As a college student, I gradually became used to hearing that most people think of sex as something you do on a third date. I’ve even seen contraception given out as if they were candy by some student associations. It isn’t news to anyone that university campus culture promotes the thinking of sex as something exploratory and recreational; however, I noticed this view of sex changes when the topic at hand is nonconsensual sex: rape.
In campaigns against sexual abuse and in conversations about the topic, rape is represented as a terrible, deplorable offense because one person in the situation did not give consent. What confuses me is that so much of this rhetoric comes from the people who propagate the idea that sex is something casual, carefree, and empty of deep significance. I can’t think of any other act that can be trivial when consensual and an unforgivable offense when not consensual. Other acts, such stealing or harassing, are wrong because of the lack of consent, however, none of them carry the graveness that rape does. It does not add up to say that sex is something recreational and exploratory made to be enjoyed whenever and that rape, the instance when said “recreational and exploratory” act is forced, is a graver offense than most other nonconsensual acts. There must be something, other than the lack of consent, that makes rape something as terrible and deplorable as it is.
Although consent in some form is necessary for almost all expressions of affection to be acceptable, it isn’t a constant that always determines if something is right or wrong. Let’s suppose I ask my friend, who I know is in a difficult financial situation, if I can borrow money from him. I know he is impulsive and not very mindful of his precarious financial state, and I know it would harm him if I accepted the money. Although this is clear to me, I ask my friend for money. He says he can lend me it to me, so I accept it. The actions of asking, consenting, and borrowing debase us both, and the fact that it was consensual doesn’t make it good. Thus, the presence of consent doesn’t determine the rectitude of action, yet that is what many people use to argue why rape is wrong.
The reality, however, is that rape is wrong and serious offense because the sexual act itself is powerful in nature, and so are the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences it brings. Sex leaves two people completely vulnerable in front of one another. When sex is shared as God intended, it deepens an already existing bond between two people. If sex is transplanted to the context of rape, it only implants fear and distrust where there should be commitment and pure love. Sex is something serious that carries with it a great deal of power and significance when there is no consent and when there is.
I think the majority of people, including those that insist that sex is casual and empty of profound significance, recognize that rape is terrible and deplorable. The people that condemn rape do so with the subconscious understanding that sex has a great deal of significance, which is what makes rape so terrible. It takes the act that has the power to form an unmatched connection and intimacy between the people that share it and deforms it into something violent and degrading.
As much as our culture, especially that of college campuses, wants to treat sex as something as casual as a handshake, I believe that at some level we all understand that it is so much more than that. Sex is an act unlike any other and has the power to form a bond of love and trust and to create new life. We punish rape so severely not solely for lack of consent, but because, even if only subconsciously, we recognize what our minds and hearts whisper to us: that sex is not just a recreational act or a casual gesture, but rather something that should be treated with more respect in all contexts because in actuality it is worth more.
Michelle is a student pursuing her Master of Arts in Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso. In her free time, she likes to read novels and essays; watch TV series and movies; travel to places near and far; hike the desert mountains of El Paso and wherever her travels take her; explore empty buildings and her college campus at night; discuss ideas; and -if you couldn’t tell already- write. She also enjoys visiting churches and museums and keeping up with the latest in fashion and beauty. She has a tendency to get lost easily and can be counted on to display a dozen facial expressions in a couple of seconds and to always have a hug at the ready. For more of Michelle’s writing, visit michellespeters.com.