Bill Cosby used to be open about his fascination with the idea that you could slip something into women's drinks to make them have sex with you.
He did three minutes on his desire to get his hands on Spanish fly as a young man on the 1969 comedy album "It's True! It's True." And in 1991 he again talked about Spanish fly and the effects young men believed, or at least fervently hoped, the substance had on ladies, with a chuckling Larry King on CNN.
And nobody seems to have thought a thing of it. "America's dad," seven years into the run of "The Cosby Show," gets giggly about spiking women's drinks on national TV, and nobody calls that out?
Now we learn Cosby testified under oath in a 2005 deposition that he got quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex. He has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct that includes drugging and raping them. Most of the accusations extend back beyond the statute of limitations. He has been defended staunchly by some, but in the wake of this latest information his supporters seem to be losing their staunch.
What's wrong with Cosby is starting to seem obvious and extreme. What's wrong with the sexual landscape when a man can talk about doctoring a woman's drink to make her perform sexual acts she otherwise wouldn't perform and no one gets angry is not the same thing, and it's not to the same extreme.
But it's related.
Underlying both is the millenia-old perception that sex is something men stalk and take, and women defend and refuse. That subtext isn't as strong as it once was, but neither has it disappeared.
We try to make sure our daughters don't dress like "sluts," because we don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. We remind young ladies to never, ever imbibe a drink they haven't poured themselves or seen a bartender make. Don't go to the party or bar alone. Don't leave alone with a guy.
We cast our daughters as sheep, knowing there are big, strong, prowling wolves.
As a society, we have taught the wolves it's OK to stalk, albeit not in so sinister a manner as Cosby allegedly did. Males who "score" many sexual partners are aggrandized. There are books about how to get women to give in. Innumerable movies feature lovable young scamps concerned with tricking and inebriating girls so they consent to sex.
And it's all gotten so much more confusing than it used to be, or than we used to convince ourselves it was. Good girls didn't, right? Didn't have sex before marriage or hook up in bars or hang out in bars or wear revealing clothes. Now, though, we know good girls often do make love, with longterm steadies or folks they just met, just because they want to.
We know women may hang out in bars and wear revealing clothes without revealing much about their characters. They may want to have sex on some nights but not all.
Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a statewide definition of affirmative consent on private college campuses in New York, matching a similar policy for state schools. The law defines affirmative consent as a "knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity." The need for such laws shows just how cloudy the issues of sex and consent have become.
Acts like the ones Cosby is accused of are obviously evil and criminal. But a sexual climate that makes a joke and even an aspiration of stalking tactics just a bit less heavyhanded than drugging women with quaaludes is pretty evil, too. That's the Spanish fly in the ointment that's much harder to deal with.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.