Sexual impropriety has always been with us, but when the film mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual misdemeanours last October, the public was shocked by the scale of it all as actress after actress (and some actors too) lined up to accuse the film producer of misconduct against them. The #MeToo social media campaign went viral as people standing in solidarity with Weinstein’s victims sought to publicise the widespread nature of sexual assault and harassment within society as they told their own personal stories of unwanted sexual abuse. Like a stone cast into a pond, the effects of this movement soon rippled out into every quarter of modern society – from the music and entertainment industries to politics and the workplace. But, undoubtedly the most shocking story of this type is the recent news that staff working for the Oxfam charity paid vulnerable people for sex when they were supposed to be distributing aid in Haiti, made worse by the fact that the organisation failed to sufficiently report the matter to the authorities or warn other aid agencies about their former staff members who sought new employment with them.
The sexual revolution kickstarted by the arrival of the contraceptive pill in 1961 has certainly transformed women’s lives for the better, giving them a much greater sense of peace of mind as they control their bodies, and enjoy the ability to choose whether or not to have children – but in the light of the current scandals it could be argued that the glamour of the swinging 60s has somewhat faded, as men (and particularly those with power and influence) who have grown used to uncomplicated sex without restriction or entanglement seek to exploit others for their own personal satisfaction. The men who take advantage of others as outlined above may think it’s ‘just sex’ and consensual, but if you expect favours in return for giving a new acting role, a promotion, money or aid, and threaten to withhold them if you aren’t treated, then it isn’t consensual at all – it’s coercive!
Most people appreciate that there is no such thing as ‘just sex’ because our bodies are not really designed to exploit one another but to joyfully love one another, because as the Christian will understand true love is not ‘self-seeking’ (1 Corinthians 13.5) but self-giving, of which sex in marriage is the ultimate expression – which is why we call it ‘making love’.
This month, we are in the season of Lent, in which we are as Christians are invited to contemplate our own lives in the light of Jesus who loves us, his life, death and resurrection. It’s a time for sober reflection and penitence, a time for ‘turning around’ and seeking God’s forgiveness. I would therefore like to suggest that there is no better time for putting our lives straight, for reflecting upon our own attitudes about sex and the way that we treat each other. We may not be able to do anything about the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, or those who wilfully exploit and take advantage of others, but we can make sure that we are not like them, by putting our own house and lives in order and being determined to really, really love one another, just as God intended.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine’ Song of Solomon 1.2