June 12, 2013

Thanks, Marta and Esther, for your comments.

Esther, I think you're right. I suspect that it is possible to go through the myriad of factors that lead one to have the desire to engage in certain sexual behaviors and trace the various influences. My point is simply that before we do that, we need to make sure we are listening to their voices.

Marta, I'm not sure you're right. Does a Christian sexual ethic go beyond sexual freedom? The challenge is two uses of the idea of 'sexual freedom' - in a theological sense, I take sexual freedom to mean the ability to enjoy God's gift of sexuality in the fullest way possible. There's also the more popular level use of 'sexual freedom' to refer to the ability to simply choose whatever we desire. I suspect that on the other side of a "Christian sexual ethic" is an idea of sexual freedom that is actually far more free than a popular understanding of it.

Marta L.
June 12, 2013

Kory, this is one of the reasons I find discussions like this so fascinating. I'm a doctoral student in philosophy, so asking what words mean is part of my stock and trade. But I think discussions like this really do turn on what we mean, specifically, by "freedom." "Consent," too, for that matter. When I think of sexual freedom I mean the ability for the person having sex to be the one deciding what to do and when to do it. It means no rape, obviously, but also freedom from subtler coercion, like the fear that doing something will cost you something else you want (if I don't put out, he'll break up with me), or the fear that if you do do something you'll be judged and shamed for it. Now it sounds like you have something else in mind - "the ability to enjoy god's gift of sexuality in the fullest way possible." It seems like if I want to do X and X actually isn't part of "enjoying God's gift of sexuality in the fullest way possible," then sexual freedom means it's my choice whether to do X or not, whereas for you part of sexual freedom is choosing not to do X. Or at least, sexual freedom doesn't mean I ought to choose to do X, or even be able to make that choice.

If any of that makes sense. The take-away message, I think, is that what you mean by sexual freedom is much more tied to sexual ethics (it's the freedom to do what is good rather than what other people approve of) - as I was using the phrase, it's more about being the one making the choice, whether the choice is good or bad. And I think you're on to something: the way you use the word, sexual freedom is very closely tied with a good sexuality. It may even be the same thing. I'm just not sure that's what everyone means by sexual freedom.

June 12, 2013

Questions of sexual consent which "quickly become complicated" are wonderfully simplified by "a Bible verse or two on sexual purity":
If someone has "...a deep seated desire to experience the gift of sexuality..." outside monogamous heterosexual marriage, that desire is not "God-honoring". It is sinful.
Romans 1:24: "...God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity."
On "God-honoring sexual freedom":
- Single college students? "It is God's will that you should avoid sexual immorality; The Lord will punish men for all such sins..." (1 Thess 4:3,6)
- Recently widowed? "If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to The Lord." (1 Cor 7:39)
- A 14 and 18 year old girl? "Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones." (Rom 1:26 b - in the direct context of a discussion of homosexual sin) They are indulging "shameful lusts" (v 26a)
Scripture cannot be used to accommodate those who are in consensual sexually immoral relationships. It instead requires "...hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col. 2:8)
The Word shines blazing light upon our sin, that we may see our need of the Savior. If those who claim to be Christians (especially those in leadership) "suppress the truth" (Rom 1:18) about sexuality, Jesus Christ will surely hold them accountable. (James 3:1, Rev 2:14-16, 20-23)

October 16, 2013

VERY good sir. Some Christian thought on "think Christian".

August 31, 2018

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