Why Do People Hate the Concept of Enthusiastic Consent?

[TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains potentially triggering material related to sexual assault and consent.]

For the past several months, my academic research has been focused on sexual violence prevention and healthy sexual relationships. Yes, it’s a little depressing to read sky-high statistics and rape myths all day long, but I love what I do. Last month I attended a conference and presented on consent in healthy relationships to a bunch of mostly college-age feminists. A few days ago I did a class presentation on a similar topic, and next week I will be giving the same presentation for a research symposium. Based on the first two experiences, I’m not exactly looking forward to the next one. Why? Well, people seem to have a problem with that whole enthusiastic consent thing.

The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement. Many of you may be familiar with the book Yes Means Yes!, which popularized the idea. The concept also requires that consent be given to each piece of sexual activity, meaning that a yes to one thing (such as vaginal penetration) does not mean consent to another (like anal penetration). Basically, we’re saying, “Yes! I want this!” or, “No, I don’t think I want to do that,” and we’re asking “Is this ok?” To do these things is to be respectful of not only your own bodily autonomy, but also your partner’s. It’s just common courtesy, really. To give enthusiastic consent isn’t exactly to scream that you want it at the top of your lungs; it’s more that an unsure or hesitant yes is not enthusiastic consent, and needs to be considered. But still, I have faced opposition when talking about this.

My first experience with this sort of opposition was at the conference I mentioned above. I was giving a presentation to a rather small audience, which I was grateful for as it allowed for discussion. Most of the experiece was quite positive, and I got a lot of great feedback. And then we hit the enthusiastic consent barrier. Now, in a room full of feminists and feminist-allies, I was not expecting to get any argument on this. I was, to be honest, a little shocked, because I had not planned for debate on this topic. “But it kills the mood!” and “I think that’s unnecessary” comments filled the room. The thing is, I never said it was easy; I said it was necessary and important if we are going to move forward. I know I may get some disagreement on that, but I think it is very true. 93% of victims (and I say victims because I don’t know who survived and who didn’t) are assaulted by someone they know. This means that there is a clear consent issue in this culture, and enthusiastic consent is one way to help fix some of that problem. And yes, I realize that stopping the sexytimes to ask if something is OK isn’t exactly hot to most people. I get that. Make it hot. Make it sexy. you don’t have to stop, walk twenty paces, and ask for permission. Whisper it gently into your partner’s ear, seductively say, “Hey, I think XXX would be sexy. Want to try it?” If your partner is even hesitant, back off. You might need to talk it over.  Even after telling these things to my audience, I still got “Ugh, really?” looks and “Uh-huh…” type comments.

My next experience, giving a class presentation, fared slightly better. I was presenting to groups of three or four at a time, with a three minute time limit, so there wasn’t much space for discussion. But if I had a nickel for every raised eyebrow I saw, well, I still couldn’t buy much because there weren’t very many people in my class! Anyway, I definitely got Those Looks again. A couple of people laughed. One person made fun of the idea. Someone told me it wasn’t realsitic. And maybe I do live in my little corner of the Ideal Feminist Paradise, but I’d like to think it’s possible to do.

I know this concept is hard to grasp. I know it’s difficult and requires work on your own part and your partner’s. We don’t like the idea of halting sex. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll break the mood. Maybe we’re afraid our partner is going to think we’re weird for asking. Maybe we think, due to so many cultural and social factors, that we are entitled to something that we are not. Maybe we put too much trust in our instincts. However, I say that it is better to err on the side of caution. I personally would rather break the mood and have to try again later than do something my partner was not fully comfortable with, but didn’t want to vocalize. So what do you think, Wise Ones of Persephone? I’m curious to hear from you. Was it just my demographic? Too young?  Too conservative? What are your views?

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

58 replies on “Why Do People Hate the Concept of Enthusiastic Consent?”

A few things came to my mind upon reading this…

1) I thought of the website “make love, not porn” which strives to point out that not all sexual acts are enjoyed by all people and that sexual partners need to be open to hearing dissent.

