#SexColumn: What constitutes consent?
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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.
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.
Now imagine if we could do that kind of communication in our common garden variety relationships.
Consent MUST be freely given, consent with a gun to your head is not freely given. It must be ongoing and is reversable, I’ll deal with this in a little more detail below. It must be informed, enthusiastic, specific and clear. Impaired consent – given when drunk, stoned or high – is not consent!
Consent given after hours of persuasion is not freely given or enthusiastic. The person who finally gave in will feel abused afterwards and may go on to accuse the other of rape or assault. So when they say no the first time – it’s no.
The best example of consent being ongoing and reversable can be illustrated with a tale from Thailand. You’re in a bar and meet the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. Gorgeous in every way. You ask her if she’d like to go to your hotel room and have sex. She says yes and asks you if you would like to have sex. What a question? Of course your do! You get to the room and get your kit off and… she has a penis!
You said yes in the bar as did she. Now what? Consent can be reversed – you do not have to go through with it. It’s that simple.
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.’
I have recently been asked more than once about consent when drunk. It’s a touchy subject with more than one answer – If one is drunk and the other not the answer is simple – the drunk one (impaired) cannot ever give consent even if they are saying ‘please have sex with me!’ It’s a no – walk away because when they sober up you may be in trouble.
If you are both drunk and both consent – again consent cannot be given when impaired – rather wait till you’ve sobered up because one or both of you may regret it in the morning and nobody want to live with rapist status.
If you have been drunk and said yes, it’s much harder to prove the assault and while I am not for one single second saying that the other party cannot be held accountable you have to be responsible for your actions. I can hear outrage coming my way. What I’m trying to say is if we get drunk, we do really stupid things – so maybe don’t get drunk and if you are drunk say no!
The point is that 99.9% of us never ask and never give actual verbal consent.
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.
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.