A man was found guilty of raping an unconscious woman. He received an unbelievably light sentence and then only served half of it. And we were all appalled. This is as it should be! This sentence (that seemed to be much more about the “damage” prison would do to this man than it was about the damage done to the victim) underscores how little women and their sexual dignity seem to matter in our current cultural environment. And I’ve had enough. 

We are told the answer to situations like this one starts at home. We need to have conversations with our sons about informed consent. We are to be talking with them about how “no means no” and how an unconscious person isn’t capable of giving consent at all. 

The consent conversation with my 9 year-old happened in the context of a talk about prostitution and rape. I just go where the questions take me and he had some questions that night. When I explained what rape was, he told me he had seen something like that before. I tried not to panic and asked him where he saw it. He told me it was in “Back to the Future” which is how we came up with the phrase “Don’t be a Biff” when it comes to how you treat women. So we talked about consent, but I’m struggling with the emphasis we’re putting on teaching the concept of consent to boys. It seems to me if you’re having to explain to young men that it isn’t okay to have sex with women who don’t want to have sex with you, something has gone wrong much earlier in your sexual education discussions.

I’m afraid we have become much too casual not just about sex, but about the value of women– their safety, preferences, needs and desires. And I think the porn-saturated culture we live in has a lot to do with that.

When we let porn control the dialogue for our kids about what sex is like and what women are like, we end up in a world where we have to literally tell young men that if a woman is unconscious, she doesn’t want to have sex with you. That is insane. What kind of man would want to have sex with an unconscious woman? A person is literally not even aware of what is happening– not participating, not enjoying, may even be in medical danger, just being used for her body. Like a blowup doll. That sounds like a porn problem to me.

Regular porn viewing that starts before kids have even entered puberty is going to have an effect on what these future adults think sex is like. How could it not? Especially when parents don’t want to talk about this stuff honestly with their kids and choose to be ignorant about the kind of free access their children have to porn. Who is going to counter the messages they receive from porn if we don’t? Do we really think that one conversation with our child about consent is going to counteract the pervasiveness of a porn-saturated culture that objectifies women and presents them as commodities to be enjoyed by men?

Porn tells kids that women want sex all the time, even when they say they don’t, even when they’re in pain, even when they’re being humiliated and degraded in an unsafe environment. Or porn tells kids it doesn’t even matter if women WANT sex, men should be able to do what they want because sex is the most important and rewarding thing in life. Porn tells girls that their highest value is as a sexual object. It tells them that to “win” at life is to be sexually desired and once you’ve become sexually desired, what kind of woman doesn’t then consent to sex? My hope is that ANY WOMAN WHO DOESN’T WANT SEX isn’t consenting to it, but we’ve created this environment where she must act in a way that implies she wants sex in order to get male attention and then does she even still feel like she has a choice? She absolutely DOES have a choice, but the pressure that puts on her is immense. 

I hear these conversations about “rape culture” and I’m just not sure you can separate rape culture from porn culture. Men and women are being paid to act like they enjoy certain things, to act as though certain things are pleasurable and desirable and this is where our kids are getting their sexual education. Sex is now something marketed to children to create loyal and dependent consumers the same way we market breakfast cereal. And then we expect them to know the difference between loving, intimate consensual sex and the kind of commodified sex they’ve been consuming since before they even hit puberty. 

The reality is that we’ve become a culture of sexual fakers. Porn tells us what we’re supposed to like and how we’re supposed to like it. It tells us how to look and what to say. It turns what was intended to be spontaneous and organic into something scripted and programed. This is why women don’t feel comfortable asking for what they actually want because they’ve been told (by porn and by men) what they’re supposed to like. This is how men think it’s okay to send unsolicited naked pictures of themselves even though the average woman wants nothing to do with that. This is why women are growing dead to how offensive THAT EVEN IS. This is how we end up having to explain to young men that unconscious women are not people you should have sex with. Porn told us these things were all fine, wonderful, desirable and apparently now even the court system is telling us it’s not that big of a deal. 

When we stop listening to what women actually want, when we don’t believe they know what’s best for themselves, when we start believing the porn hype, this is how a rape culture takes root. This is how we lose empathy for rape victims and believe they secretly wanted it or brought it on themselves. When we allow young boys and girls to be fed a steady diet of porn propaganda, how can we be surprised when this is the outcome? 

I imagine Brock Turner’s mother didn’t envision herself raising a rapist and we know each of our kids will ultimately be responsible for their own actions. But I am promising you that my sons will KNOW the damage porn does. They will KNOW the lies it tells. They will KNOW women are to be respected and protected. We will teach them to be like the bikers who chased down Brock Turner and wept while giving their testimony about what they saw. We will teach them to be tender and not callous their hearts and souls by watching women be abused for their pleasure. 

I wil continue to talk to my kids about issues like consent, but my hope is that by talking openly with them about porn— the damage it does, the lies it tells, the way it makes money by keeping you dissatisfied with your actual sex life– my sons won’t think women exist solely for their sexual pleasure. When we see porn for what it is, it is easier to pushback against it. When you notice the Emperor has no clothes and it’s actually offensive and inappropriate for him to be naked in public like that, sometimes you have to publicly say it even if the dominate narrative in culture is that everybody likes it.

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Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.

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