2) I was sexually abused as a kid, so when I dealt with all that in college and after, one of the aspects I focused on was healing my sexual identity and developing a healthy attitude towards sex. Something one of my counselors discussed with me was how she knew a couple that had to go moment by moment during their sexual encounters with him constantly asking her if she was ok because he didn’t want to trigger her memories of past sexual abuse.That was something that stuck with me. If there isn’t an ongoing consent, there is some form of abuse or oppression going on.

Wow, the comments here are fascinating. Based on what you wrote, my gut reaction was that your audience was probably too young. I think that before a certain point in your life, you still think sex should be like what you see in a movie (regular romantic movies, not porn) where two people are overcome by passion and fall into bed and have the most amazing night of their lives and everything is just naturally perfect. Enthusiastic consent doesn’t fit into that scenario. It wasn’t until I was older and more realistic that I got comfortable talking about what we were doing while we were doing it. Mr.B and I got our boundaries about what would always be acceptable set pretty quickly. Neither of us has ever had a problem saying “I want to _____” and the mood has never been killed if the other person says “No, don’t go there.”

But that’s just my two cents. Everyone else has made many more eloquent points than mine.

That’s interesting. I was wondering if it weren’t the opposite. I think at my age, I feel a little like, “Well, I’ve been having sex for a long time and it’s been going great.” The fact that it’s fine for me doesn’t mean enthusiastic consent isn’t a better way to do things overall, though.

And I think someone saying what they would like to do next could be super hot. I would prefer it articulated in a dirty way, I think.

I definitely agree with Silverwane about mass media not portraying enthusiastic consent enough.  It’s usually just assumed that the characters want it, so they don’t really go into the yes and no aspects of it. Funny (or not at all) that our sexualized society uses almost no effort to teach something as fundamental to pleasure as feeling safe and listened to.

I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself if I wasn’t sure that a partner was okay with everything that was going on. And personally, it would be a lot sexier to me to have a mutual understanding of boundaries and respect.

Because @silverwane is 100% right TW for this post, and for the entirety of the blog in question. I’m sorry.

I refer to this lady all the time on these types of issues. Because she has fucking got it. The post I’ve linked does a beautiful job breaking down how we interact socially, and how it differs in sexual vs non-sexual contexts, and why that is fucked up. The party “scenario” – it’s a little ways down. (But you should read the whole post. Ok, you should read the whole blog. Anyway!)

Since “Yes means yes” has been mentioned here, I’d like to recommend a post I read there a while back. It dealt with research into yes/no language, and how it’s understood. Basically, it’s not that people don’t understand what “no” means, it’s not that people don’t understand that certain “yes”s are uttered out of social pressure and not genuine – it’s that this is deliberately disregarded in, ah, certain contexts.

Her whole blog is one big “TW!!! Be VERY careful!” She can’t possibly put it on every post, so I should have included that. Which, honestly, is a pretty good lesson itself in “you need to think about what you’re doing, and how it affects others, instead of just presuming.” This post/comments has made me want to smack my head against the wall, and she says it so much better than me.

Just from reading the piece and comments, I’d guess that resistance to the idea comes from two places. First, that for happy consenting people with happy consenting partners, this is a non-issue for them personally. They’re probably already practicing their own version of enthusiastic consent (verbal or no) and they don’t see why they need to be taught how to have sex ‘better’. Second, that for people who don’t or haven’t had sexual relationships like this, they feel judged: am I a rapist now?

I’m not saying I agree but it might be worth exploring with other groups if you discuss the issue again.

Yes, this! I don’t see enthusiastic consent as saying you have to get permission for every little thing every single time, but rather its main goal is to create a cultural environment in which boundaries are laid out, consent is respected, and people are allowed to say no and still feel comfortable.

With the BF and I, with the way our boundaries are established, the majority of our communication is non-verbal, but there are some things that we always verbally ask about. But we’ve had time to appreciate where each other’s boundaries are and what we want out of that. In my personal opinion, I see most of the application of enthusiastic consent in how you should approach relations with a new sexual partner, or when you are wanting to try something new.

