Consent 201

It’s great that vanilla America is finally discovering the idea of consent. Not our judges or politicians apparently, but a large number of non-kinkly folks are starting to think about sex and consent in a way they never have.

Articles in widely read papers about the idea of consent and things like Tea and Consent going viral actually speaks volumes about the cultural shifting that is taking place. Less than two years ago I was submitting articles about consent to publications like the Good Men Project and Cosmo and being rejected because talking about negotiating consent was considered to “extreme” and “too sexual” for readers while their tips on how to finger bang your male partner were apparently “mild.”

Like any topic a large number of folks are new to, the discussion follows a format:

  1. introduction of an idea

  2. limited understanding leads to a repetition of key points without deeper conversation

  3. going overboard on restrictions and application of the idea

  4. loss of interest.

Shaky Footing

Look, I am all for consent becoming the basis of American sexual culture. However, the current state is a extreme. For example:

Consent polices have been introduced at a large number of colleges. This is great because campus rape is a huge problem. According to RAAIN women in college are three times as likely to be assaulted as other groups of women and men in college are 78 percent more likely to experience sexual assault than men 18-24 not in college. That is horrifying. Clearly something needs to be done.

Many colleges have adopted the idea of “affirmative consent,” or “yes-means-yes.” This is a step forward from “no-means-no” but the interpretation of this idea is wide-ranging and sometimes unwieldy.

There are a number of college campuses in my area (northern CA) which require that both participants in a sexual encounter (they never address more than two folks having sex at once) verbally affirm their desire to progress from one sexual activity to the next every time they engage in sex. These policies do not address issues that come up in real life situations such as implied consent, discussing sex days or weeks prior to engaging in it, or having sex while intoxicated with an established partner.

The failure to address these issues is a failure to look at sex and how it really happens. Sticking to the letter of these policies, two married graduate students living in student family housing would be in violation of campus consent policies if they shared a few drinks and then had sex without agreeing to all sexual activities as they progressed. First, both students would violate the policy because they were drunk and not able to give a sober, informed consent. Secondly, there is no part of the policy which acknowledges a married couple may have standing consent agreements.

This is not to say married people can’t rape or assault each other. Clearly that happens. However, most of us in long-standing relationships actually don’t follow the clear “yes-means-yes” consent policies every time we have sex. The failure to follow these consent rules does not mean we are assaulting each other. Rather, it draws attention to talk about the more complex nature of consent.

Implied Consent

The reality is, for most of us, consent is more complicated than, “you can kiss me now,” later followed by, “you can have oral sex with me now,” and so on. In new relationships and with new sexual activities partners need to establish consent. I would never advocate surprising a partner with something up the butt if you both had not talked about it and established consent prior to trying this. But in long term relationships and in established power exchange relationships, implied consent becomes a thing.

Implied Consent

Implied consent is actually a major concept in many power exchange relationships. Whether you are Master/slave, Dom(me)/sub, Top/bottom, DD/lg or another permutation of a power exchange relationship, most likely you have talked about limits- hard and soft. More likely, you agreed to large categories of activities but not each specific action within a category.

Let’s take impact play as an example. I negotiate with my long term dominant that I am good with impact play. I like them know I like canes, paddles are okay, and whips are something I am not horribly fond of. The dominant is good with this and we move on to other topics.

We play together for several months and then the dominant decides to surprise me with a new toy- a chain flogger. We ag