Where Consent Fails
June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment
Sexual assault is always wrong. On this, most people won’t disagree, and events like the rape of an unconscious Stanford University student by Brock Turner drive that sentiment home. If someone does not give their consent, having sex with them is wrong. As true as that statement is, the Christian sexual ethic goes further than consent for reasons both spiritual and natural.
“Sex isn’t just physical,” says Andy Stanley, author of a very good sermon series on the topic(1). “There’s more to sex because there’s more to you. …You’re more than a body. … You have a heart, a soul, and a mind. There’s an intangible component to you that you may not be able to define, but you would never deny…”(2) A triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—designed sex to be experienced physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Christians understand sex as something God created for a man and a women to enjoy within the context of marriage for the purpose of procreation (Genesis 1:28), but also as a representation of Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). In God’s goodness, He gave mankind a way to bring new life into the world that in a way reflects the kind of relationship God desires with His people—one of intimacy, pleasure and productivity. A husband and wife sacrificially loving each other also points to the Gospel.
Genesis 2:24 says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” A husband and a wife become one in an emotional sense but also a spiritual sense. We are made to become with one other person, not one with many. Following this blueprint not only works the best, it honors our Creator. Consenting to sex outside of marriage is wrong in the sight of God, grieving the one who redeemed us and the one whose opinion matters the most.
God-honoring sex can only happen within marriage the way God designed it, but secular-minded people generally don’t care about Biblical morals of sex and marriage or the spiritual consequences of “free love.” Are there natural consequences to consensual sex? The wreckage left from the sexual revolution is hard to ignore, though many still try. For many, consent remains the ultimate arbiter of permissible sexual choices, but consent can’t fix the disastrous real world results.
Consent can’t save millions of adults from sexually-transmitted diseases contracted between willing sexual partners. In the past 15 years, 38.1 million people have become infected with HIV and 25.3 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. While AIDs cases peaked in the early 1990s, STDs are now on the rise in the US, particularly among younger people, gay and bisexual men(3). The World Health Organization estimates 340 million ANNUAL episodes of curable sexually transmitted infections (chlamydial infections, gonorrhoea, syphilis, trichomoniasis) occur throughout the world.(4)
Consent can’t save millions of aborted children. The vast majority of unintended pregnancies come from intended sex. In order to keep future plans intact, the response is in at least 40% of unintended pregnancies, to terminate the future of the resulting child through abortion. Of the 58 million children killed in the US since Roe v Wade legalized abortion, less than 1% of those were pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.(5) The rest are carnage from consensual sex.
Consent can’t save millions of people from destroying themselves with pornography. Empirical scientific study shows that continual porn use alters the brain, and is as addictive as chemicals or alcohol. It’s self-deceptive and distorts a person’s view of healthy sex, ruins intimacy with real partners, and demeans women in particular. Porn has been linked to violent behavior and tears apart families.(6) Porn is never harmless and always involves more than the viewer.
Consent can’t save millions of relationships doomed from cohabitation. A little over half of couples who “try out” marriage by moving in together actually do marry, and the ones who do are at greater risk of divorcing within the first few years of marriage than couples who married without living together first. Government studies report that cohabiting couples earn less money, are less happy, more prone to depression, substance abuse and violent fights, experience higher infidelity, have a separation rate 5 times that of married couples and a reconciliation rate one-third that of married couples.(7)
Poor sexual choices often lead to or coincide with other poor choices—married couples too often mutually consent to divorce. Half of all children experience divorce. Seventy-five percent of children with divorced parents live with their mothers, while 43% never see their fathers.(8) Growing up without a father has been linked to increased rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, incarceration, poverty, job insecurity, relationship issues, substance abuse, social and mental behavioral issues, and dropping out of school. (9) Millions of children suffer the absence a father, whether it’s the result of divorce or the fact that so may children are born to single mothers. “In a study tracking the first wave of millennials to become parents, a team from Johns Hopkins University recently found that 64 percent of mothers gave birth at least once out of wedlock.(10) Almost one-half had all of their children without ever exchanging vows.”(11)
One thing that’s important to keep in mind when looking at statistics: When a certain behavior is “linked” to a previous behavior, it may not be caused by it (correlation does not always mean causation). For instance, the act of moving in with your girlfriend does not necessarily produce the higher degree of unfaithfulness that typifies that kind of relationship. What this usually means is that a lack of commitment is the probable cause for both the decision to substitute marriage with cohabitation and the decision to cheat later on. Ultimately, it’s the outworking of a worldview rooted in boundless sexual freedom and self-expression, not one that regards the will of our Creator or seeks the ultimate good of others.
All sin separates us from God, but sexual sin earns a special category that connects the spiritual and natural consequences. Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to “flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” God is particularly interested in our sexual purity because God knows how harmful sexual sin is not only to His relationship to us, but to our own body and soul. A loving God cares what we consent to do to ourselves. Why wouldn’t He?
The good news is that Christ died for the sexual brokenness we all share. While sexual sin has its own category, Christians are not immune from this sin or the natural consequences. We need to remember that when we point to the sins of others.
The sexual revolution didn’t start in the 60s, but in Genesis 3 with mankind’s relentless pursuit of personal autonomy apart from our Creator. Author and FamilyLife Today co-host Bob Lepine notes that “Our souls crave the intimacy and the rightness of the sexual experience God created us for, but we settle for cheap substitutes. And in the end those substitutes always disappoint, because they fall short of what God intended.”(12)
Our aim should be for grace—the kind that we’ve been given—and for truth, God’s design for sex that’s best for everyone. In both, our aim is much higher than consent.