I have a lot of FEELINGS about this so apologies if this gets wordy.

It would be easy to answer the question “Why do men hate the concept of enthusiastic consent?” You’re asking is why an entire room of women who were self-identified feminists, who perhaps do feminist work professionally, would be put off by such a seemingly simple model of consent. Why are those people reluctant to use that framework for their sexual experiences?

They say it’s unnecessary, and maybe with a long-term partner that’s true. Your long-term partner should ideally be able to read physical cues (which are just as important as verbal ones: a spoken “yes” coupled with legs clamped firmly together should be read as a “no”) and respond to them appropriately. More importantly they say that it’s not sexy, and I trust them to understand their own sexual preferences and make choices based on it. Nobody wants to have unsexy sex.

But it’s worth examining why it’s considered not sexy and why the thought of engaging in enthusiastic consent makes people uncomfortable, even people who think very hard about issues of consent. It might just be that they think of always saying “do you like this? how about this? do you want me to do this?” as being essentially the same as ridiculous pornified dirty talk, in the vein of “you like that don’t you?” etc etc.

There’s also this piece by thefatalfeminist:

Boys are taught to drive forward to see how far their partners will allow them to reach sexually, preoccupying themselves with wondering what comes next rather than enjoying the moment, essentially displacing the excitement of intimacy with the excitement of competition, until finally, in order for a man to be aroused, a woman must be objectified. … And living in a patriarchy, women undergo a similar transformation, in which they cannot achieve arousal unless they are in turn objectified. I strongly suspect this is why both men and women, during discussions about consent, express the sentiment that asking permission is a turn-off: it forces them to switch gears, because they have separated sex from love. An increasingly poignant thought is that this is correspondingly responsible for couples who have been together for a long time losing sexual interest in one another: they have known each other too intimately and too well (humanly) to achieve arousal in the objectifying fashion by which they have been conditioned.

Basically, enthusiastic consent isn’t sexy because it is antithetical to objectification, which is fundamentally sexy. That is much more troubling.

Alternately, they might view the enthusiastic consent model as laborious. People don’t want to work hard at everything. It is tiring to be a member of an oppressed group. You do not always have the reserves to fight conditioning at every single moment. You might want sex to be fun, not work. Enthusiastic consent means that you have to be hyper aware of yourself at all times, but with no clear model of what you should be aiming for. If your partner is doing A, which you like, but you like B more, do you say no or yes to A? Is it fluid or discrete? And on and on.

A final possibility is that it is unappealing to them because they are afraid what they might learn when they try to implement it. It is not as though you go through life being oppressed in all facets of society and then all of a sudden when you’re having sex you are a totally equal powerful partner. Most people have sex in the context of a severe power dynamic, and women tend to be in the weaker role. Yes means yes in context. radtransfem suggests a non-binary model of consent where yes should be taken to mean:

I choose to say “yes”, understanding the consequences of saying “no”.

I would say the best thing to do is to ask these people. Why do you think this is unnecessary? Why do you find it unsexy? What do you think is necessary? What do you think is sexy? Do you understand what the goals of this model are, and do you agree with those goals? etc.

I also want to add that I know this is super heteronormative/cisnormative. This is partially because I imagine that the women you are talking about are largely heterosexual cis women, but it is also because kyriarchy bleeds into everything: lesbian women receive the same messages as straight ones about the sexual role of women, etc.

It’s not silly at all! Kyriarchy refers to the web of overarching, intersecting oppressions. Its main purpose is to address the issue of how different sorts of oppressions interact, combine, and feed off of one another.

It’s meant to express the fact that, as an overweight white woman, I face systems of fat oppression and sexism, but I am privileged with regards to race. It also serves to express that we can’t express fat oppression plus sexism as being “doubly oppressed,” but rather it acknowledges that while my 300+ lbs boyfriend faces fat oppression as well, I face it in different ways since I am biologically female.

