Dementia and sex: Can the demented consent?

A recent Oregonian article reads:

A 59-year-old Portland man accused of befriending a woman in church and then raping and sexually abusing her in an assisted living facility is in custody on a 16-count indictment…
Vandenberg is accused of sexually assaulting the woman who prosecutors contend was “incapable of consent by reason of mental defect,” according to the indictment.

The printed version of the story, sitting before me (dated April 3, 2015), says:

The prosecution alleged the woman was unable to consent to the sexual contact because of her dementia.

If people with dementia are “unable to consent to sex,” does this mean that once you get dementia, you are not allowed to have sex? This is a question others have grappled with.
I think people are uncomfortable with the question because it forces them to confront contradictions in some of the moral stances they’ve taken for granted. If the answer is “No, people who are mentally disabled, including those with dementia, cannot have sex,” then this premise would force us to tear elderly couples apart – under the grounds that they’re raping each other. This would strike most people as cruel and ridiculous. But if the answer is “Yes, those who are mentally disabled, including those with dementia, may have sex,” then this opens the door to other possibilities. As soon as we acknowledge that a person needn’t be of sound mind to consent to sex, then what about drunk people? What about unconscious people? What about mentally retarded people, whose minds are those of 4-year-olds? In other words, a “yes” answer opens a pandora’s box.
Obviously, context should play a large role in issues such as this. We shouldn’t forcibly separate senile couples if they’ve been married for 40 years, and obviously love each other. But is it okay for a husband to have sex with his sleeping wife if by all accounts she’s okay with it? Can a wife pleasure her drunk husband?
I don’t claim to have easy answers, but I do think our judgment is clouded by our still-overly-puritanical attitudes about sex. Perhaps, in some cases, we shouldn’t even be asking about consent. Instead, we should be asking a more fundamental question: Was anybody actually harmed by this action?

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7 Responses to Dementia and sex: Can the demented consent?

  1. missattempts says:

    Married couples are technically “one flesh” so it wouldn’t be rape.
    Unmarried people belong to their family’s “flesh” so it would be wrong
    to have sex with them.
    No sex outside marriage.

  2. oogenhand says:

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Extremely important from a philosophical and a practical point of view.

  3. E says:

    Why is drunk sex a problem? I don’t think I can have sex without being drunk, usually plastered.
    If a man and woman are both drunk, and they have sex, the man and only the man can go to jail for rape if she decides the next morning she regrets it.
    Funny how that works. Even today a man is expected to be responsible for women’s decisions and to basically act like her legal guardian. Mind you, this is feminist approved legislation, not the old patriarchy at work.
    Weirdly, if someone drives drunk, we don’t say they had no responsibility for the act. We punish them. Hard. But a woman who has sex while drunk cannot be expected to take responsibility for it. She can be expected to take responsibility for driving drunk, but not for consenting to sex while drunk.
    What’s the difference? If a man is involved, its assumed – by feminists, apparently – that he should take responsibility for everything as she, apparently, cannot be considered an adult.
    Its a very interesting world.

  4. Lon Spector says:

    “When a man will leave his mother and father and cleve unto his wife
    they shall be one flesh.
    The Bible prohibition against incest says: “Thou shall not uncover the
    nakedness of thy mother. IT IS THY FATHER’S NAKEDNESS.
    Thou shall not uncover the nakedness of thy sister. IT IS THY MOTHER’s
    nakedness. The family is reckoned as ONE UNIT.
    It IS true that Lot’s daughters got him drunk and got pregnant by him,
    but they thought the world had ended.
    There is a Pillar of salt named “Lot’s Wife” on the Dead Sea. It DOES
    have female features but only if viewed VERY CLOSE up.

  5. Sol says:

    off topic . . . no comments about the Baltimore craziness??

  6. Thanks for the interesting link. I am thankful that the husband of the old Alzheimer woman was acquitted of rape. He was lucky.
    I have written a lot about consent. Our laws are quite problematic. In the case of insane people, they can have sex only with other insane people, as far as I understand. Or, in this case, they both are rapist. It is crazy.
    I think the real problem is those with genetically caused feeble mindedness or insanity getting offspring.

  7. Your pointing out these contradictions is quite interesting. Our laws are just totally absurd. You can not have sex with your half asleep or drunk wife, or your wife with dementia after 50 years of marriage? It might be the only joy she has left in life. I actually think it is a heroic and humane act, personally I have a hard time imagining having sex with an 80 year old woman.
    This is even more absurd than the age of consent laws and other restrictive ridiculous sex laws. Or marital rape laws in general.
    If the law was really concerned with the well being of a minor (or demented), one could put checks and balances in place. Have the people make a notarized declaration of their intent to have sex, with a 2 day cool of period, and a mandatory counselling session with a psychologist, priest. After that, allow sex between teacher and student, with a minor under the age of consent. A demented person would be similar. An old husband would be allowed by default, barring written or otherwise witnessed declarations to the contrary.
    Now, there could be “predators” that systematically prey on the demented. In ways that could be traumatizing. Imagine Rotherham with the demented. Even with demented young women. There one can see a problem.
    Of course, no one in this world cares about the trauma of the sexless male. That never ever has sex with anyone. And that, in the USA is not even allowed to pay a prostitute. Or, I believe in Norway he is not even allowed to go to another country to have sex.

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