Despite the inaccuracies and fables with which our society surrounds sex, when it comes down to it, you are under no obligation to have anything but the sex you want to have. You may not quite know what that sex is; you may never have had it. You may feel you don’t know it well enough to recognize it if you did encounter it.
But it IS your right to have it, to believe in it existing, to believe yourself capable of having it. And it is only by exercising that right that you can make it happen.
Some common attitudes about consent… – In a Brisbane study of Year Nine boys, nearly one in three believed that it is “okay for a boy to hold a girl down and force her to have sexual intercourse” if she has “led him on”, while one in five boys were unsure. One quarter of the boys thought that it was acceptable to force a girl to have sex if she gets him sexually excited, and another fifth were unsure (Domestic Violence Resource Centre 1992). – In a 1997 survey by Family Planning Australia, nearly a third of the 15-25 year old males interviewed agreed that it was “okay for a male to force a female to have sex” in one or more of a range of situations (Golding & Friedman 1997). – One fifth of men (19 percent) agreed that “Women often say ‘No’ when they mean ‘Yes’”, One in six agreed that “Women who are raped often ask for it” and “Rape is usually a crime of passion” (Office of the Status of Women 1995, pp. 144-150).
These attitudes are written into and throughout our legal, cultural and personal values. Even mere residues of these attitudes uphold much of the rape culture around us, and the silencing/mistrust of survivors through misrepresentations- even preemptively- of their sexuality and being. Talking about consent involves much more than just our own yes and no, but what these are built on- such as cultural views of gender, power and Nature- and knowing this can help us be stronger in knowing what we want, can have and deserve, and helping other people to this too. We need to become able and used to talking and hearing about this stuff, to know the deepness and complexity of each person and their story/situation, as we will be confronted by it constantly in trying to work on this. Complicating consent to give it its real weight/size helps us to not pose ourselves as ‘against the enemy’, or out to solve everything, but as confused and questioning…
Talking about and articulating our views on consent can seem strange and uncomfortable…but the lack of talk and visibility around consent is one of the reasons it is so misused, misunderstood, and hard to validate. These things may seem simple, but consent is far from natural or easy, and we can learn a lot from each other by being honest about our ideas…
What are some ways of communicating non-verbal consent? Have you ever asked someone what kinds of signs you should look for if they have a hard time verbalizing when something feels wrong? if something feels good? What are your own signs?
Some non-verbal ways of not consenting:
– Not responding or freezing up
– Avoiding eye contact
– Seeming ‘absent’ or somewhere else
What else? What are some non-verbal ways of consenting?
Triggering and dissociation: Many people are ‘triggered’ by associations or memories of past sexual or emotional experiences, and/or can become or feel ‘dissociated’ from their body or what is happening. What are our own triggers? (this can mean that we also have to know our own limits and painful places) Do we keep these secret? Do we keep crossing our own boundaries? How can we be aware of this in other people? How can we communicate about it? Should this come from talking about our own histories? from asking about our partners’?
Positive and active consent As is obvious from the survey results above, many men’s answers centre either on the absence of resistance (she didn’t say “no”, she didn’t try to push you off) or on some construction of consent based in natural drives, natural sexed or gendered versions of sex: basically, on negative or reactive consent. How would active and positive consent work? What about asking for consent at every stage? Can consent be sexy? If you know someone has a hystory of sexual assault does that change how you approach intimacy with that person? (Remembering that ALMOST EVERYONE has a hystory with sexual assault- whether directly or indirectly- and that this is the basis we should work from, maybe presuming the opposite is dangerous and simplistic in terms of active and responsive consent?) What does this knowledge- that most of your partners have had some experience of bad sex- change for approaching sexual relationships and consent generally?
Would a world, or even a scene, be more or less sexy, more or less safe using this kind of consent and care? (one hint: many bondage, S/M and play scenes, and queer beat/sex-on-premises-venues sex, work with pre-arranged consent language and structures, and are damned sexy…) What would sex, and relationships be like?
Receiving consent- making yourself open and easy to say yes or no to- can be hard, due to the conflation of cultural value placed on sex and pride, or without an awareness of how much (or how little) can be behind someone’s yes/no. This is especially important for men to learn. What are some of the reasons a person to go along with or even consenting to sex they don’t really want to have?
– Power and fear- based in social, physical, gender, age, economic inequalities.
– Not knowing their boundaries or having never had them respected or validated
– social and cultural perceptions of good/complete sex (ie. Penetration as ‘real’ sex.
What are some things that you might do or be (even unintentionally) that make it difficult for someone to say no? – they are afraid of upsetting or hurting you…
– They think you’ll be weirded out by them…
– That they aren’t exciting, fun, or liberated enough…
– That you won’t want to be with them anymore…
– That you’ll tell other people about it (reputation may be at stake)…
– That you are ‘cool’, influential or socially intimidating…
– That you haven’t made it easy for them to talk about their hystory of sex or sexual assault…
– that your hystory of sexual assault may make them feel that you’ll be too hurt…
Is there a gender, privilege or sexist bias here? How does this operate in heterosexuality? In other sexualities?
Do you think that different genders have different ways of communicating their consent?
And different sexualities? Different cultures? What about language barriers? What are the dangers in assuming this? How does the wider culture do this?
Sexual Health and STI’s
What role does using safer sex devices/contraception have in consent? How do STI’s effect consent and disclosure? ie. should we have to tell someone if we have an STI? What role do stigmatization and shame play in disclosure? why are men generally so irresponsible with this (and getting checked)? Do STI’s make coming forward as a survivor even harder and more confusing?
What kind of consent are we brought up on? How did our sex education impact on consent? Where do our ideas of consent come from?
How is consent portrayed in media/literature? What is the primary cultural vision of ‘good sex’? and how does/doesn’t this credit consent?
Does consent or sexual/gender stereotyping come first?
i.e. What does society portray as:
-Male sexuality: Predatory, conquering, mechanical, ‘inflicting’ pleasure….
-Female sexuality: Passive, ‘gatekeeper’ role… and what does this obscure?
How does this dictate the seriousness with which consent is taken, how and to whom it applies? And how do other cultural variants like homo/bisexual, transgender, poor, non-white effect, heighten or confuse these definitions? Is heterosexuality problematic in terms of consent?
Who has a stake in a yes or a no answer to this question? How can we change the norms of consent?
At what time of someone’s life is learning about consent especially important? Where can we adopt positive models of consent from? How can consent be ‘brought out of the bedroom’ and into the community?
author: Chris Altis