I hopped aboard the enthusiastic consent train a year or so ago, after I was lucky enough to see Jaclyn Frieman talk at my university. I’m also currently in hte middle of the Yes Means Yes anthology, and I consider myself a sex positive feminist. And I have always understood the enthusiastic consent issue to not just be about verbal consent. Let me explain what I mean by that. I mean, that in a sexy situation with someone both participants are paying attention to the other’s reactions, looking for moans and smiles and pressing deeper into the touch/hand/penis, and that is enthusiastic consent (versus limp, dead-eyed, wincing, apathetic passiveness). IE the focus should be on whether or not one’s partner is enthusiastic and actively participating. But I don’t really look at it as a way to combat Rape per se but more to combat the kind of unintended assualt that happens out of ignorance, miscommunication, out of people unwilling to say no but in every part of their mind not having a good time. Does that make sense? I know when we start talking about non-verbal consent we can end up in scary gray areas, but I guess I’m just trying to distinguish between sorta-along-for-the-ride, lying back and thinking of england VS limbs flailing, loud happy noises, and communication back and forth.

The whole “yes means yes” thing rubs people the wrong way because it comes off like a badly bluffed process of intercourse invented by someone who’s never actually had sex.  It paints every well-intentioned guy who eases from first base to second as a borderline criminal if he doesn’t ask for permission.

I agree with lostinalunchbox.  If you ever really need to say no, saying no probably isn’t going to work.  I think there comes a point with a lot of maxims that want to be liberal when you have to admit they’ve failed and moved on.  When a lot of educated, enlightened feminists oppose a supposedly feminist concept, you might have to accept that it’s not actually a feminist concept.  I’m sure there’s use for it somewhere, but it doesn’t have much to do with feminism as a movement.

 When a lot of educated, enlightened feminists oppose a supposedly feminist concept, you might have to accept that it’s not actually a feminist concept.  I’m sure there’s use for it somewhere, but it doesn’t have much to do with feminism as a movement.

I’m going to have to object with this statement from the basis that the feminist movement has had issues with things such as whitewashing, trans* acceptance, and other such things. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people in the feminist movement who don’t treat these issues well, mostly people who are seeing through their own Privilege Blinders. This creates problems for many POC and/or trans* individuals who wish to take part in the feminist movement, because the movement ends up failing to address their lives, their needs, their problems.

Your argument for it not being a feminist concept seems to hinge on the idea that it has failed to appeal to the feminist movement as a whole, but why does the majority need to have wholeheartedly embraced it for it to be a good, feminist idea? What if the reluctance for the majority to accept it is because of the very structures of kyriarchy that we’ve grown up with?

Perhaps you’re right in that there are better constructions, but I think there is reason to question the idea that enthusiastic consent is somehow a failed concept.

The question of whether it’s a feminist concept comes in because the author mentions that her feminist audiences don’t seem to be on board with the idea.

As for the other examples you give, I think there’s a huge blind spot in general activism that exists because people are afraid to admit that some positive movements diametrically oppose other positive movements.  (This is OKAY.  People are allowed to have different goals.)  The trans movement is essentialist (ie “born this way” and/or “my brain always knew what gender it wanted me to be”) whereas feminism is generally anti-essentialist (“gender is taught, not innate”).  The conflict there is very second-wave, but the contemporary push to just be nice to each other without thinking critically means that the conversation isn’t happening at all.  Broad multiculturalism as a whole tends to throw women’s rights under the bus (“It’s their culture and we shouldn’t question or oppose it lest we be disrespectful”). Certain subsets of the gay rights movement are awash in white male privilege.  You can be supportive of everyone’s efforts to get what they want without fully being on board with every cause.  At some point you have to decide what’s important to YOU.  I’m not so invested in being nice to everyone that I’d go out on a limb for movements that oppose my own ideology or that aim to take rights away from me.

Enthusiastic consent is an issue, but I just don’t think it’s a feminist one.  Unless we’re somehow equating enthusiastic consent to rape prevention, which is dicey.  You can have consensual sex without enthusiastically consenting, and rapists don’t give a shit about consent.  I think the real problem with enthusiastic consent is that you’re basically trying to change the way people have sex after they’ve already started having sex.  They know what they like.  They don’t want some guest speaker coming into their classrooms and telling them that the way they’re having sex isn’t good enough or that they’re somehow bad feminists for doing what they want in the bedroom.  Politicizing what respectful, generally consenting adults do in private is a waste of time.

