It is often claimed that rape is not really about sex, but about power. True enough. But it is not unrelated to sex. The sexual act is used as a form of torture, or even, in some cases, as a deadly weapon.
But that was not what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when he spoke recently about the dangers of sexual behaviour. In his pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, the pope did not mention rape, let alone the sexual murder in Delhi. Instead, in his defence of the family or, as he would put it, the sacred union between man and woman, he pointed out how sexual arrangements outside that union were a threat to human civilisation. What he had in mind, without quite saying so, were same-sex unions.
The pope's words suggest that homosexuality is a kind of lifestyle choice, a form of modern decadence - a secular, even blasphemous act against God and nature rather than a fact of birth. This is a common belief among religious believers, be they conservative Catholics, Protestants, Jews, or Muslims. Tellingly, Benedict quoted Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France, who has expressed similar views on the threats to conventional family life.
Fear of sexual behaviour is one of the main reasons why most religions establish strict rules concerning sexual relationships. Marriage is a way to contain our dangerous desires.
Restricting sexual conduct to procreation is supposed to make the world safer and more peaceful. Because women excite the desires of men, they are thought to pose a threat outside the confines of the family home. That is why, in some societies, they are not allowed to emerge from those confines, or may do so only if fully covered and accompanied by a male relative.
Benedict is not so extreme. Nor does he advocate violence against homosexuals. On the contrary, he sees himself as a deeply civilised man of peace. But I would argue that his speech actually encourages the kind of sexual aggression that can result in the savagery that took place in Delhi.
The six rapists who killed the young woman were not modern decadents who chose to defy God and nature by claiming new secular freedoms, let alone heterodox sexual identities.
From what we can surmise from this case and many others like it they are the semi-urbanised products of a highly conventional rural society where the roles of men, and especially women, are tightly regulated. Their victim, a well-educated physiotherapy intern, seems to have been a great deal more modern than her attackers. The men were not uneducated, but they were unable to cope with the freedoms of contemporary women.
For that reason, the six rapists saw her as a "loose" woman, a city slut, fair game. After all, she was out late with her boyfriend. That is precisely how the men taunted the young couple: What was an unmarried young woman doing out in the Delhi streets with a young man? She deserved what was coming to her.
The reaction in some quarters followed similar lines. When demonstrations against sexual violence erupted in Delhi, the Indian president's son denounced the protesters as "dented and painted". Some politicians have described rape victims as "adventurous".
Violent hatred of homosexuals comes from a similar source. Just as women outside the family home - women who stake a claim to public space, working and living among men - are seen as dangerous temptresses, men who love men are often regarded as predators, ready to pounce on society's children. What many people fear is not just uncontrolled sexual behaviour, but sex itself.
But the more sex is repressed and people are made to fear it the greater the chance of sexual violence, because anyone who might possibly stir our sexual desires, man or woman, becomes a potential target of our rage.
This might help to explain what happened in Delhi, but it does not in any way excuse it. After all, most men in that city would not beat a young couple with metal pipes and rape the woman to death. Hundreds of thousands of Indians are demonstrating in the streets to show their loathing of such atrocities.
One wishes that the pope had said something about that, and had offered some words of encouragement to the men and women in India who have had enough of sexual violence coming not from modern libertines, but from deeply repressed men.
But that is too much to expect from a man who appears to understand little about sexual life.
That is why, instead of talking about rapists, he targeted peaceful homosexual men and women who wish to show their commitment to their lovers by marrying them.