The calculus of sexual consent

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about “consent” but the entire concept remains extraordinarily vague and imprecise. I’m all for consent, but still do not know what anyone is being asked to consent to or how that consent is to be obtained, or proved to have been obtained at a later date. In my day, which was a long long time ago, one asked for consent either with the words, “Will you marry me?” or even with the words, “I do”. Well, I’m not actually that old, but grew up during the 1960s which was a very decadent period, I can assure you, where sexual morality changed for all time, and I cannot say that it has changed for the better. We had, to assist our philosophical growth on such matters, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch on the one hand and Hugh Hefner’s The Playboy Philosophy on the other. Oddly, in their own way they both conveyed the same message.

So into this moral mess we are engaging in a public debate on who should be allowed to do what to whom and under what circumstances. So in this vein we have this today: Embed consent education in school curriculum, Liberal MP urges. The only problem with this article is that it does not answer any of the questions that need to be answered. This is not a promising start:

The member for Reid, who was a psychologist before entering federal Parliament, says this would set up children for a life of healthy relationships and the ability to recognise coercive control and sexual abuse.

Which ends with this absolutely empty piece of advice:

Dr Martin said education about protective behaviours should begin as soon as children started to talk, in an age-appropriate way such as reading a picture book like Tess Rowley’s Everybody’s Got A Bottom. Protective behaviours include teaching young children the proper names for body parts, what is private and how to respect and protect their bodies. Relationship skills could also start being taught to preschool children through conversations about who their friends were, who they played with and what made a good friendship, she said. As children got older, this could evolve into assertiveness training, giving them the confidence to speak up against bullying or about other unhealthy relationships.

We are not discussing dealing with Uncle Fred or the next door neighbour. We are not discussing paedophilia. We are instead talking about a girl going out on a date (or whatever the term nowadays is) in a post-Monica-Lewinsky world where internet porn is universally available along with contraceptives. And where often, but not always, the girl is as keen for some kind of sexual adventure as the boy. Will You Love Me Tomorrow is a very old song with a very modern message. It was released in 1960 just a few years before Germaine Greer and Hugh Hefner were releasing their books.

The most decadent pop song in history. And it has nothing to do with consent. The question today is whether she will try to bring a prosecution for rape in two and a half years’ time.

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