I think I understand the point you’re trying to make, but the examples you give in your second paragraph really do bother me. Let me assure you, while the radical/second-wave discussion of trans issues fucks up on a regular basis and is deservedly infamous for this, it’s not as though no effort is being made and the matter has simply been dumped on the third-wave/”fun-fem” crowd or something. And the cultural moral relativism problem is one that has already been resolved by anyone who’s spent more than five minutes thinking about it: if the standard is that I must respect the beliefs and values of others, that standard applies to them as well. As in… my sense of superiority doesn’t allow me to attack your reasons for your cultural practices, and your cultural practices do not allow you to attack others.

I cannot understand why you reject enthusiastic consent as a feminist issue. The point is largely to break down gendered assumptions about who plays what role in a sexual encounter, so that enjoyment can be had b both parties rather than just one.

I too am going to have to object. @silverwane said much of what I wanted to.

In addition to her comments, though, I feel like there’s a serious oversimplification here. ” If you ever really need to say no, saying no probably isn’t going to work.” Well, exactly. That’s sort of the point, that this is an insufficient standard we’ve been working with for a long time. You should not, in a healthy encounter, have to tell our partner “no” – the should care about whether you’re having a good time. This isn’t the type of campaign that’s likely to stop a determined rapist, no. This is the type of campaign that is meant to highlight the cultural assumptions that we bring into the bedroom. It is meant to make a person who has been told that their role is as the aggressor stop and ascertain if that role is something that is going to make their partner feel good, or if it is going to make them feel uncomfortable (at best…). It is meant to make the person playing a more passive role stop and think whether following the dominant cultural model of sexual encounters makes them feel good, to illustrate that it’s not only ok to expect this, but good.

And you know, this is an approach that has worked for many of us during actual sexy times. It is NOT merely the fevered imaginings of “someone who’s never actually had sex,” thank you very much. (This statement in particular is seriously rubbing me the wrong way. Oof.)

Thank you for that last bit. I didn’t really start enjoying physical intimacy until I had a partner that asked permission to touch me. I am really ungood at being vulnerable, and relaxing when someone is touching me. It was a big important thing for me to find a partner who wouldn’t treat me like I was some freak wound tighter than a ten day clock, and just ask before he did something. I always get really uncomfortable when people imply that this is a strange way to have sex, or that it is super awkward, or whatever. It’s the only way I have any fun, and I feel sort of tacitly judged for needing that level of control by those sorts of comments.

You are NOT having sex in a strange way. You are having sex in a way that is pleasurable for you – and for that to come in for a bunch of negative judgment is fucking ugly. Controlling and disrespectful and ugly.

One of the benefits to a long-term partner is establishing what specific acts you are comfortable with and enjoy, and also what things you need to double-check on each time vs what is acceptable as a physical as opposed to verbal initiation of sexual activity. Is a kiss without verbally asking first ok? If so, where? When making out, is it ok to slip a hand inside an article of clothing without asking, or should that be checked each time? I feel like critiques of enthusiastic consent dismiss this; a partner with whom you are familiar learns many of the things with which you are comfortable, and the specific acts or circumstances that require an explicit verbal inquiry. It ain’t rocket science; it’s just picking up on and respecting your partner’s preferences.

oof. Yeah. I had kind of a hard time writing that, because of how many times I’ve been told to relax and go with the flow. “If you don’t like something they do, just say so.” I don’t relax that way. I have a really hard time vocalizing that I want someone to stop once they have started something, particularly if they seem to enjoy it. I relax when I understand what’s going to happen beforehand and feel safe that it’s within my boundaries. I don’t get to that state without talking to my partner.

