There is no such thing as “safe” sex.

Sex operates in the land of intimacy, vulnerability, and incredibly charged human emotion and physical sensation. It is unpredictable and always includes a measure of risk. No matter how careful participants may be, human sexual relations are never entirely safe territory for anyone.

The sexual drive is a mighty tidal wave; it is often experienced, perhaps particularly by men, as a tsunami that picks them up and carries them along to places they might not choose to go in the cold light of day. The adrenaline rush and stimulation of sexuality is a powerful addictive force. Given free reign, it inevitably leads to abuse and wrecks havoc in the lives of perpetrator and victim alike. This is exacerbated by the male fantasy that “If my desire is this strong, whether she admits it or not, she must want it just as much.”

This is not in any way to excuse the violent and abusive behaviours to which this toxic brew so often gives rise especially on the part of men. Women have been forced by men to endure advances, words, and physical assaults that no one should ever attempt to justify, excuse, diminish or brush aside. Men have often behaved like monsters towards women; there is no justification for much of male sexual behaviour. Men need to repent, seek forgiveness, and do everything we can to improve the way we relate to women.

I bring up  the power of the sexual urge, not to excuse men, but to suggest that the really important question in the debate around gender relations that has been generated by the social media “Me too…” campaign, is why men have failed so consistently to curb the power of their sexual urges. Why have we failed to channel this force into paths that are respectful and nurturing for our relations with women? Why do men so often allow themselves to be led around by unbridled testosterone?

Sadly, the answer to this question is uncomfortably simple. We are seldom taught to curb any appetites in our me-first, follow-your-bliss culture. We live in a culture that leads us to believe we should be able to have what we want whenever we want it. Any hint of delayed gratification, or disciplining our urges is anathema in a worldview that believes that we should be free to do what we want with complete impunity.

I grew up in the ’60’s era of free  love. Free love meant, “I should be able to have sex as often as I want,  wherever I like, in almost any style that stimulates my fancy, with whomever I choose.” It is only a short step from here to “…whether the person I choose likes it or not.” We have demonized inhibitions, restrictions, barriers, restraints, and self-control. When this self-serving delusion is combined with the sort of unbridled power accorded to so many men, disaster inevitably ensues. Men will use their power to get what they have been led to believe is rightfully theirs.

How can we avoid the trap of unhealthy repression that leads to twisted acting out of this powerful force, while at the same time insisting that there are times when I must learn to say “No” to my desires no matter how strong they may be? Are we willing to live in a world where instant gratification without consequences is not assumed to be an inalienable right? How do we teach young men, that saying “No” to themselves is in fact the path to maturity and adulthood? Where will we learn that there are times to surrender our power and to let go of our desire to take whatever we want simply because we have the power to take it?

Who is teaching the delicate art of truly listening? How will I learn to pay attention to my deeper humanity and to honour the deepest truth that is being expressed, even if in an slightly inarticulate manner, by those people with whom I interact on a daily basis? Where is the school for compassion that can help us enter into another person’s world and perceive the harm we may be inflicting?

These are not easy skills to acquire. But they may be the only way forward in the face of the tidal wave of forces to which we all in our various ways are prone.