The New York Times carried an interesting front-page article today. It was about a new California law that requires high school students to be instructed about affirmative consent -- that is, to practice saying "yes means yes" in interpersonal sexual matters from kissing to touching to intercourse.
The legislator who wrote the bill, which the governor signed, explained that it was intended to "change the culture" of these relationships.
In fact, the effort sounds more like trying to change biology.
Consider the facts. Men are generally interested in sex, lots of sex. Women also are interested in sex, but they generally prefer to limit their sexual relationships (at least those involving men) to ones with people they trust.
This difference may not be universal, but it has a history stretching back thousands of years. Intercourse between men and women can lead to pregnancy. In the days before reliable birth control, it often DID lead to pregnancy. Since women are the ones who have babies, it made sense for them to have intercourse only with men they trusted, i.e., guys who wouldn't abandon them upon learning that a child was on the way.
Birth control changed the dynamic somewhat, but not entirely. Even after pregnancy could be prevented, women who had many sexual partners often were called unkind names. Men who had many sexual partners often were admired for their virility.
This is what we are still working out. In recent years we all have read more stories than we want to read about young women who insist that they did not say "yes" to sex while their male partners are adamant that the women did not say "no."
Obviously, nobody should be coerced into unwanted sexual activity, but now we are wandering further into hitherto uncharted territory.
What California's legislature and teaching corps are trying to do is impose new manners -- a sexual etiquette, if you will. They are encouraging young women (and presumably young men since everybody is equal) to say yes each step of the way.
I imagine the procedure going like this:
--"May I hold your hand?"
--"Would you like to hug?"
--"How about a kiss?"
--"Yes, but no tongue."
I will stop here, but you can imagine the many follow-on steps in the affirmative consent conversation.
In short, affirmative consent casts sexual activity as a negotiated transaction.
Unfortunately, this transactional approach seems to require humans to "change the culture" in another way.
That is, by the elimination of "seduction" and, with it, a lot of what we used to call "romance."