Thoughts on Consent

Consent (as a Concept) is Necessary

The argument that consent is a necessary social human construct is brilliant because it is solid.  The argument is solid because it gives every human their humanity.  It gives every human agency.  It empowers every human.  If the boundary of consent is overstepped it inevitably leads to dehumanization, victimization, power imbalance, destruction of another, and stripping someone else of their agency and power.  It is clear in our collective conscience and sense of morality that these are BAD things to do.

As you can see, there is no room for wavering, or trying to decide whether or not this concept is necessary in the world.  There is no room for hypotheticals, especially when the hypothetical is formed in this way: “It’s rape unless (fill in rape myth here).”  Anyone who thinks that there is a hypothetical situation that can disprove the necessity of consent as a social construct for the human animal is either a rapist, a rape apologist or both.  The folks who believe the argument for the necessity of consent is disprovable are definitely entitled.

This brings me to another great thing about this model of consent: entitlement.  Within the model, the word entitled is used to describe people who, in order to reinforce their structural power over another person, feel the need, as if given the right by birth, to overstep – with immunity – the boundaries and consent of others. 

Another reason why consent as a concept is essential is because on an individual level, it makes taking care of yourself and loving yourself easier.  It helps you to decide what you really want.  It helps you to develop your identity.  It aids with forming and keeping healthy relationships with the people in your life, as well as cutting out toxic relationships (whenever safely possible).  On a societal level, it means making sure other people feel safe.  It means respecting one another and having this model represent a set of guidelines we can refer to in order to avoid hurting other people.

What is Consent? 

Consent is a “yes” to any solicited act (including sexual acts and nonsexual acts such as personal favors) which is:

1. enthusiastic.

2. continuous.

3. freely-given, i.e. not coerced.

4. given by a conscious, sober* person.

5. in the case of sex, specifically, given by a person who fully understands sex and grasps the emotional, physical, psychological and social implications of having sex.  In more of a brusque tone, this is someone who is “old enough**” and “mature enough.**”

6. able to be revoked at any time, at any moment, at any millisecond.

7. limited to one act at a time, meaning consent must be given multiple times for acts that will occur simultaneously.

8. cognizant of the humanity of the person choosing to give it.

9. clearly expressed in oral, sign, or written language, and/or directly communicated to the person soliciting the act with no confusion.  Double and triple checking is a must, and this point also goes back to the fact that consent must be ongoing in order to be defined as such.

10. good for only one act, one time, up until the millisecond the consent is revoked, if it is revoked.

11. given or not given with absolutely NO reason/reasoning/justification/excuses required.

12. has absolutely nothing to do with the consent solicitor’s beliefs, pre-conceived notions, assumptions, assertions, or even “personal understanding” of who a person is, what they want, or what people want in general.

13. never owed, and never used to “pay someone back” whether for a favor or in terms of karma or revenge.

14. comes from the final decision and thoughtful willingness of the person giving it.

15. all or nothing, like the firing of a gun.  There is no gray, in-between area, Robin.

Some quick examples:

  • “Men want to have sex all the time!”  That would be dehumanization, #8, try again.
  • “She dresses provocatively; she must want comments.”  As it turns out, clothes are not speech, writing, nor are they communication of any sort.  There is nothing naturally or intrinsically understood about clothing or lack thereof.   Humans place secondary ideas ONTO clothing that were never there before.  So, #9, try again.
  • “Ze and I kissed for two hours, but then ze didn’t want to move on to other sexual acts.  The kiss is basically a yes to other things, right?  RIGHT?!”  Wrong.  Consent to one act is not consent to any other act.  It is also not consent to any future acts of the same kind.  To qualify as consent, it must also be communicated expressly in oral language, sign language, or any other direct means of communication.  Kissing does not inherently mean the word “yes” any more than it means the word “pumpkin.” #1, #2, #3, #6, #7, #9, #10
  • “My cousins promised they would lend me money.”  Turns out that consent was revoked, thus it was discontinued.  #2, #6.
  • “You always give me advice.  I don’t get why you can’t make time for me today.”  Even though, in this case, “you” have consented to multiple acts on different occasions of taking on a close friend’s burden, consoling them, giving them advice, or generally helping them out, you have the right to give consent every single, discrete time a task, behavior, resource, material, act, etc. is solicited from you, and any previous times when you gave consent are now null and void.  They are not “past predictors of the future.”
  • “Why don’t you want to come hang out with us?”  Let me stop you right there.  Don’t ask people that.  If they say no, that’s it.  They will tell you the reason if they so choose, because giving a reason or an excuse is another task that involves consent.  Take a look at #11.
  • “He says he’s asexual, but everyone wants sex at some point in their lives.  It’s only human.”  Way off.  Check #12.  Many people make incorrect assumptions about how asexuality and sexuality work, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this person’s consent.  Understanding consent doesn’t require you to be an expert on anything.

*I define sober in the way that you can be as sober as you possibly can while still having drunk alcohol or having used substances if necessary.  This is a philosophical description of consent, and while I believe that it must be applied to daily life, I understand that sober does not have to mean that not a drop of alcohol is ingested.

**I repeat that this is a philosophical discussion of consent, meaning that there is some absolute, truthful possibility of “mature/old enough” that exists out there, but that age and maturity level is different for everyone.  I have to put “enough” in these phrases so that they ring true, and any person procuring consent for the acts they solicit needs to take this fact into deep consideration.  With that said, statutory rape laws as well as incest laws are, of course, invaluable.

Why put this out there now?

I want to put this out there, because I want everyone to have boundaries.  I completely understand that all the boundaries in the world won’t stop some entitled people from just relentlessly pushing them and overstepping them.  Nonetheless, when you can get a boundary to work for you, I want you to empower yourself to use it.

Also, never feel guilty about your consent choices.  Consent is a real, concrete, physical, tangible thing, and any time you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to do it.  Period.

Here, I will add that when it comes to habits in your daily life such as going to work, perhaps you are motivated to do something you don’t want to do.  Sometimes, even though you don’t actually want to, you feel like you should return a friend’s favor.  These are personal decisions.  These are internal struggles, but at the end of the day it is ultimately your choice.

I want to end by clarifying that, under no circumstances, do I want this meditation on consent to imply anything about false equality.  In general, it is the groups with structural power who are acting upon oppressed groups, and it is the oppressed groups who are reacting by giving or not giving consent.  Unfortunately, it is the oppressed groups of people who are inevitably getting their boundaries stepped on.  In other words, getting consent that is freely given and not coerced is part of making the people around you feel safe.  If you think it is too complicated or too much work, then you are denying the agency, the humanity, and the self-empowerment of the people of the oppressed groups in your life, and you ostensibly do not care about making other people feel safe and secure around you.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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