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Nick Spencer: Sexual wickedness is scarily normal  

12 August 2022

Liberal ideas of consent set the ethical bar far too low, warns Nick Spencer


Protesters against gender-based violence against women, and victim blaming, gather in Munich, Germany, late last month

Protesters against gender-based violence against women, and victim blaming, gather in Munich, Germany, late last month

THE older you get, the more innocent you become — or perhaps that should be naïve. Approaching my 50th year, I had thought that I knew a lot about the ways of the world. In particular, I assumed that I understood the darkness that resides in the heart of man (the gender-specific language is quite intentional).

But it seems not. Reading Louise Perry’s superb, if depressing, book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (Polity), I stumbled on the term “dacryphilia”, of which I was heretofore blissfully ignorant.

Dacryphilia, for those of you as innocent as I am, is the fetish for terrified sobbing. It effectively means that someone is turned on by their partner’s fear, which is generated by aggression, coercion, and violence.

This is not some kind of hyper-niche grotesquery, like necrophilia. It is terrifyingly normal. Indeed — readers of a more humane disposition may want to look away now — the fetish for strangling a partner is remarkably common. Research in 2019 found that more than half of 18- to 24-year-old women in the UK reported having been strangled by their partners during sex. There you go. Nearly 50 years old, and I am rendered speechless.

It gets worse. People defend this practice. When one MP raised questions about it in the House of Commons, a “sex-writer” from Men’s Health magazine patronisingly tweeted, “Nope, sweetie, choking can be a very fun Sex act.” More generally, liberal feminists, the target of much of Perry’s book, defend the practice on the grounds of consent: as long as it’s between two consenting adults, we have no right to interfere.

This is the legendary liberal defence, and it reeks. As Perry shows, innumerable women have formally “consented” to their treatment on YouPorn, only to reveal later that they were subtly coerced into it, and were in fact disgusted by their painful, humiliating, objectifying treatment. Many go on to campaign against the industry that brutalised, degraded, and then disposed of them.

Consent is not enough; it is a desperately low ethical bar that any misogynist or pornographer can step over. But it is all that liberalism has to offer, wedded as it is to a deracinated anthropology that reduces all humans to rationally minded, essentially good, atomised, autonomous sovereign choice-makers, stripping us of the fallible, fragile, relational personhood that makes us human.

Perry will have none of it. Although keen to distance what she has to say from any religious taint — an approach seemingly synonymous with its own kind of patriarchal misogyny — the approach that she adopts is remarkably close to Christian sexual ethics, at least in its more enlightened form. Sex is serious and more than just pleasure. Men and women are fundamentally different, physically and psychologically. Some desires are simply wrong. Sexual wickedness is real. People are not products. Marriage is a fundamental good. You can almost hear the liberal feminists roll their eyes.

But Perry musters and masters the evidence. Her case is powerful, moving, and — as you may be able to tell from the tone of this piece — angering. Dacryphilia, strangulation, and violent pornography are not made acceptable simply because they are (allegedly) consensual. The good has an objective dimension that is not erased by the quirks of human choice. Forget that, and we forget our very selves.

Nick Spencer is Senior Fellow at Theos and hosts the podcast Reading our Times. Louise Perry will be a guest in the next series.

Paul Vallely is away.

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