And a longer relationship does cut down on some of the chatter. I’ve been with my boyfriend for years now and it’s not like has to ask for every kiss and I don’t ask to hold his hand. Over time he and I have learned where the major comfort barriers are. And luckily we both kind of get off on each other’s voices, so it’s not like a verbal feedback loop during sex is a problem for either of us.

I do think some people envision this situation as being like adding an awkward pause into the sexy times, when usually for us it is happening concurrent to sexy times. It’s not like we put in some formal request to do XXX signed and in triplicate. We just talk about what we want to do before we do it. Also, ProTip: “Do you want me to?” and “Would you like it if?” are both sexier questions than “Can I?” And if one of us counters with no, I don’t want to do that, we’ve learned how to not let that interrupt the flow of what we do have going on.

I disagree that no one ever has to say “no” in healthy sex. I think it’s OK if, for instance, I start to do something and my partner tells me he’s not into that, or he’s not in the mood for that tonight. Does that make me against the “enthusiastic consent” concept? I don’t know. I think even if you tried to ask permission for every move you made, sometimes “no” might wind up being necessary (i.e. “no, not that hard!” or whatever.)

That’s fair. I was thinking in more general rather than personal terms and I think the point you’re making got lost. I’m sorry. The only thing that I would point out is that it’s easier to say “no” in a situation where you already know it will be respected. Unfortunately, I think there are many circumstances where that “no” is not articulated because the person who wishes to say it fears (often for good reason) that it would just be ignored. In which case there’s a serious risk of physical escalation, and an almost 100% risk that you will feel violated.

I think that sometimes the word “no” isn’t said because then, the person would have to deal with the fact that it was rape.

Yes, definitely! I’m also very much on board with this bit:

And you know, this is an approach that has worked for many of us during actual sexy times. It is NOT merely the fevered imaginings of “someone who’s never actually had sex,” thank you very much. (This statement in particular is seriously rubbing me the wrong way. Oof.)

Not everyone does it this way, but with the BF and I, one of us always asks the other before any penetrative sex is had, whether it’s me asking him or him asking me. We’ve combined it with the putting on the condom bit.  We also often ask the other if there is a particular thing they want to do that time. I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

 I think there comes a point with a lot of maxims that want to be liberal when you have to admit they’ve failed and moved on.

To be honest, I doubt we’ve even really tried it yet. The book was only published in 2008, it’s hardly like a generation of feminists and allies have grown up with it, tested it out, and found it lacking.

We also have to look at the context: in most of our cultures, justice for victims and survivors of rape is sadly lacking and even when cases do come to court, they often rest on presumed, rather than explicit, consent. Yes, I don’t think this kind of education will deter the predatory rapist or abuser, but it may help make it more clear who they are: both because they didn’t ask for a yes, and they didn’t stop at no.

So, ok, a little ancedata. My boyfriend is usually really good about asking me about what I like, and I do my best to return the favor. But there was one time he did something without asking me. Something he thought was small and no big deal.  He took my glasses off while we were making out.

It freaked me right the fuck out.

I really do not like people pulling my glasses off my face. My vision isn’t terrible without them, but I feel more vunerable. And while I can appreciate that they can get in the way, I didn’t like the feeling of having my vision impaired without warning or permission. Needless to say this killed the mood waaaaay more than him asking me, ‘Can I take your glasses off,” ever would have. And this was really minor. This was just kissing and blurry vision. I don’t want to imagine what this sort of thing would have felt like on a bigger scale.

“93% of victims (and I say victims because I don’t know who survived and who didn’t) are assaulted by someone they know. This means that there is a clear consent issue in this culture, and enthusiastic consent is one way to help fix some of that problem.”

Equating the consent issue with people who know their attacker assumes that no one is ever violently assaulted by someone they know.    I know there is overlap, and that SOME of the people who “knew their attacker” maybe would have not been assaulted if they had been asked for explicit consent.  But lots of the people who “know their attacker” are enthusiasticaly objecting (unconsenting?) and getting raped anyway.   I think to get people to buy into the idea of the value of enthusiastic consent you need to draw clearer lines about what it can really prevent.  Of course assault lies on a continuum, and rape is at its core a ‘consent issue” . But people will scoff at the idea that pushing explicit consent can help prevent rape as long as it seems you are suggesting that it could do anything for those people who are saying no, stop, don’t and are not being listened to.    I don’t know if you pitch it to these classes/workshops as rape prevention, “date-rape prevention”, healthy relationships or what.  But I know that if I were there, and I thought you were suggesting this was actually a powerful tool to “stop rape and assault” in a broad sense, I’d be raising my eyebrows and tuning out, too.

