Is all sex rape, or is all rape sex?
By itself, the act of intercourse, of inserting a man’s penis into a woman’s vagina, is the most natural thing in the world. A man’s erect penis craves encasement in a vagina and a woman’s vagina craves it being there. Intercourse is a requisite precursor (except when making test-tube babies) to insemination, pregnancy and reproduction, and like all other living creatures, human beings are reproduction machines. Natural selection built us that way, not out of choice, but of necessity. Them that aren’t reproductive machines don’t reproduce, or reproduce at far lower rates than reproductive machines, and their line thereby dies out. So intercourse, the act that becomes taboo if forcibly undertaken, is as natural and necessary to mankind’s continuation in time and space as fresh water and air and food. Intercourse only becomes rape when it is not welcomed for some reason or another. And the reasons have changed through the years.
The Bible gives us a glimpse of what the first civilizations thought of rape in ages past. The Old Testament rape of Dinah was considered an affront to her family, specifically to her father, Jacob, more so than to Dinah. But it isn’t even clear, from the text of the Bible, that what we today consider rape, i.e., forcible intercourse with an unwilling partner, occurred. It may have been that Dinah was a willing partner in the sexual relations she had with Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of the area where Jacob and his family were encamped. Or at least, Shechem may have thought so:
When Shechem…saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.” (Genesis 34: 2-4).
The word translated into English as ‘violated’ in the passage did not mean the same thing rape means today. It was an euphemism for sexual intercourse that had a faint connotation of ‘being made to lie down’ (from the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New International Version, 1996). And imagining that a rapist would seek to marry his victim, and enlist his father’s aid in doing so, would be absurd today.
But to Jacob and his sons (Dinah’s brothers), Dinah, or more specifically her womb, was an asset of the family to be jealously protected. A woman who had been ‘defiled’ as the act was later described, i.e., a woman who was unclean because of having engaged in premarital sexual relations, would fetch a much lower bride-price, if a buyer could be found at all. And a woman without a husband was a familial liability. The Hebrew answer to such a calamity was to force the defiler to pay the bride-price for a virgin, and to force him to take the woman as his wife, unless he had raped an already-betrothed virgin, for which he would be put to death (along with the woman, if she was in the city and failed to scream out for help, presumably implying she was complicit in her defilement—see Deuteronomy 22: 23-28).
So when Dinah’s defilement was later discovered by Jacob, it wasn’t overly generous of Shechem that he offered to pay whatever bride-price Jacob demanded. Jacob had been wronged by Dinah’s defilement. It was only natural that Shechem should pay what Jacob demanded. The response of Jacob’s sons was, however, a bit over the top. They duplicitously agreed to let Shechem purchase Dinah on the condition that all Shechemite males be circumcised. And all were duly circumcised. And then this:
Three days later, while all of them were still in pain [from the circumcision], two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shecham’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”
But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34: 25-31)
Their fury was undoubtedly quite the deterrent for those who considered having intercourse, forcibly or willingly, with Hebrew females without official sanction.
For Simeon and Levi, it wasn’t Dinah who had suffered harm, but their honor. So they deceived Dinah’s defiler and his people, setting them up for slaughter. The chastity of the females in the family was a matter of honor among the men. It made little difference to them whether a woman’s virtue had been defiled voluntarily or involuntarily. The fact of defilement is what mattered. Punishment would accrue to the defiler. If the female was complicit in her having become unclean, rules exposited later in Deuteronomy provided the death penalty for her.
Female chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards was highly valued among the ancient Hebrews, and presumably generally among ancient cultures. The women were not free to do with their wombs whatever they wished. Their unblemished wombs were valuable commodities to be traded for the bride-price.
Outside of the bride-price, women were, in ancient Judea, a liability to support, another mouth to feed, and one that was dangerously capable of creating more mouths to feed. Every family sought to find suitable mates for their daughters, men who would then be responsible for their care and feeding. An unchaste woman was a hard, if not impossible, sell in the bridal market, so the family, which was run by its males, was intimately concerned with the sexual proclivities and activities of the daughters of the clan. And not much changed in the intervening couple of thousand years from ancient Judea to manorial England. Jane Austen’s Bennett clan in Pride and Prejudice had only one aim—getting the five Bennett daughters suitably married. The drama of the book centered on the challenge of finding suitable mates for the girls (which is also why I found the tale dreadfully boring—but can see why it’s good stuff for teenage girls).
