Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cultivating Consent (or, ideas constructed in the wee hours of the morning)

Image by Ruben Vega
Alright, kids. Sit down. Grab a drink, put on some mood music, get comfy. It's about time we talked about sex.

If we're going to do this, I suppose it's only fair if I give you a bit of background on me. In a nutshell, I am a certain brand of a feminist's nightmare. You know, the type that think porn is evil and breeds violence towards women (and is, itself, an act of violence)? You know, the type that think that a healthy spanking (by a lover) or some highly sexualized lingerie are ten steps backward in the liberation of society from the patriarchy?

Yeah, those. They hate me. If you ask me, what goes down between consenting adults is A-OKAY.

I, personally, have proclivities all over the place. Now, I'm not saying there aren't any fuzzy grey areas (my issues with the current porn industry are many, even though I do not think that porn is inherently evil – I'll go into these issues in a later post). But in a brass-tacks, simplified, boiled down narrative, my stance remains: What goes on in the sex lives of consenting adults is fine, awesome, totally rad, and should be done more and with more gusto and bravado as often as humanly possible, please kay thanks.

But there is an issue that gets pretty dicey, and is the reason I decided to write this damned long-winded blog entry in the first place: Consent.

Consent is, for sure, a Capital Letter Word when it comes to sex. It's a non-negotiable thing. Without consent, sex is assault. Period, the end. There are lots of variations and ways to consent, but at the end of the day, consent is not something you get to weedle your way around.

I'm not going to go through the innumerable list of different forms of sexual consent, but for the sake of clarity, I'll give you a bit of a 'most frequently used', or a 'short cut list' of ways consent can, and does happen, if only to show a brief glimpse at the vastness and delicacy of the situation.

– Verbal consent, each and every time sexual contact is initiated, where an individual can break consent at any time.
– 'Physical' consent, or consent that is understood through body language, and immediately revoked if the individual verbally breaks consent.
– 'Physical consent' of the previous sort, but consent is immediately revoked by a type of 'safe word' that has been chosen to indicate lack of consent (used in a role-play fantasy situation where 'no' does not mean 'no,' but some other word is used to indicate “no”: i.e. “grandma,” “bowling ball,” “daisy.”)
– Verbal consent, each and every time sexual contact is initiated, but where the individual breaks consent with a “safe word.”
– Verbal or physical consent, in which an individual breaks consent with a type of pre-arranged gesture, such as the dropping of an object in their hand (typically used if the person is unable to speak via some sort of gag or mask over their face).
– A contract, of which two or more parties decide for a certain duration of time that consent is inherently implied (often with highly restrictive parameters that neither party can breech, or the contract is immediately null).

We are taught that consent is a verbal agreement, that “no” means “NO.” For the most part, I am okay with this line of instruction – on a basic level of sexual experience, no DOES mean no, and it is important that people understand that very basic idea of consent. But in honesty, how often in our sexual lives do we verbally ask or offer consent? The first time we sleep with a new lover, maybe? The first few times? The first time we try something new, something we're not sure if our lover would quite get down with?

Sure, some of us ask pretty damned often (hey, it's pretty sexy to ask for what you want, just sayin') – but I'd be hard pressed to believe that verbal consent is the norm. So that puts us in what I believe to be the most common denominator of consent – physical consent. I think most people get busy with their lovers because their lovers do not push them away, and because – and this part is important – their lover responds in a way that is similar to their own. There has already been verbal consent prior. Their lover responds with some indication that they want to get down that is based in knowledge of prior experience between these two lovers. They've been here with this person, they've done this with this person, and when their grip gets tighter and their legs curl up and their breathing gets heavy they know, okay, this is game, I can proceed further.

I'm in no way saying that physical response is a fool-proof form of consent by any means, but I do think it is the one with which most people tend to operate. It gets dicey, of course, because of the whole 'precedence' deal: “Well, I had sex with you before, that means you are obviously consenting to sex with me now.” No dice, comrades. That line of thinking only gets everyone in trouble, and everyone hurt (not to mention that sometimes, the body responds in ways we cannot anticipate, but that is another blog for another day).

Other forms of consent (coercion/rape fantasy, contract, edge-play) I'll go in to later. I've seen some dumb shit lately prowling around the cultural psyche (and, of course, the Internets) about the harmful effects of BDSM and fetishism to the feminist movement. I'm not telling you how to have sex, so don't go around telling me what's right and okay about the way that I happily have consensual sex. If you feel like it's your place to tell me how to get down, I gotta say, you can blow me. I'll go buy a strap on and you can wear your best nipple clamps and we can have a party. It will be glorious. Of course, you don't HAVE to play with me and my not-yet-purchased strap on, boths and ladies and gents and others. But I'm sure it'll make my next entry about consent and coercion fantasy faaarrr more interesting. Just a thought.

Now, if you want some really well thought, intelligent articles on consent (and particularly, consent in the arenas a lot of people are scared about), you should check out Sugarbutch Chronicles (fabulous stuff, by the way). Here are some gems:

Yes, No, and Consent
Reconciling Feminism & Sadism

Oh, by the way, I am not inviting the internets to have strap-on sex with me. Just so you know. Just sayin'.

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