It’s not going to stop a determined rapist, no. But check out what some of the specific objections she heard were. I don’t get the feeling their objections were coming from that perspective, either. I think the focus is more on building health sexual encounters between those who actually give a damn. And in a way, I think that can help break down the attitudes that make it so easy for rape to persist in these aquaintance/date-rape scenarios. It’s presumed all to often that if she was voluntarily hanging out with this dude, well… and it’s presumed that if he’s part of the social group and well-liked and nobody’s ever seen him do something truly EVIL, well, he could not possibly have violated a woman’s boundaries… etc.

It’s only part of breaking down these attitudes, yes. Definitely not all of it. But I do think working to set a standard that is widely accepted, where we aren’t operating under an aggressor/person-who-merely-consents paradigm is good. Like, “folks: this is the bare minimum of human decency.”

This was a bit of a strange concept to me until I got involved in the kink community. Then it became just a matter of course. Everyone had very clearly defined boundaries that they went over in detail before starting a scene. Or they might have had ill-definied boundaries, but they made that clear, too (e.g., I’m interested in x activity, but I haven’t done it before so we should proceed with caution). And I even met a few dominants who had checklists that the would ask new partners to fill out. Some of these got pretty detailed, down to things like: spanking over clothes with hand, spanking naked with hand, spanking over clothes with paddle, spanking naked with paddle, etc.

I think a checklist is a nice place to start because it gets a conversation going before any clothes come off and builds up trust. Working out all the details before hand meant that in the moment you didn’t have to worry about breaking the mood or not getting consent. I always had an idea of what to expect, but there was definitely still enough room for surprise and sexiness.

Having these conversations always resulted in a lot more trust and intimacy than previous sexual encounters where it was just two bodies smushing together. Even if I had recently met someone, there always seemed to be more than a physical connection. I think it can be hard to start, but once you get in the habit, the feeling of really being heard and listening to your partner in turn enhances the whole experience. The main hurdle to get over is just talking about sex and what you do or don’t like.

Mr. Donovan and I have been having sex for so long now (not continuously–I’m not typing this while I’m making love, haha) that I can’t remember how much we talked about things at the beginning. I know we felt comfortable saying “stop that” or moving the other person’s hand away, etc. If one of us feels like trying something different now (we usually don’t, to be honest), we talk about it, definitely.

Consent is a really important part of the sex scenes in my romance writing, though. In the one that’s coming out in October, I have a sex-in-the-shower scene. At one point, he touches her intimately and she kind of squirms away. He asks if she really doesn’t want him to touch her there, and she says actually she does, but her senses got overwhelmed for a moment. In another scene, she tells him not to do something (she says point-blank “I don’t like that.”) I think feeling like it’s OK to say no doesn’t quite reach the ideal of enthusiastic consent as you’ve described it, but I don’t think all women even feel like it’s OK to be vocal about their preferences and boundaries. I always want my characters to be good models for good communication, and I think/hope my sex scenes are still hot.

“Why do people hate the concept of enthusiastic consent?”

Your last paragraph seems like the hypothesis proffered is that we’re all worried about potential awkwardness in future sexual situations – but I really think it’s the exact opposite of that.

We live in a rape culture. “This means that there is a clear consent issue in this culture, and enthusiastic consent is one way to help fix some of that problem.” It’s one way to do this, yes; but the whole reason it’s necessary to this is that in a million tin ways every day we learn the script for non-platonic interactions between the sexes* is “the man is the pursuer; the lady demurs.” We breath it in with the air. We grow up accepting it. Most of us start to question it, and break it down, and hopefully reject it at some point, yes. But here’s the thing: most of us don’t start doing so prior to the age at which we have our first sexual encounter. Which means accepting enthusiastic consent as the standard requires us to look at our own past experiences and ask “Wait – did I really give consent there?” If not, what does that say about you? Your partner? What if your current partner has stories in their past that don’t follow this model? This, I suspect, is the reason for the hostility.

