Harm, Consent, and Fifty Shades of Sexual Liberation

Why I can’t help but read Doug Wilson, writing on Fifty Shades of Grey:

If you create a world defined by the excitement of breaking taboos, then how is an insistence upon “mutual agreement” anything but the creation of the final taboo?

Secular moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt moved from liberal to moderate in (large?) part because his work showed him that Western liberal morality is truncated compared to conservative morality. The former rests on fewer moral foundations—basically just two, harm and fairness.

The principle of consent, which is now left as the sole guide for all sexual encounters in much Western thinking, is a melding of harm and fairness: it presumes that people would never willingly consent to harm themselves, and it gives sexual partners equal say—fairness—in determining what they’ll do with their bodies.

But what if both partners lack other necessary moral foundations, especially what Haidt calls “sanctity/degradation”? Then they may consent to things that are, if only they had eyes to see them, self-harming. And can an 18-year-old or 24-year-old woman really be said to have been dealt with “fairly” if she gives away things she can’t know how much she’ll value in ten years? Same goes for men.

I deal regularly in ministry with people who have been or are sexually promiscuous. Something I tell them is that you can’t know the future consequences of your current sexual choices. You have to trust someone’s vision for that future. American society’s vision is a nihilistic and even dehumanizing one: have as much sex as you can get (just stay protected), and you’ll  be happy. The sexual act becomes something you do because it’s part of the balanced diet and exercise of a normal adult. It has no more significance than that, unless you want it to. And as soon as you do, someone will come along who wants that, too.

I don’t trust that vision. I don’t even need a God’s-eye view to know that that vision has ruined many people’s lives—and harmed countless children. I do need a God’s-eye view, however, to know what vision to set for my own life. I have to trust Him that the best life available is the one shaped by His law and His gospel. He said, “One man, one woman, for life.” And I say, “Yes, Lord!”

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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