The best sex is transgressive. It breaks rules. Sometimes, the impulse to be deviant or sexually disruptive can turn to dysfunction, as in the case of paedophiles or rapists. But in all sexual contact, however tepid and domesticated, there is an element of danger.
That frisson of danger, described by cultural critics such as Camille Paglia as the essence of male sexuality, is being threatened by radical feminist activists across the US and UK who are trying to enact laws such as the one just passed in California, requiring explicit verbal consent before sex can take place.
Talk about a bonershrinker. Now look: there is, of course, nothing wrong with making it clear to men that rape is unacceptable. But the effect of these poorly-conceived laws is to criminalise the majority of lawful, consensual acts, and to open up space for abuses, should, say, the girl later decide she regrets her decision.
This law has been passed while sexual freedom and sex generally is being policed and trampled on elsewhere in society too, in a bossy, invasive, Puritanical uprising unknown since the Calvinist England of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Look at this monstrously sociopathic smartphone app, Good2Go, designed to formalise consent into a sort of legal agreement.
Fifteen years ago, Lucy Liu’s character Ling Woo in Ally McBeal satirised the encroachment of the law, the state and Mother Knows Best types into private bedrooms with a contract on a clipboard that Woo demanded her boyfriend Richard Fish sign before they could have intercourse.
History is repeating itself as farce. Consider the “consent classes” some universities are considering as a prerequisite for graduation, classes that have nothing in fact to do with preventing rape and everything to do with the suffocating left-wing politics of student unions and a general climate of man-hating and over-protection.
It’s a religion, this ugly insistence on regulating other people’s private lives. Specifically, it’s religion without all the fun bits. And it’s why even celebrity feminists admit that feminism today has a lot more to do with misandry and nannying than it does equality or civil rights.
A world in which an erection is cause for shame, in which men must sign a release form before accepting a blow job and in which men have to ask for consent practically between thrusts is not a world most people – most women included – want to live in.
The authoritarianism, bossiness and prurience of the religious right is being replaced today by the same impulses from the left, with the same dire consequences for both sexes. In the middle of it all are ordinary people, who simply want others to butt out of the bedroom.
There is cause to believe this new consensus is a disaster for women. As Paglia puts it: “Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.
“Too many young middle-class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.”
As Paglia in the 1990s and male writers since have noted, male sexuality is exciting and dangerous. Campus campaigners want to strip that from the world, to make the world a safer, and more predictable place. It’s understandable why that might be so: feminists in public life are drunk on power, having co-opted even anti-feminist megastars. Many of them simply don’t like men that much.
But we should resist their entreaties, not only because their utopia would leave women totally unprepared for the real world, and far more likely to get themselves into serious trouble when they leave the safe confines of campus – but because they’re going to ruin sex for an entire generation of young people, and leave women incapable of dealing with the nasty stuff that’s actually out there after graduation.
That really is unforgivable.