Consent. We intuitively think it should be simple – ‘yes or no?’ – but the Me Too movement and the maelstrom of Hollywood abuse scandals show us just how naive that idea is.
So we need to talk about it. This episode we explore what consent is, how it works, and when it all gets confusing, strange, and scary.
This is a very challenging subject to get into, because many people have had profoundly hurtful, damaging and confusing experiences directly related to issues of sexual consent (or lack thereof). So, we’d like to emphasise this is a conversation – we don’t think we’re ‘right’, but we’d like to share our thoughts, concerns and experiences in good faith, and hope you’ll join the conversation to share your own perspectives over on our Facebook Discussion Group.
By having more conversations about consent, we can try to understand it better – not least because so many of the problems that come up are a result of a breakdown in communication.
First off, while there’s many well-intention campaigns in full swing today trying to fight back against forceful sexual behaviour, in some quarters the pendulum has swung too far. Some people are effectively trying to make the world better by making ‘sure’ that sex is so carefully socially controlled that no one can ever end up in an ambiguous situation that could turn nasty.
But sexuality and sexual behaviour are ambiguous – we’re exploring what we do (and might) want; we’re trying to understand if someone else wants to have an experience with us, and we are going to make mistakes along the way.
And we’re all different. One person’s sexual heaven is another’s idea of absolute hell, and we need to remember that when we start trying to make too many rules and absolutes. Again, communication is fundamental.
‘Just say no’ isn’t very good advice, however, because it doesn’t give us a sense of just how difficult it is to do. Not simply out of fear, but because when someone is trying to force themselves on you, it can feel so surreal (‘this can’t really be happening’) that you freeze and simply don’t have the ability to speak or even to make sense of the situation.
Jon shares some personal stories, including the time he was sexually assaulted in Moscow, and just how confusing that experience was for him. He also didn’t realise until quite recently that he’s still carrying the after-effects: he finds it very difficult to unleash his spontaneous sexual side without associating doing so with shame, danger, and fear.
Does intoxication make it impossible to consent? Many people think so, but how realistic or reasonable is it to think that a couple of drinks makes you incapable of knowing your own mind? More troublingly, it seems that men aren’t included in this reckoning: if a man and woman are both drunk, the man isn’t usually considered to have been incapable of consent.
What about when we do want something to happen, but we’ve been so loaded with cultural shame around wanting sex (especially casual, in the moment sex) that we won’t let ourselves experiment? Sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to say yes without getting caught up in internal stories about what sort of person you do or don’t want to be.
Sometimes we don’t even know if a situation is potentially sexual – how can we consent when we’re not sure if the sexual dynamic is just in our heads? Again, Jon’s got a personal story of an unexpected happy-ending massage which he still doesn’t know what to think or feel about.
We also dig into the issue of asymmetrical power relations, from Harvey Weinstein to Louis CK. This is not just about direct threats, but simply being in a position of authority over someone else means it’s incredibly difficult for them to say no for fear of the consequences.
To wrap things up, we’ve got some suggestions for ways to say no which are easier and less abrasive than ‘just say no’, but like we said at the top – we want to hear your feedback, thoughts and questions. This is an immensely complex subject, but one which it’s absolutely essential we talk about, together.
- White Knight Syndrome
- Language vs. intent
- Prostitute inductions
- Why fantasies shouldn’t always come true
Find Out More:
- Check out our conversation with Carsie Blanton about ‘being open’