Criminalization of Non-Consensual Sex


Scientific and technological progress led to the emergence of a new way of life and caused a significant shift in traditional gender roles and culture in general. The way sex and relationships are viewed in society has significantly changed for the last hundred years. The current situation is unprecedented in multiple different ways, and it brings both new challenges and opportunities for the humanity. Advanced contraception and more accepting social norms provide men and women with a possibility to personally decide how to go about their sexual life. Well-balanced legislation becomes very important to address the issue appropriately, as the landscape of opinions regarding the subject is getting more and more diverse and nuanced. Solving problems in society that might cause a negative tendency is also very important. Non-consensual sex should not be criminalized in cases where the presence of psychological or physical coercion is not evident.

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The Danger of not Creating Appropriate Regulations

Failure to develop appropriate protective measures against aggressive sexual behavior is very dangerous as it opens a possibility for abuse and discrimination. As women become victims of sexual aggression and rape much more often compared to men, lack of proper legislation will leave female citizens unprotected (Cobb & Horeck, 2018). The problem is especially significant at a workplace, where economic dependency and subordination structure allow individuals in authority to use their position as a tool in aggressive sexual activity. It is necessary to create juridical regulations that are strict enough to discourage potential sexual offenders from abusing their place in the company. Such laws will ensure safety and protection for the rights of women and healthy workplace environment. Existence of such acts will also provide an additional source of confidence for potential victims of aggressive sexual behavior, encouraging them to stand up for their rights. To promote safety and justice in society, it is critical to take sufficient regulatory measures that would decrease the likelihood of aggressive sexual behavior and provide a sense of protection for citizens.

The Danger of Creating Excessively Strict Laws

On the other hand, unduly strict regulation may have a negative impact on people’s ability to start a relationship and will allow abusing the legislation for personal and other reasons. It is vital to mention that as norms for expressing sexual behavior become too strict, it becomes more and more challenging to draw a line between an appropriate level of initiative and sexual harassment. This tendency may discourage individuals from any engagement in a romantic or sexual relationship because of the risk of being called an offender. The consequences of sexual harassments are very serious, including damage to personal reputation and criminal punishment, and the definition for this term is quite vague. Such a situation allows some individuals to pose as victims and, thus, abuse the law to gain personal benefits. It is essential to create barriers for such activity, as it causes severe damage to society, discredits the law, and diminishes the suffering of real victims. Avoiding taking excessively strict, simplistic, and one-sided measures is critical to creating effective regulation that will help improve the current situation.

The Danger of Politicization of the Discussion

Although the necessity for affirmative consent before a sexual act is universally agreed, the opinions on what can be qualified as appropriate consent differ. The public discussion regarding the matter has become politicized, leading to the polarization of opinions. Recent scandals have shown that oversimplification of the problem and lack of deep understanding of its nature may lead to negative consequences (Cobb & Horeck, 2018). At the same time, the involvement of various political and media figures can lead to using scandals and criminal investigations as a tool against political opponents (Mandell, 2017). In addition to that, the politicization of public conversation regarding the subject leads to the emergence of extreme opposite opinions that are irreconcilable. Political forces might want to use such heated arguments to win the attention and support of the audience, without offering any real solution to the problems. Thus, it is essential to find common ground between liberal and conservative values and points of view on the matter in order to bring the public to a productive discussion.

Negative Consequences of Criminalization of Non-Consensual Sex

New laws and regulations concerning the criminalization of non-consensual sexual activity will affect millions of people as the problem has become widespread, especially among the younger generation. A study has shown that over fifteen percent of women and almost eight present of male undergraduate college student report involvement in a non-consensual sexual act (Herbenick, Fu, Dodge, & Fortenberry, 2019). This statistics makes the question of criminalization of non-consensual sex even more difficult to handle, as it shows how common the problem has become, affecting teenagers and young adults. At the same time, such high parentages show that using criminal punishment for solving the problem will likely lead to the imprisonment of a high number of young people. Such tendency will potentially do more harm than good to the society in general and might not lead to any positive consequences, as the young men, who have experienced prison environment, will very likely engage in further criminal activity. In other words, although the problem in question is severe and has to be addressed, criminalization of non-consensual sex is not necessarily an optimal solution.

