A wife is hit for the second time in a week by her husband, but when her best friend begs her to leave him, she refuses, saying that she loves her husband and that it is her fault that he is violent with her. Is there consent?
It depends what is going on in the mind of the wife. Is she torn between her compulsion to stay with her husband and her wish not to be abused? If so, in staying with her husband, she is acting against her will—against that part of her will that wants her not to be abused. In this case, whilst she might be deemed to be consenting in the legal sense of the term, she is certainly not consenting in any other sense, and her husband is acting immorally in hitting her.
Conversely, suppose this is a very happy marriage and the wife wholeheartedly prefers the spanking and wishes she could get through to her friend that this is not an abusive situation, this is her husband indulging her desire for a strong, dominant man who isn't afraid to take her in hand now and again. In this case, there is consent and the husband is not acting immorally.
Here is another example:
A couple of lovers are walking along a deserted cliff in the moonlight. They are not speaking, but every now and then, they look at one another and smile. At one point, the man sweeps the woman off her feet literally, and makes love to her. Is there consent?
Again, there is not enough information to go on. There might be, or it there might not be. What is the woman's state of mind? Is she thrilled? Joyful? Happy about it? Or is she horrified? Or in an unpleasant state of turmoil? Does she wish that he had respected her request that he not do anything like that this week? Or is she glad about it?
The most useful sense of the word “consent” for our purposes is moral/psychological consent. Is this really what you want? Are you in conflict? Is that conflict real and distressing to you, or do you see it as an exciting adventure or exploration? Is it something you would really rather not have to endure, or is it actually something you welcome? If you could press a magic button that would instantly stop your husband taking you in hand, would you press it or not? In your heart of hearts, do you actually love what your husband does, or do you wish he did not take you in hand? Have you been longing for a man who would be firm with you and are you overjoyed to have found such a man—or do you long for the day when he will no longer take you in hand?
If you've been having trouble sleeping and you are getting worn out and under the weather, and your husband tells you not to drink coffee after midday, do you find that irritating or controlling? Or if you are honest, do you find it thrilling? If you were single, would you look for a man who never says no, or would you look for another take-charge man? Do you prefer your man to wear the trousers, or is it something you merely put up with? If you were never taken in hand again, would you miss it or would you be glad? Is this what you really want, or something you tolerate?
Notice that whether or not there is consent in the relevant sense hinges on the state of mind of the person consenting. There are other senses of the word “consent” which are not so relevant here, for example, legal consent. It would be a disaster to use the same standard of consent for legal purposes. Legally, it makes sense to err on the side of assuming consent. If a woman goes along with a man's sexual advances, and he has not drugged her or threatened her, etc., the law has to assume that she is consenting. For legal purposes, she cannot reasonably claim rape if she does not at least try to convey her reluctant state of mind to the man. But for our purposes, that is too low a standard of consent.
An honourable man doesn't just want to stay on the right side of the law, he cares about real consent: he wants the reality to be that the woman he is with is genuinely, wholeheartedly, deeply wanting him to do what he is doing. If he thought that she was actually in the same state of mind as a battered wife, he would be appalled. For a decent man, it is not enough to have his wife's “blanket consent”. Even if she has said that she gives him blanket consent, he wants to feel sure that she is truly consenting on an on-going basis. The man who gets his wife's agreement and then doesn't care how she feels thereafter is likely to violate consent and is unlikely to have a good relationship.
In my next article about consent, I talk about the psychology of consensual non-consent. Click here to go to that article now.