Consent: necessary, but not sufficient

I was reading an article about the recent Air China scandal, and stumbled across another article on the same website, telling the story of Shelby Neuens, a young woman who had been discussing Satanic cult rituals with her friend, and volunteered to have her arm sliced open and little finger cut off, so he could drink the blood (with friends like that, who needs enemies?). Thankfully, this disturbed young lady survived the incident, but reading about it inspired me to compose this entry about a subject that has really been at the forefront of mind recently, as well as in the public conscience, in relation to the Ched Evans story: the issue of consent.

You see, the cornerstone of modern morality – particularly with regards to sex – is the idea that, so long as all involved fully consent to a given activity, then everything is fine, there is no moral issue. According to this line of thought, any activity, no matter how dangerous, destructive, degrading, and damaging, is morally laundered, because of the magic word ‘yes’, which sanitises even the grubbiest pastimes.

This is one of the most corrosively destructive social attitudes of the 21st century (and there are a lot of those). Consent cannot be the ultimate arbiter of morality, because consent tells us nothing about the benefits of a course of action, or its destructive potential. Furthermore, consent has many different forms; consent can be manufactured — it can be given under duress, it can be given upon the basis of incomplete or false information, or it can be given in a decision-making process driven by internal pain or disturbance, a la Ms. Neuens. Does ‘consent’ given when one or more of these factors apply really count as truly consensual?

For example, when a bank robber points his gun at the hapless bank clerk and demands he fill a bag with money, and the frightened clerk complies, he is technically consenting; he is agreeing to fulfill the proposition of the robber. This is an example of consent given under duress, and most people would rightly say that consent given under those circumstances is invalid. But consent doesn’t have to be gained at gunpoint for it to be given under duress. The most pertinent people I can think of to illustrate my point are the female subjects in pornographic films. Most of these women are desperate: driven to pornography as a seemingly easy way of earning a lot of quick money, often to feed drug habits, pay off unscrupulous creditors, or just to earn enough money to feed their children. No woman aspires to be a porn star, because it’s a horrible job; but an unfortunate number are driven to it, feeling they have no other choice.

Technically, these women consent – they are not kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to feature in those wicked productions – but what value does their consent hold? Surely, it holds none – they have no choice, and are consenting out of desperation. Maybe that type of manufactured consent is enough to assuage the consciences of hedonistic moral relativists, but it is not enough to satisfy mine.

In 2012, I discovered that an old school friend, who I had not seen since 2008, had become pregnant. This was a shock, given her young age, and I ascertained soon after that, upon discovering his girlfriend was pregnant, this fine young gentleman abandoned her, and to this day, has minimal involvement with their daughter, who is now 3. The pain, difficulty, and trauma this has caused to the girl and her mother cannot be understated: the baby will grow up without one parent, experiencing all the emotional and psychological problems associated with that; and my friend was thrown into the deep end of single parenting, forfeiting the stable, family life she could have reasonably been expected to go on and enjoy; and if she is at fault for any of this, it is only because of naivety, rather than selfish self-centredness.

Well, here is the thing: my friend consented fully to sleeping with this ‘man’. But her consent was based on inadequate information. The first piece of faulty information she had based her decision on is that contraception is infallible; she soon learned that that is not the case. She had also assumed that her boyfriend was genuinely in love with her, wasn’t just using her for sex, and would face the consequences and support her, should she become pregnant. The package she got – pregnancy and single parenthood – is very different to the deal she signed up for – ‘harmless’ fun with someone who cared.

My friend made her decisions based on information that was wildly incorrect, but that was how the information was presented to her – our culture heavily promulgates the message that contraception makes sex entirely consequence-free, and no doubt her partner paid her the standard lip service that this type of man always does, telling her what she wanted to hear.

Look at the mess her entirely consensual actions got her into: two lives severely hampered. Stories like this are FAR from being uncommon in our wonderful modern utopia, and I think they should serve as indisputable proof that, no, consent doesn’t make everything okay. The lesson to take from stories such as my friend’s is that we absolutely HAVE to judge actions by their impact, not just dismiss the pain and problems caused by consensual actions, just because they’re consensual.

Ms. Neuens consenting to have her finger chopped off is clearly an example of consent coming from a very disturbed place, and therefore being invalidated. Think about it: what good can possibly come senselessly from mutilating your body in that manner? Such an action has no positive results. The only reason she felt such wanton destruction was a good idea is because she obtained some kind of gratification from it, and “because it’s fun” or “because I felt like it” aren’t ever very convincing reasons to site when trying to persuade someone something is justified. Yes, she consented, but so what? She is clearly very disturbed, and the action caused a lot of serious harm – she will never get that finger back, and could suffer from other medical consequences for the rest of her life.

It’s fine, though, it’s what she wanted.

This kind of consent brought about by inner turmoil is also demonstrated by promiscuous women. Sex is very different for women than it is for men: women have much less testosterone than men, and also can only be pregnant only once at a time – it is simply biologically impossible for women to be promiscuous for very long (without contraception and abortion), because they would be perpetually pregnant and always taking care of their children. It is reckless and dangerous for everyone to be promiscuous, but particularly women – women cannot abandon a pregnant partner and run away; even if they get an abortion, they still have to deal with the psychological impact of abortion for years after, possibly for life.

I theorise that promiscuous women are so inclined because they have self-esteem deficits, which are exacerbated by our sex-obsessed culture teaching girls to value themselves not by how kind, thoughtful, loyal, friendly, caring and so on they are, but on their physical attractiveness. Being desired by a man temporarily – very temporarily – fills that empty, gaping hole inside, and makes life seem worthwhile.

Yes, these girls consent to having casual sex with strangers, but the fact that it is consensual does not make promiscuous sex morally right. It is exploitative, and furthermore, sex is a powerful, primal force of nature: it is not to be taken lightly, and should rightly be reserved for married couples in a secure, loving union, with its consequences fully understood and explored. Casual sex leads to allegations of rape which destroy careers and lives, such as in the Ched Evans case; unplanned babies, such as in my friend’s case; sexually transmitted diseases; broken hearts; and, in extreme cases, suicide. Promiscuous women are even at greater risk of contracting cancer via the human papilloma virus.

And what good ever comes from it? None, barring very fleeting physical ‘fun’, which simply isn’t an adequate justification for an activity so fraught with risk.

So, you see, consent is definitely necessary – sex without mutual consent is rape, and rape is a despicable, evil act. But consent alone does not morally legitimise a decision, activity, or course of action. Some of the most harmful outcomes transpire after two or more people gave their consent. It’s time we start judging actions by their effect on the individual and others, rather than whether someone – who could be labouring under all sorts of delusions, could be under various pressures, or could be disturbed enough to be incapable of properly consenting –  consented to it.

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