Are we too quick to call sex we regret sexual assault?

‘This crusade against “rape culture” over-simplifies the vast complexity of human sexual interaction’


The current “crusade” against rape culture at uni trivialises actual sexual violence, says an American author. 

Journalist Cathy Young has spoken out to say we are too quick to relabel sexual encounters we regret as assault.

She has denounced the strand of feminist advocacy which seeks to police sex lives as a split between “either unequivocal ‘enthusiastic consent’ or reluctant submission”.

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Cathy Young

Writing in the Washington Post, Cathy, 52, explains she is now encouraged to reinterpret her “mistaken” sexual experiences as “sexual violations”.

She says: “To many feminists, stories like these are evidence of a pervasive, misogynistic rape culture.

“To me, this crusade against ‘rape culture’ over-simplifies the vast complexity of human sexual interaction, conflating criminal sexual acts like coercion by physical force, threat or incapacitation—which should obviously be prosecuted and punished whenever possible—with bad behaviour.”

Cathy describes how feminist advocacy deserves credit for clarifying forced sex is rape, even in relationships, but the anti-rape activism which sprung up in the 1990s has gone too far beyond that.

She explains: “Today, it not only embraces an absolutist version of ‘no means no’ in which any hint of reluctance must halt further attempts at sexual intimacy. The movement also insists that only a clear (and probably sober) ‘yes’ means yes.”

Challenging new Californian “affirmative consent” laws where verbal consent must be made clear before sex, Cathy claims these kinds of attitudes have created “a world where virtually any regretted sexual encounter can be reconstructed as sexual assault”.

She says: “Such arguments have unpleasant overtones of ‘we decide what’s best for you’…The meddling turns starkly authoritarian when the ‘encouragement’ involves potential penalties—expulsion from college, or even criminal charges if affirmative consent becomes a legal norm.

“Reluctance to engage in frank sexual communication is treated solely as a puritanical hang-up rather than a valid desire to preserve some spontaneity or dignity.

“And the wrong kind of communication, such as persuading an initially hesitant partner, is equated with sexual assault.

“It is time to rethink this crusade, which criminalizes too much sex, thereby trivialising sexual violence.”

She adds: “You could agree to have sex to please your partner despite not being in the mood, and get enthusiastic later.

“You could be sexually eager but emotionally ambivalent, or vice versa. You could be torn between passionate desire and ethical or practical reasons not to act on that desire.

“You could get drunk to quiet your scruples, or hope to be coaxed into surrendering to temptation. (Obviously, ‘coaxed’ does not equal ‘physically overpowered.’)”

Cathy claims we should be free to make our own sexual mistakes, even if our behaviour may be unhealthy or immature.

She says: “The quest for perfect consent is profoundly utopian. Like all such quests that ignore human realities, it points the way to dystopian nightmare.”