Premarital sex or illicit sex under such a regime as obtained from the days of the ancient Hebrews in Judea clear to the pre-Industrial Age of manorial England was treated substantially the same, whether it arose voluntarily or was forced upon the woman. In a sense, any and all sex of that sort was rape. (And, it should be added, any and all sex within a marriage was not). The intent of the parties to the transaction wasn’t much considered. The community’s opinion is what mattered, and premarital or extramarital sex was a very bad thing for women in the eyes of the community, even if it were forced upon them.
It is only in the last half century or so, since the proliferation of nuclear weapons* and the wholesale delegation of authority over a woman’s sexuality to the woman, that the violence of rape has become more important than its underlying sexuality. It took economic equality—not necessarily in the amounts being earned by women, but in a job market that no longer favored brawn over brains—before women gained their sexual freedom. In other words, it took women attaining the ability to provide for themselves before they were allowed to do with their sexuality what they wished. So long as they were considered the responsibility of their families until they married, their sexuality was of paramount importance, and was tightly monitored and regulated, both by the family and by whatever governing entity held jurisdiction. Rape was bad, but mainly because unsanctioned sex was bad.
It was until the nineteen sixties and seventies in the US and other developed countries that rape became solely about the intent of the woman who engaged in the sexual act (and let’s just quit pretending that men are raped by women enough to matter). It was during this time that even marital sex, if unwanted but forcefully indulged anyway, could be considered rape. (Think for a moment at how remarkable is the idea that a husband can be charged with rape by his wife, a woman who had pledged before the state, her family and friends, and perhaps even God, that she would be his sexual partner for life. Aside from the difficulties in proving that the consent to do something she had perhaps done hundreds of times had been withdrawn in the particular case at hand, wouldn’t it just be easier to file for divorce? Maybe the first inkling a man gets that his wife wants a divorce comes when they slap the cuffs on him for his arraignment for rape charges.) With economic equality, women were given more or less complete autonomy over their sexuality, even within a sexual relationship they had willfully and openly entered.
Thus the problem arose that the only way of proving or disproving rape was the victim’s testimony as to her intent. Rape is defined today as the penetration of an unwilling victim, vaginally, anally or orally, by pretty much anything, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the victim was unwilling. And there’s the rub. What does it mean to be unwilling? If the victim is half-drunk, can she be willingly penetrated? Or, to put it in the feminist vernacular, if the woman is inebriated, can she give her informed consent? The definition of rape now requires that courts ascertain the intent of the victim, and then try to figure out whether the alleged rapist understood, or should have understood, her intent. And the only evidence of intent, outside of actions actually undertaken, is the testimony of the parties. And it is rare a thing when there are third-party witnesses to a purported rape. Timely examinations after the event can sometimes prove sexual penetration, but sexual penetration is not rape unless the woman was unwilling, so it practically always resolves to a matter of dueling testimonies.
California and other places have gone so far as instituting laws that require affirmative consent, i.e., ‘yes means yes’ laws as they are informally known. But that muddles the evidentiary conundrum even more. Unless every sexual encounter is videotaped to prove the receipt of verbal consent, how can anyone except the parties know who said yes to what?
It would seem pretty easy to prove a rape occurred if the woman was still tied to the bed with her panties stuffed in her mouth when the police arrived. Her intent and his would seem clear. But maybe not. A whole genre of female fiction is devoted to just such a fetish (Fifty Shades of Grey, et al). She may very well have been doing exactly as she liked. Some women even have rape, i.e. forcible sex fantasies, they like to act out. How does a court tell what is a fantasy and what is an actual unwilling penetration? Obviously things get rather murky when the victim also knows the accused, as is the case in almost 80% of reported rapes, according to Department of Justice statistics.
The good news, according to those same statistics, is that rape and sexual assault are on the decline, even as the range of potential perpetrators has expanded. From Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010, a study by the US Department of Justice:
From 1995 to 2010, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations declined 58%, from 5.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older to 2.1 per 1,000.
This comports with an overall decline in violence of all kinds that began around the end of the Cold War. The causes for this decline are unclear, but probably have demographics at least partly to blame. The vast Baby Boomer population bulge was passing into middle age about this time, and violence of all types is a young man’s game.
