Consent is Sexy!
TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault, harassment, abuse, and sexual violence.
Before we can discuss ways consent and sexual violence are portrayed in media, we need to understand what these terms mean. In Canada, the legal system is based on the model of Affirmative Consent. In my opinion, this is the most robust model currently available and the one that offers the most protection for both partners, so it is the model we will use for our definition of consent.
Consent, in short, is a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Here, sexual activity covers everything from a kiss to touching to penetrative intercourse. Getting consent from your partner means that you have ensured that everyone wants what is happening to continue and that everyone is comfortable. This means frequently checking in with your partner, asking, ‘Do you like this?"… “Do you want me to?"... “Does this turn you on?” More than a legal standard, ensuring you have the consent of your partner is respectful, kind. Some people try to make consent out to be something awkward or that it might kill the mood. This could not be more false. If anything, it makes your partner feel safe and builds trust, and that is super sexy.
Often times, when we think about the idea of consent, we think of the phrase "no means no." This framework, however, risks repulsed or withdrawn body language, hesitation, or coercion as being construed as consent because the word "no" was not forcefully uttered. Affirmative consent flips this script accepting only an enthusiastic "yes" as consent. For first encounters, it is often advisable to have a verbal "yes" for every new activity. As you become more familiar with each other, body language such as active reciprocal participation can also function as an enthusiastic yes.
- Voluntary: A "yes" doesn't count unless "no" is also a safe and acceptable option.
- Ongoing: Every time the situation changes, you need to check that you have consent. For example, consent to kissing is not consent to touching.
- Informed: Consent can only be gained if both parties are making their choice based on all the information. For example, lying about your identity or method of contraception and protection would invalidate any yes because your partner agreed to something other than the reality of the situation.
- Enthusiastic: Sex is fun, and both partners should enjoy it! Under affirmative consent, a "Maybe," "I'm not sure," or "Maybe later," would all count as "No."
- Retractable: At any time, you and your partners are free to change their minds about continuing with sexual activity and can expect to have that change immediately respected by having the unwanted activity cease.
CONSENT IS NOT:
- Transferable: You cannot say yes on behalf of someone else, just as no one can speak for you. Only you have the right to decide where your comfort level is and how you want to be treated.
- An Abuse of Power: This includes relationships between a teacher and student, boss and employee, or an aid work and an aid recipient. By their nature, relationships, where there is a gross imbalance of power, cannot be consensual because there is the underlying threat that a "no" could lead to consequences, making "no" not a safe option.
- An Implied Yes: Doing nothing or not resisting does not mean consent to continue. Body language such a backing away, going stiff or being unresponsive all mean the partner is not into it and are therefore not consenting.
- Incapacitated: When you or your partner are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, asleep, or otherwise unconscious, you are not able to give consent. Any impairment to your judgement means that you would not be able to make an informed decision. Being unconscious means, you are unable to say or show an enthusiastic yes.
- Coerced: Coercion refers to the use of pressure, threats, or intimidation to force another person to submit to sexual activity. Coercive behaviours include guilting a partner, refusing to take no for an answer, or otherwise manipulating them into sexual activity. This includes language such as "If you loved me you would do this," repeated asking despite having previously been given a "No," suggesting they are "Owed," or that denial "Isn’t fair.”
When consent is not gained or is violated, the activity becomes sexual assault. Sexual Assault is an encompassing term used to refer to any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent. Sexual assault is a crime. It is an act of power and control that does reflect feelings of attraction or love, and it is never, ever the fault of the survivor. Sexual assault is frequently pre-meditated and, in a majority of cases, is committed by a relative or acquaintance of the survivor. I use the term "sexual assault" here rather than "rape," as it is crucial to understand that sexual assault does not have to involve forced penetration. It is simply an act of sexual contact without voluntary consent.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any gender. Therefore, it is not only sexy but mandatory that everyone seeks consent prior to initiating sexual contact. It's not difficult, but it is intentional, respectful, and, yes, super sexy.
Until next time: think critically, reflect, and keep reading!