#SexColumn: What constitutes consent?
By Sharon Gordon
A recent survey found that everybody agreed that consent was essential when it came to sex. And I mean everybody interviewed in the survey. I was impressed.
If everyone knows that consent is essential and that without consent you are committing a crime, how come we have such high rape statistics?
I understand that rape is a touchy subject and that it seldom has anything to do with sex and a lot to do with power. In any form rape is completely unacceptable and a violation of human dignity. In its worst form it leaves the victim mutilated, if not dead.
In 58 countries around the world, a husband cannot be found guilty of raping his wife. It is her duty to spread her legs wide and take it any time he wants to. I find the concept repugnant. Whatever happened to respect in a relationship?
Consent as I was saying is an important part of the sexual transaction. Last week I referred to the levels of communication required in a BDSM (Bondage) relationship. To participate in a play the parties are required to give unambiguous verbal consent. For those of you who are unsure about what I mean – let me spell it out.
‘May I blindfold you and cuff your wrists behind your back?’ she asks. He replies, ‘Yes, you may blindfold me and cuff my wrists behind my back.’ Unequivocal, unambiguous consent. It’s not a groan or a grunt it is a verbal yes.
Now imagine if we could do that kind of communication in our common garden variety relationships. Talking in schools has led me to believe that while the educators talk about consent, they don’t really talk about what it means. Learners often have very different versions and don’t pick up on the subtle markers, so we have to be in your face about it.
The truth is that the evening can start with all the intention in the world that it is going to end with heated sex but then he, or she changes her mind. Everything until that moment has led the other to believe that sex is on the table, so it is important to verbally communicate the change. You have to say ‘I’m not having sex with you tonight.’ And may I remind you that NO is a full sentence. You do not have to explain why.
Consent can be withdrawn at any stage. In BDSM relationships it is withdrawn by the use of the safe word. To continue with the play after the safe word is called is a complete breach of the relationship and the trust that exists between the parties. We all know what happens when trust leaves, it’s gone forever.
The problem with consent is so few of us have actually said yes! Consent is almost always implied and that’s where things go wrong. Think about it, have you ever been asked or asked, ‘May I have sex with you?’ or how about ‘may I kiss you, lick you? Etc.
No! What a surprise! Have you ever received a reply, ‘Yes you may.’
It reminds me of a story I heard at university and it may be an urban myth, but it’s a good story. A man goes up to a woman at a party and says, ‘What would you say to a little F***?’ and she replies ‘Hello little F***!’ Brilliant! I’ve been waiting 40 years to use that line.
The point is that 99.9% of us never ask and never give actual verbal consent and I believe that this should change.
In the same survey where everyone agreed that consent was vital to the sex transaction, they were then asked how they asked for and received consent. This is when the squirming began.
Nobody had actually asked or even said yes. Consent was implied and here is where it gets really terrifying, they all said – ‘well nobody stopped me!’ It would seem than that consent is implied because you didn’t say no!
This is an extremely dangerous assumption. I recently heard someone say that he should have known I didn’t want to by my body language. Well maybe but when all systems are revving, I doubt very much he is paying that kind of attention and why didn’t you just say no!
The answer I usually get is ‘I was scared to say no!’ More scared of saying no than being raped? I have asked scared of what? The most common answer ‘That he would hit me!’ That just blows my mind. I immediately thing that it’s much easier to prove assault than rape so make sure he gives you a shiner you can take to the police station. Believe me I know how sick that sounds!
I don’t know about you, but I can’t even say no comfortably to the telemarketer who calls me at dinner time. Saying no to someone is one of those things we have to go on self help courses to learn how to do. It is the word NO that stands between you and a criminal offense.
So what if we turn this upside down and ensure that consent means something other than not saying no. What if consent is simply to say verbally and unequivocally, yes. Nothing is assumed. We may be able to save ourselves from a difficult he said, she thought, conversation.
I asked my family about how they all get consent. Yes we do talk about sex as if it is a normal part of life and conversation. It would seem that even in my house we have issues. ‘Would you like to come over, watch Netflix and chill?’ seems to count as asking for consent. I’m putting a stop to that way of thinking right now.
I’m going to suggest, no beg you to ask for consent from your partner the next time you want to have sex. It is actually really sexy!
If you would like to contact me with comments or suggestions email me – [email protected]