Regardless of the reason, there is not, contrary to feminist hysteria, any epidemic of rape and sexual assault. Not on college campuses, or in the military, or anywhere really in the entire developed world. The exact opposite is happening. There are fewer and fewer rapes and sexual assaults with each succeeding year. Which is surely why rape/sexual assault-baiters, who depend for their livelihoods on an ever-worsening landscape of rape and sexual assault for young women, have sought to expand the notion of rape or sexual assault to include practically any sexual encounter which is later regretted, for whatever reason, by the woman. This from the New York Times Magazine, in an article by Susan Dominus, Getting to No:
The night started, as so many college nights do, with a red cup pressed into a hand. Ubiquitous at tail gates and parties, those bright plastic cups are a harbinger of carnival, of unleashing. The hand around the cup was mine.
I remember many of the details only vaguely, but the cup shines through; I can still taste the sweet-sour drink inside it. No matter how much I sipped — and each sip made the next one easier — the cup remained filled, courtesy of a young man, a fellow college senior, attending to its contents. I liked him, a little; I found his focus — on me — impressive.
I drank from the red cup, and in the next scene from that evening that I can recall, I am on my bed, and he is on top of me. I am resisting, but he is heavy, so heavy, and my limbs so leaden. I am certain he thought he was, as we used to say back then, a totally decent guy. Even now, I can imagine him as someone’s loyal husband, a maker of pancakes, his kids’ soccer coach. But that night I said no, and still he lay there, massive, pleading, sloppy with beer, for what seemed to be hours (but surely was not), until I finally stopped holding him off. Too close to sleep to rouse myself to outrage, I settled for capitulation, then revulsion.
The most radical of rape agitators would today consider that this woman was raped. To her credit, Ms. Dominus refuses to do so, assuming the blame for the way she later felt about the transaction. She knew she could have prevented or stopped things had she wanted to. And more importantly, as an act of violence, which some feminists claim is the whole point of rape (incorrectly**), this is quite lame. Nothing but feelings were hurt, pointing to another problem with designating intercourse against one’s eager consent as an act of violence almost tantamount to murder—if someone is murdered, or even just assaulted, they suffer clear and visible physical insults and injuries. If someone is raped because they changed their mind after getting drunk and lying in bed with a man, where is the physical insult and injury that characterizes violence? (Please don’t claim that the mental anguish of regret can rise to the physical pain of a beating. Anyone who tries to equate the two has clearly never been beaten. )
If trends continue, it won’t be long until the definition of rape comes full circle. In ancient days, the fact of intercourse mattered more than the intent of the parties. Extramarital sex, of whatever character, sullied a female’s virtue, and thereby her attractiveness as a wife. All sex outside of marriage was illicit sex, so all sex was, in a sense, rape. In today’s world, as reluctant or regretful sex morphs into rape and sexual assault, then all sex will again be rape. There won’t be a unique category for when a man violently and forcibly subdues and penetrates a woman against her will. Violent or no, all sex that a woman later regrets will be considered rape, and since women practically always find some reason for regret of just about everything, from their Cobb salad to their last glass of beer to that boy they knew in high school***, all sex will be rape, just as radical feminists already claim. And if all sex is rape, then none really is.
So, to answer the question first posed, is all sex rape or is all rape sex? Yes. Undeniably so.
*I added proliferation of nuclear weapons because there was a drastic alteration in the male-female protective calculus when the world got nukes. It takes not strength, nor speed, nor stamina—attributes more commonly found in the male population–to press the buttons that launch nuclear-tipped warheads. Manliness is not required. Aside from males being shunted aside economically in the post-Industrial Information Age, the Nuclear Age has shunted them aside as protectors as well. Men can no longer assert control over female sexuality because women no longer need them for much of anything. Except, of course, sex. And women generally need and want sex in far less quantity than men.
**Rape, i.e., forcibly subduing and penetrating a woman against her will, is not all about the violence. It is also a successful reproduction strategy, as roughly 5% of rapes result in pregnancy in the US, according to a 1999 study referenced by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011, page 396. Rape, or sex against a woman’s will, is endemic to all human cultures, implying that rape, though a potentially high-cost means of achieving reproductive success, is nonetheless a viable strategy.
***An inside note to see if she is reading