The Necessity for Well-Balanced Regulations

In order to adequately address the issue, the legislation needs to be balanced, nuanced, and flexible. Society needs to agree on what levels and forms of consent are appropriate to create protection from sexual aggression without creating extra barriers for regular sexual behavior and starting a romantic relationship. Such laws also need to take into account different aspects of the subject, including specific characteristics of homosexual relationships, cultural tendencies, and other factors. All relevant details are crucial as they may play a significant role in individual cases. Creating such legislation is a very complex process as opinions and attitudes in public widely differ, and norms of behavior and social environment are constantly changing. Working on effective regulation will alleviate the problem and protect the rights of both men and women regardless of position in society and sexual orientation.

Alternative Ways to Address the Problem

Other methods, including adjustment of social norms, promotion of healthy sexual behavior, and sexual education might be useful for addressing the subject. A study has shown that the perception of sexual intentions of other people and the underspending of social norms are predictors of aggressive sexual behavior among college students (Edwards & Vogel, 2015). These data suggest that non-consensual sex is often a result of misinterpretation of sexual signals and lack of understanding of the appropriate behavior in interactions with the opposite sex. Another study conducted in Peru also suggests that fighting against rape-supportive attitude among teenagers is key for reducing the problem of non-consensual sex (Moyano, Monge, & Sierra, 2017). The data shows that public tendencies contributing to the problem are similar cross-culturally, and they should be further studied to find the most effective solution.

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In addition to that, watching pornography has been shown to increase the likelihood of aggressive sexual behavior (Wright, Tokunaga, & Kraus, 2015). Easy access to pornographic content via internet leads to extensive exposure of teenagers to violent sexual behavior. In the situation, where appropriate sexual education is lacking, it creates a tendency of adopting the patterns of behavior that are exhibited in such videos as normal. Regulation of this industry might help reduce the prevalence of undesirable patterns of behavior. Emphasizing the unacceptability of aggressive sexual behavior and promoting functional patterns of interactions between men and women will help educate people and have a positive impact on the problem.

The difference in opinions and interpretations in regard to the influence of alcohol and other substances on a person’s ability to express consent is another ambiguous aspect of the subject. Research has shown a correlation between alcohol use and the likelihood of non-consensual sexual intercourse (Stappenbeck et al., 2016). Such a close relationship between substance use and the subject shows that this topic needs to be appropriately addressed. Alleviating the problem of alcohol and drug abuse, especially among teenagers, will have a positive impact on the rate of misbehavior, including sexual harassment and non-consensual sex.


Non-consensual sex should not be criminalized because a solution to this complex problem cannot be found only by means of criminal punishment and requires a deeper understanding of the nature of the problem. A careful and well-balanced approach to new legislation is required to ensure that the question is addressed in a way that guarantees the protection of rights of all citizens and equality between sexes. It is also important that laws and regulations can evolve together with society to be able to deal with new challenges and tendencies. Achievement of this goal requires an open public discussion, as it is essential to allow all visions and opinions to be spoken. In addition to proper legislation, society should pay more attention to the factors that are associated with aggressive sexual behavior, such as alcohol and drug use and lack of sexual education. Addressing these social problems will have a positive impact on the situation and help develop and adjust norms for modern life and sexual behavior.


Cobb, S., & Horeck, T. (2018). Post Weinstein: Gendered power and harassment in the media industries. Feminist Media Studies, 18(3), 489-508.

Edwards, S. R., & Vogel, D. L. (2015). Young men’s likelihood ratings to be sexually aggressive as a function of norms and perceived sexual interest. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 88.

Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2019). The alcohol contexts of consent, wanted sex, sexual pleasure, and sexual assault: Results from a probability survey of undergraduate students. Journal of American college health, 67(2), 144-152.

Mandell, H. (2017). Sex scandals, gender, and power in contemporary American politics. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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Moyano, N., Monge, F. S., & Sierra, J. C. (2017). Predictors of sexual aggression in adolescents: Gender dominance vs. rape supportive attitudes. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 9(1), 25-31.

Stappenbeck, C. A., Norris, J., Wegner, R., Bryan, A. E., Davis, K. C., Zawacki, T., & George, W. H. (2016). An event-level investigation of factors associated with young women’s experiences of coerced consensual sex. Journal of interpersonal violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260516683178.

Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2015). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205.

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