Sexual morality is no different from morality.

I’ve opined here before about the terrible ways people treat those whom they are dating. It’s actually really astonishing, and I think it also confirms certain beliefs about the innate (biological, not theological) radical evil of humankind, that the simple fact that people want to have sex with one another makes relationships so profoundly fucked up — compare the percentage of friendships that you’re familiar with that are characterized by twisted abuse to the percentage of sexual relationships that you’re familiar with that are characterized by the same, and you’ll see what I mean. Or think about the people — and I’m sure you know some — who are great friends — wonderful friends! — but treat people with whom they’re sleeping like utter crap.

Two posts out in blogosphere land drive this home. First, a profoundly vile and disguisting post from Roissy. That shithead makes the following claims:
1) It is “alpha” (where alphaness is a form of goodness) to beat up your girlfriend,
2) Women like it, and
3) Hitting women, or at least being of the personality type that is ok with hitting women, is a successful and advisable mating strategy.

I am tempted to fly to D.C. and manifest my alphaness by beating the shit out of Roissy for this post.*

Let’s put this in mostly one-syllable words, so Roissy can understand. Beating on people isn’t good because it’s in a relationship. Beating on people is bad. Period. It’s worse in a relationship because a) it exploits social/structural power differentials (like, oh, I don’t know, the oppression of women — the fact that women are often forced to rely on men to protect them from violence, the fact that women are encouraged to surrender their financial independence to men and thus have fewer exit options from abusive relationships, etc. etc.), and b) it picks on the vunlerable and trusting in an intimate situation.

But its essential badness comes from the essential badness of beating on people. Claims that it turns women on are, in addition to being insane lies that reveal complete ignorance about the dynamic of domestic violence,** completely beside the fucking point on the wrongness of beating on people.

Elsewhere, M.Leblanc reports on “a different kind of rape.” The upshot of the post is that she had a boyfriend who used to “withhold sex” (more on this in a moment) when she actually wanted it, then wake her up in the middle of the night and start fucking her when she didn’t want it, with her not exactly saying “no,” but hardly participating either. She felt like she couldn’t say no, in part because she wanted sex in general, even though she didn’t want sex right then. There is some disagreement about whether it ought to be called rape.

I don’t think this sort of behavior ought to be legally punished, but it seems to me that it is on a moral par with rape. I’ll reproduce, in slightly edited form, my comments from Aaron’s post (with which I disagree) on the subject.

Edit: for once, the unfogged comment thread on this is actually good (very, very, good even, particularly between around 20-70 — at least until around comment 100, when it devolves into the usual unfogged digressive drivel that makes me reaffirm my refusal to read that blog except incidentally, in moments like this, when I’m curious what its denizens have to say on something that on which I’m sure its denizens will have something to say).

There’s a difference between wanting sex in general, and wanting sex at X time. It sounds like the guy was consciously and deliberately pressuring her to have sex at times when she didn’t want sex right then, even though she wanted sex in general. That might not meet the legal definition of rape (or it might), but, morally, the yes-means-yes crowd has it right to say that it is wrong to use any kind of manipulation to get sex out of someone in circumstances under which they don’t genuinely want it. And if one wants it, but doesn’t want it now, then pressuring one to do it now, and especially when that’s a constant pattern in the relationship, strikes me as rather vile, and worthy of a vile name.

I think the yes-means-yes thing is conflated, inappropriately, with the enthusiastic consent thing (which really ought to be called the enthusiasm thing). It’s true that sex often happens legitimately without an explicit “yes” — people fall into bed with one another all the time, and it would be inappropriately stifiling to require formal consent for each step. But that kind of misses the point — the reason it would be stifiling to require formal consent is because there are many circumstances where it’s clear what both people actually want, and so they go ahead and do it, and that’s great. That’s very different from having sex with someone when they don’t really want it.

That’s the insight that I think the narrow definition of rape as physical force misses: it’s a violation of someone’s free will to extract sex from them — whether that’s by hitting or by emotional manipulation — when they don’t actually want it. That’s why rape is worse than simply slapping someone around, even though rape may be carried out by slapping someone around.

Moreover, the violation of free will involved in rape is worse than the violation of free will involved in, say, a mugging, not only because of the physical intimacy of the intrusion, but also because sexual interaction is essentially about the conscious interplay of free wills (see my old posts about intentional vulnerability and so forth).

Because of those two facts, I think there’s a good case for saying that the essential rapiness of rape comes from the intrusion on the free will of the victim in this particularly free-will-laden area, not from the use of coercion, qua coercion, or the absence or presence of a formal opportunity to say no.

