Men, Women and Consent

A little while ago I flagged up a new interactive philosophy experiment that deals with issues of consent. It’s now been completed by well over a thousand people, and it’s throwing up some interesting results. In particular, and I can’t say I find it surprising, there seems to be a quite a large difference between how men and women view consent.

(What’s to follow will make more sense if you complete the activity before reading.)

I’ve analysed the responses to two of the scenarios featured in the experiment. The first asks whether you would be doing something wrong if you went ahead with a sexual encounter in the knowledge that your partner would almost certainly come to regret it later. The second asks whether you would be doing something wrong if you went ahead with a sexual encounter in the knowledge that your partner (a) had been drinking (albeit they remain cogent); and (b) would not have consented to the sexual encounter if they hadn’t been drinking.

The data shows that 68% of women, compared to only 58% of men, think it would be wrong to go ahead with the sexual encounter in the Future Regret case. And that 79% of women, compared to only 70% of men, think it would be wrong to go ahead in the Alcohol case.

These results are easily statistically significant, although, as always, I need to point out that the sample is not representative, and that there might be confounding variables in play (e.g., it’s possible that there are systematic differences between the sorts of males and females who have completed this activity – e.g., age).

  1. I wonder if another experiment is needed to separate the question of consent, alcohol and future regret from the question of sex. These seem to me two different points. It would be interesting to know if the male/female difference would also apply to a non-sexual situation. I’m not sure what would be a good subject but to give it some significance, it could perhaps be financial.

    The reason I suggest this is that I found my view of the scenarios was to take the simplest to understand option, which is if someone says yes, it isn’t for me to work out if they really mean it. Would a woman tend to take a more complex view just when sex is involved or in other cases?

  2. I’m sure this has occurred/been pointed out to you before, Jeremy, but it’s possible to consider that I would be acting wrongly in such a situation without considering that wrongness to have anything much to do with consent.

  3. Women are the objects of so much male pressure, outright aggression and so-called seduction that it is not surprising that they set down more strict conditions about what constitutes genuine consent.

    From what I observe, often women “consent” out of tiredness in the face of male persistence or pressure or attempts to buy their “consent” (expensive dinners, gifts, etc.) so that many times consensual sex between men and women occurs not because both are sexually attracted to one another, but because the female partner “gives in” or “yields”.

    Thus, given the chance to set more stringent conditions in an online test, women set them.

    Here is a far-from-perfect analogy. Every time I go to the bank, I have to sign endless consent forms, which I read quickly, without the time to read them with the same attention that the bank’s lawyers, who draw them up so that the bank can make the most possible money and assume the least possible responsibility, put into them.

    If I took the time and energy to read the bank consent forms, the Google consent forms, the Hotmail consent forms, the consent forms from the internet provider, from the telephone company, from the Mutual Funds, from my pension fund, I would have no time to do anything else and I have other things to do with my life.

    Now if I had a chance to change the way that consent forms are drawn up so that they were simplified and made easier to read for non-lawyers, I certainly would, but that is not a real possibility.

    In daily life consent is a legal fiction, which depends on the power relations existing in a given society.

    Women who “consent” with their words to sex in daily life often do not consent from the depths of their being.

  4. The question is biased by the issue of sex, but interesting and significant as such. The disparity in male/female sexual relationships is at least as old as civilization. The lower status of women has been propped up by all the institutions of society, religion, law and business which are mutually supportive of the idea of male superiority. Naturally, as a result of this situation, men do not take ethics in sexual behavior very seriously. Women have been designated the default prize for males generally: no matter how unintelligent, untalented, unattractive a man, it has up until now at least been assumed there is a woman out there for him. That is changing, and many women now prefer to remain single. This is positive for society and if it continues might raise standards of behavior that badly need to be raised.

  5. I have to agree with Colin’s statement for the most part.

    The only section in the thought experiment where the issue of consent would be a concern, is the scenario in which the other person has been drinking alcohol. When someone is inebriated, the ability to make an informed choice is severely diminished, and I think most people might agree that engaging in sexual behavior when someone else is drunk is not a ‘morally’ sound choice.

    In the scenario where we have say, myself and another person, who are in a platonic relationship and we both agree that should we ever have sex, that one of us would certainly regret it. However, the other person suggests to me that we have sex. Both of us have the foreknowledge that after the encounter, one of us will end up regretting it, yet we go ahead with it anyhow.

    Neither of us had any illusions before hand, that it would turn out okay for the both of us (perhaps one of us found that we wanted to be more than just platonic for a longer period, more than the other). How does the agreement beforehand of the inevitable dissonance to follow, have anything to do with whether or not the consent was genuine?

    One could argue that having foreknowledge of a strained (and almost certainly doomed) relationship, that we made an informed decision, and therefore the consent was in fact genuine. We looked at our previous arrangement, considered the consequences, and we both decided to move forward. It may not be a practical choice that makes any sense at all, however (again), I don’t think has much to do with whether or not our consent was genuine.

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