Culture has sold men and women a lie. A lie which is ripping people apart in the most devastating, emotional sense. The lie is “sex is casual.” This lie has been reinforced in books, movies, television. Women — especially — have been told sex shouldn’t have to be a big deal. It can be a fling. A one night stand. If men can have multiple sexual partners without feelings, so should women. Be empowered, girl! Sleep with whomever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. So women have. Despite being told “sex can be casual” it sure doesn’t seem women are happy with the results. Most heartbreakingly echoed by a new piece in The New York Times titled He Asked Permission to Touch, but Not to Ghost.
In it, author Courtney Sender describes a first date with a younger man she met on Tinder. The first part of the piece explains the technical hook-up components of their first night, and the first date, together. In which they went to bed. But being a good 25-year-old man, well-trained in the art of asking consent, he asked permission every stop along their sexy way. I’m not including the saucy details, because to me they’re irrelevant. I want to get to the actual heart of the matter. Ms. Sender’s torn heart.
Sex makes me feel unsafe, not because of the act itself but because my partners so often disappear afterward, whether I waited hours or months before the first time. So it’s after sex when I feel truly vulnerable.
So she sleeps with men, because our culture has long telegraphed sex is no big deal, and you should sleep around. But men leave her. All it sounds like Sender’s trying to do is find love. But she’s going about it all wrong, without even knowing there’s another way.
Yet something else about his asking also made me uneasy. It seemed legalistic and self-protective, imported more from the courtroom than from a true sense of caretaking. And each time he asked, it was as if he assumed I lacked the agency to say no on my own — as if he expected me to say no, not believing that a woman would have the desire to keep saying yes.
He asks for consent because he doesn’t want to get accused of rape, as some women accuse men of assault, harassment or rape after regretful sex. Go ask Aziz Ansari. So rather than deliver the romance you pictured, men are now asking for your initials at each kiss. Welcome to 2018 and the hyperventilating of vengeful feminists.
If I could go back in time, I would have urged him in that moment to really think about why asking for consent even matters. Because the answer, I think, is basic: We want people we’re intimate with to feel good, not bad.
Yeah, exactly. We want people were intimate with to feel good, not bad. I’m going to lob an idea here: maybe before entering an intimate, physical relationship with someone, you should get to know that someone. Perhaps before giving yourself to someone in the most intimate way possible, you should already have a commitment from them. In the form of one signed document. Otherwise known as a marriage license. A commitment that says your husband or wife will honor you and respect you for the rest of your life. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t that feel good, to give yourself to someone who has promised you their whole life in return?
I guess that makes me an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. Read also Waiting till the wedding night – getting married the right way.
But in Ms. Sender’s case, her Tinder date, after sleeping with her twice, after asking for her consent like a good little feminist-trained boy, left her. Never to return. Never to call her back. He had his consensual fun with her. Then he moved on.
Ms. Sender shared her dejected, hurt feelings with a friend. Their conversation:
“Because he asked for my consent, over and over. So sex felt like a sacred act, and then he disappeared.”
“A sacred act?” one roommate said, laughing. “Girl, you sure don’t treat it like one.”
But I do. We perform sacred acts for, with and among strangers all the time. We give charitably to people we don’t know. We pray in churches with people we don’t know.
I need people to understand my tone here. I truly am heartbroken for Courtney Sender. She knows, in her gut and in her heart, sex is a sacred act. She knows it’s intimate and special. She feels it on a deep, primal level. But she’s also living in a culture which de-emphasizes the importance and intimacy of the very same act. She’s living in a time where sex is treated as casually as a handshake. Look at how she equates the sacredness of sex with giving to charity. With praying in church.
Courtney, it’s not the same. You know it’s not. I’m so sorry, but you’ve been lied to. That lie has broken you too many times.
But in the days and weeks after, I was left thinking that our culture’s current approach to consent is too narrow. A culture of consent should be a culture of care for the other person, of seeing and honoring another’s humanity and finding ways to engage in sex while keeping our humanity intact. It should be a culture of making each other feel good, not bad.
The solution is marriage. It’s an institution built on love, respect, and honor of each other. Where two people accept each other, their whole humanity of each other, in good times and bad. In sickness and in health. For richer, for poorer. Until death parts them. Where the longterm aim is to care for one another deeply, to fight the world together as one. It’s marriage where many of us on the right, especially the religious right, believe sex belongs. Because it’s such an intimate, sacred act.
The answer to Courtney Sender’s broken heart is not to repeat the mistakes she’s told are cultural norms. The answer is to save the most sacred part of herself for a man with whom she can trust for the rest of her life. A man who gives her a lifetime commitment of himself, as she gives to him. I can think of nothing more loving, romantic, and fulfilling.
Marriage is not perfect. No institution where humans play a role will ever be perfect. But marriage protects people by coupling them together in the most intimate way humans can. It’s an institution which should be heralded as the sacred one it is. With sex saved for that sacred institution.
Yes, sometimes people fail, then the marriage fails. But those failures do not mean the entire institution should be scrapped.
Yet conservatives or religious people are often mocked by our hedonistic society of pleasure first, consequences never. Leaving people like Courtney Sender, and generations of other heartbroken women and men, in their wake. Who may not understand why they feel so empty and alone.
We’re seeing a cultural shift. We’re witnessing it right now. We need to return to treating each other with respect, honor, and love. Not masturbatory tools who can be tossed aside when one person has had their fun. But as human beings worthy of dignity and respect.