Consent seems like the latest buzzword in sexual ethics. We hear it on the news, in our social media feeds, and in classroom discussions.
On one hand, this is a necessary - and long-overdue - conversation. The spotlight on the topic has been widened by the #MeToo movement, sexual scandals in politics, and news about sexual abuse in churches and universities. Women are demanding that they no longer be treated like objects and are instead given the respect they deserve.
And for many women, the conversation is personal. One in five women are victims of either an attempted or completed sexual assault. Most people, if not a survivor themselves, most likely knows someone who is. The topic of consent can hit home in a deeply personal way.
Sex without consent is, at its core, an attack on a person’s human dignity. Women deserve to be treated with dignity, which requires a basic foundation of consent. Advocating for clear and enthusiastic consent in all aspects of women’s lives is a just and righteous cause. However, the conversation shouldn't stop there - women should expect more.
Consent can't be left at simply "no means no" or "yes means yes." A meaningful sexual encounter requires more than just a "yes.”
In order for sex to be nourishing for our souls, and in order to honor the inherent dignity of our human nature, sex needs more than simply an affirmative. Sex needs to be born of and seeped in authentic love - in other words, sex needs something beyond mere consent.
The Church offers guidelines for those looking for more than consent. She upholds the ultimate respect of human dignity and outlines sex as something that ought to be completely and freely given by both parties. This is an ongoing conversation of consent, even within the sacrament of marriage. Both husband and wife must freely give of themselves.
The backbone of consent is a chief tenant of Catholic social teaching: human dignity. “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from her dignity as a creature."
Consent is just one piece of respecting each person's human dignity. Authentic love comes from a place of self-giving and never aims to take for selfish gain.
Discussing consent is necessary, but is just one step along the path towards free and authentic love and respect. Only when we remember each person's dignity and treat them accordingly will we be able to love them fully.
WATCH: 'When Women Say Yes: Consent in Sex and Love' by Simcha Fisher