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The Boundaries of Sexual Consent

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

MRM Editor’s Note: St. John Paul II taught that a person must always be an end in themselves, and never a means or an object of use. When are sexual acts acts of use and when are they acts of love? What is consent? Outside of marriage is it a consent to be used? Is consent among unmarried “lovers,” that creates a sense of intimacy for self, actually an act of love or or is it rather a mutual act of use? Are their expectations for men and women to become objects of use for each other to be loved or avoid rejection? Fr. Dwight Longenecker offers an interesting and thought provoking perspective related to consent.


NBC broadcaster Matt Lauer is the latest celebrity to come unstuck by the New Puritanism. His downfall should make everyone ask a few more probing questions.

One of the is on the nature of consensual sexual relations. The generally accepted idea is that as long as two adults consent anything goes.

But one of the victims of Matt Lauer said her sexual hookup with Lauer was consensual, but because he was in such a powerful position she felt obliged to consent.

Suddenly the boundaries of consent are rather fuzzy, but we knew that all along. Does a woman consent if she has had too much to drink? Did the young man consent when all the other frat boys were cheering him on to have sex with the girl? Did the young woman consent when she had no choice because her boyfriend might leave her for another girl?

Whoops! What exactly does consent mean?

Then they say that consent is between two adults. But what is an adult and who behaves in a mature manner? I know plenty of people who are chronologically adult but emotionally immature. What exactly is “adult consent”? Is a 21-year-old girl who is homeless and who hooks up and marries a wealthy older man giving adult consent? She is chronologically an adult, but is she emotionally an adult? Did she really give consent, or was she pressured by her social and economic status to consent?

You see where I’m going with this.

The whole concept of “adult” and “consent” is totally relative. Who can say what consent really is or what “adult” really is?

Therefore may I suggest something really quite radical. It is something that society has used from time immemorial to determine whether sexual activity was licit or not.

It is called “marriage.” Sexual intercourse is permissible between one man and one woman who are married for life.

All other sexual relationships are illicit and should be condemned.

I predict that the current rash of sexual scandals is going to move us in a more conservative direction and more and more people are going to start saying, “You know, really, the only safe and secure place for a woman sexually is within marriage. There a man and woman can promise to be faithful to one another as long as their lives shall last, and any sexual activity outside of those boundaries will be condemned by society.

Now, wouldn’t that be something?

Copyright © 2017 Fr. Dwight Longenecker​. This article was originally published on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s old blog on Patheos and reposted here with permission. The blog, “Standing on My Head,” has moved to his website. Browse his excellent books, read his blog and be in touch at