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Mar 28, 2023

After our month-long foray into the disturbing literature from the Evangelical Christian publishing industry, we continue our new series The Sex Ed We Wish We Had.

Last month, we interviewed Doug Braun-Harvey, who describes the six sexual health principles that we and many other sexual health providers use as their rubric for co-creating healthy sexual encounters.

We begin with a two-part series on consent, which, to quote the Harvey Institute (8:40):

“Consent means voluntary cooperation communicates permission to try and reach sexual satisfaction and intimacy with willing partners. Consent transforms the act of sex from invasion, intrusion, or violation into an act of transformation. Establishing consent throughout each step of a sexual interaction provides each sexual partner space for sexual safety and pleasure that's consistent with their sexual desire.”

We also address:

  • Consent in Church and the Country (9:50): “Consent in our country has been about folks, primarily men, getting as far as they can sexually while escaping rape allegations or charges. Similar to the church, American culture has given women the responsibility of gatekeeping men's sexuality. While keeping themselves safe from violence,” Jeremiah says. Consent is a tool used by men to absolve themselves from any hurt or crime they may have committed. It is not seen as something that should be intrinsically tied to sex. Julia then makes the connection that, “so often the Christian Church establishes themselves as countercultural. However, in terms of sexuality, the status of so many sexual health principles are quite similar. Within and outside of church walls, we have long taught women best practices for avoiding assault.” The conversation around consent usually centers around the metaphor of wearing a bulletproof vest instead of just banning guns. 

  • The Process of Affirmative Consent (11:55): “Learn that consent is the proactive negotiation of pleasure. To catch onto this concept, a religious university in Ohio was the first to develop a model for affirmative consent.” Julia notes as we give props to a Christian institution on this podcast for probably the first time. They then list the seven principles of affirmative consent: 

  1. Explicitness. A yes must be expressed verbally.

  2. Voluntariness. The yes must be given voluntarily without pressure or coercion.  

  3. Ability to consent. Intoxicated people, people under a certain age are unable to give consent.

  4. A shift of responsibility. They mean the person who initiates the sexual act has the responsibility to obtain the consent of all participants in non-coercive ways.

  5. Freedom from presumption. Consent must be obtained repeatedly for each new sexual act.

  6. Informedness. All participants must know what consent is being given for, in particular, when we think about the role of the receiver, what would it be like to have a sexual experience where the initiator says, hey, this is what I want to kind of work through.

  7. Revocability. A previously given consent can be withdrawn at any time. 

    These seven principles are without nuance, which we will dive into next, but still are a strong framework and guide to affirmative consent. As well as, great starting points and rules for someone to follow. 

  • The Simplifying of Consent (15:40): “Consent is actually very complicated. Even in more progressive circles, I've noticed this impulse to try and make consent as simple as possible. We actually have so many different contextual factors to take into account with each sexual scenario. With each of the seven principles, we can't actually package consent into a simple formula.” Julia adds to the conversation about affirmative consent, saying that even though this is a great framework, consent cannot be distilled into a simple idea. It is okay that consent is nuanced and complicated, and that is what they are exploring today.

  • Heteronormativity (21:00): “Heteronormativity relies on narratives about how men and women enact sexuality differently inside the church. As we talked about in reading the Butler series and in the seven deadly sexual sins according to the church, but also outside of the church, we have the false narrative that men are inherently more sexual and that women have the duty to perform sexuality according to the socialized norms of what men crave sexual,” Jeremiah says. We explore the effects of heteronormativity throughout different episodes, but pertaining to the idea of consent, this heteronormative dynamic affects how consent is given and received. Many women in heterosexual relationships feel the need to say yes, and many men feel the need to initiate sex, even if they do not want to have sex. 

  • Sex Therapist Training and Consent (31): Jeremiah talks about his experience how, in one of his sex therapy training classes, he learned what consent actually looked like, and also how his heterosexual relationship fit into a larger context within society. “I was also so stuck in the emotional cycle of protecting my ex at the time, that I didn't have the wherewithal to realize the larger societal context for our relational interaction. But in this particular class, I internalized this.” He then talks about his experience unpacking much of the ingrained ideology about martial consent within the context of Christianity. 

  • Christianity and Consent (39): “The most heartbreaking part is that we were both trying hard to be the best partners that we could be, and the patterns that developed from our best efforts, which were modeled to us by Christian culture and Christian leaders were strong contributors to our divorce and set the stage for both of us to have years of non-consensual sexual experiences," Julia talks about how Christianity establishes that consent happens only once at the altar, and never again. This has negative repercussions as sex does not equal an enjoyable and safe experience for the people involved, but quite the opposite. 

These are hard conversations to have, and next week, we’ll talk more about Julia’s experience navigating sexuality and consent in her marriage, before concluding with some Relationship 101.

Let’s heal together!