And this is not particularly about women’s consent either. Were the situations reversed in a functionally equivalent way (a woman using emotional/sexual pressure to get a guy to have sex when he doesn’t actually want it, repeatedly, and under circumstances where it seems like she’s deliberately selecting times when he doesn’t want it), yes, I’d call it rape. It might not be wise to criminally prosecute it in either case, but it’s morally similar.

That being said, I find the M. Leblanc’s post objectionable in one respect: the idea that withholding sex is in itself some kind of coercive act. That seems to be a case where what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander: the response to one’s partner not being willing to give one sex when one wants it is to figure out why and work on it, or to end the relationship, not to claim to have been coerced somehow in virtue of the withholding. The attitude that withholding sex is itself some kind of coercive act seems like precisely the attitude that rapists themselves might have. (”That slut made me want it and wouldn’t give it up. Coercion!”)

* But if every time I wanted to go to DC and beat someone up, I did so, I’d have more frequent flier miles than Willy Loman and the skin on both fists would be shredded to the bone from overuse. Edit: apparently, I “write like a froo froo SWPLer.” Clearly, such a skilled Game(tm)sman as Roissy knows that flattery will get you everywhere.

** Roissy claims that the refusal of domestic violence victims to speak to the cops reveals that women like being beaten. That is such utter idiocy and dangerous drivel that it makes me practically dizzy to see that someone wrote it. Victims of violence refuse to speak to the cops because they are SCARED OF THE PERSON WHO IS BEATING THEM. Victims of Mafia shakedowns often also refuse to speak to the cops. Are we thereby licensed to conclude that victims of mafia shakedowns like extortion? Come-fucking-on, moron. Also, Roissy, can you google “stockholm syndrome” for me? I have worked with victims of domestic violence, and been close to them. You cannot even imagine the psychological fuckedupness that such victims go through unless you have done so, or have been a victim yourself, or have very seriously studied the phenomenon.


10 Responses to “Sexual morality is no different from morality.”

  1. Ed Says:

    Gowder – I can only imagine what your pre-intercourse consent form looks like.

  2. Aaron Says:

    Puh-lease can you fly there and beat him up? Reading that guy’s post made me dumber and I want to vicariously take revenge.

  3. Paul Gowder Says:

    Ed, I think I’ll hire you to draft it.

  4. Ed Says:

    “Please do not check check “No” if do not decline anal and oral.”

    Also note that I have made one person dumber today, fulfilling my ABA requirements.

  5. Ed Says:

    Sorry – redraft:

    “Please do not check check “No” if YOU do not decline anal and oral.”

  6. Ed Says:

    Incidentally Paul, I forgot to send you these two absolutely awesome civ pro cases.

    1)U.S. ex rel. Mayo v. Satan and his Staff

    Civil rights action against Satan and his servants who allegedly placed deliberate obstacles in plaintiff’s path and caused his downfall, wherein plaintiff prayed for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The District Court, Weber, J., held that plaintiff would not be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis who in view of questions of personal jurisdiction over defendant, propriety of class action, and plaintiff’s failure to include instructions for directions as to service of process.

    2) This case involves a suit by Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers against God. Here’s the complaint. ( Now I know what you are thinking: How can Mr. Chambers get jurisdiction over Mr. God in this action? Well since God is omnipotent it turns out that he has sufficient contacts with Nebraska for territorial and personal jurisdiction. Notice would seem to be a problem, however. But wait! Mr. Chambers argues that Mr. God has constructive notice vis-a-vis his omniscience! (

    Anyway, I thought that these cases might lure you back into the practice of law.

  7. Paul Gowder Says:

    “Please do not check check “No” if YOU do not decline anal and oral.”

    Why take half measures? How about “please do not fail to not check check “No” if you do not fail to not not ~decline anal, oral, and bestial?”

    Also, Satan and his Staff is a classic, but the Chambers thing is news to me. It’s about time someone sued that bastard! If god is the primum mobile, then it would seem like his acts have caused every tort ever…

  8. Paul Gowder Says:

    On the other hand, were I the judge, I probably couldn’t refrain from either taking judicial notice of the nonexistence of the defendant, or (if I didn’t trust court security to keep the firebombers out) dismissing sua sponte on grounds that the plaintiff, as an atheist, is estopped from claiming the defendant existed. Cf. Stambovsky v. Ackley

  9. Does Hitting Women Make You More Of A Man? - The Sexist - Washington City Paper Says:

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