Let’s talk about consent in practice [via Disrupting Dinner Parties]

By Rosie Franklin, via Disrupting Dinner Parties: Feminism for Everyone

Last week we talked about what a “model of consent” is and what a few models were. Today is about consent under the “yes means yes” model.
Consent is being in agreement that what is going on is good/ desirable/ fun/ sexy and should keep happening. You need to have your partner’s consent for sexual activity, or it is sexual assault/ rape.
Consent is a state, like trust. or paying attention. And it’s between your partner’s ears.
train ticket
Consent is not like getting a train ticket stamped. Consent is not a thing.
Affirmative consent is when you know that you have consent, because there are concrete things your partner has done that tell you so. Putting a condom on your dick and climbing on top of you, for instance. Or using their words to say, “I kinda want to fuck you again.” (while the afternoon light streams in the kitchen windows….) Knowing that your partner wants you, as opposed to basically guessing, makes for hands down better sex.
The consent that I’m referring to in this post is an ethical/moral/be-a-decent-human-being term, not a legal term. Most people, I think, are basically decent and kind and want to do the right thing, but I also think a lot of us grew up with some really fucked up information and ideas about sex. Like that it should “just happen” and you should not plan for it or talk about it.
What does consent look like? How do you communicate your consent, as well as your boundaries? How can you know that you have your partner’s consent, and where the boundaries of that consent lie?

The gendered language in this article tends to assume a heterosexual relationship and implicitly positions men as likely penetrative partners. While this is often the case and a very worthy subject for writing on consent, it's also true that queer relationships and sexual encounters face these same issues.

Regardless of the hetero slant to the article, I post it anyway because it brings a needed dimension to the discussion on consent: Consent is an ongoing state of being that requires carefully paying attention and actively caring about your partner's perspective, as well as learning how to determine whether your partner is "with you" or not.

Verbal consent is important, but we want more than legalistic, "technical" consent, and so verbal consent does not go far enough (plus, people's abilities to be verbal/advocate for themselves during sex vary).

It could be argued that our culture's relationship to sex and bodily self-determination has been so undermined that consent itself is built on some pretty shaky ground. That is, people may have become so divorced from their bodies, their desires, or their autonomy, that they can say "yes" to things they do not want, or even feign enthusiasm for things they do not like. If this is the case (which I would very much argue that it is) then it's uncertain whether we can, in fact, achieve full and certain consent with another person. Additionally, it would mean that dealing with sexual consent in relation to rape culture is not necessarily dealing with the root issue.

Of course, few people are going to stop having sex because of this, or to put off sex until rape culture has been dismantled. But we can work to make a paradigm shift in recognition of the depth of the issues that we face when it comes to sex and intimacy and autonomy. Articles like these, which discuss consent as process and practice rather than a simple and discrete goal, are a step in the right direction.

One last thing. Nothing-- not a "yes!" not enthusiastic body language, nothing-- can guarantee consent. As Rosie Franklin writes in this article, consent is not a thing.

We do not arrive at consent and simply remain there without effort, self-assured, at least not once we've looked beyond the legal definition of consent. Rather, it is a process we strive to establish and continue, in the interests of caring for our partners and making a world without rape. Rather than just a one-time "yes," or just a few verbal check-ins, we can investigate the idea of consent as an ongoing act of caring, a way of being present to another person and to ourselves that is both humbling and wonderful.

Though purely verbal consent cannot dismantle the roots of rape culture, a deeper dedication to consent--in all aspects of life, and with ourselves as well as with others-- could open the way to that process of change.


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