(*: I’m fully aware that many of these issues are present for same-sex couples as well. My comment sounds much more heteronormative than I would like both because that’s the only perspective from which I personally can speak, and also because in talking about broad “cultural” attitudes, it seems like whatever is most common tends to set the tone. It’s flawed, but hopefully others are better equipped to bring more nuance.)

Part of my “issue” with “yes means yes” is the discomfort (for me at least) of what it means to not say yes. I can recall maybe two occasions where conversation with Mr. Juniper has, during sex, been explicitly about consent. So the “yes means yes” idea feels as though it’s almost undermining what has always been consentual sex. That by not having been vocally explicit with each other, that our consent is “not as good” as “yes means yes”. I’m really not sure if that makes sense.

On another side of it, the way you’ve spoken about “yes means yes” has made me think of condoms, in that, they’re not particularly sexy but if people can take a moment to put on a condom, then is it all that different to taking a moment for “yes means yes”.

Okay, I’ve really rambled and I’ve no idea if what I’ve said makes sense but in short, this has – truly – been the best article I’ve read on “yes means yes” and it’s something I now feel more comfortable with.

“…undermining what has always been consensual sex.”

This, yes. You mention vocalizing consent, which I don’t think is always/necessarily what’s required, but they “gray area” from there is vast, and more than a little scary.

I would broadly look at the “yes means yes” concept as something that is inherently more fluid and wider-reaching in a long-term relationship. If you’re temporarily hooking up with someone, verbal consent and ongoing communication gives you both information that you have no possible way of knowing in advance. By contrast, when you’ve been intimate with someone for a long time you have the opportunity to draw upon certain long-standing preferences, agreements and physical ways of expressing enjoyment or lack of enjoyment.

Drawing upon past history isn’t completely foolproof, of course, because we want different things at different times. That said, if you’re working under a “yes means yes” agreement then I would think that both partners would be cognizant of when the other isn’t looking like they’re really into things. In a long-term relationship there are a lot of factors that might tip a person off.

It’s my sense that if two people are serious and thoughtful enough to sit down and have some kind of consent-and-enjoyment conversation, then a “yes means yes” concept could be discussed and applied going forward. People who are having those conversations and trying their best to be thoughtful and watchful sex partners are probably enacting “yes means yes” every time they jump into bed, and are not necessarily the target audience for this kind of discussion.

I never heard of Enthusiastic Consent as a proper term, to be very honest. Boyfriend freckle and I talk during sex, along the lines of ‘Do you feel like [..]’ and luckily I have never experienced otherwise.

The thing with a subject like this’s not like you call in your partner for some coffee and “Oh, let’s play the consent game!” but else you can run the risk of crossing someone’s boundaries. I think if I would ask around in my age group, the reply would be along the lines of ‘But you know each other/what the other likes, right?’ So maybe people need to reach a certain level in their relationship were Enthusiastic Consent is a natural (unmentioned) part of it?

[Content note: discussion of rape culture, sexual assault, rape, victim blaming]

I know when the topic comes up, the discussion ends up derailed a lot by the idea of non-verbal consent. Especially when we talk about ideas such as, if you don’t get enthusiastic consent, how can you be SURE that your partner(s) are okay with what you’re doing?

Part of the insistence might be a defensive one. People don’t like the implication that they might not know if a previous sexual partner they had been with wanted the interaction. So, rather than fixing the behavior, they try to defend their actions, because they know they couldn’t have raped anybody!

Of course, rape culture depends on this sort of thing. (ex. “I know she wanted it! So she must be lying now when she says she didn’t!”) It largely depends on allowing people to rape without actually thinking of themselves as raping.

I wonder if part of the issue is, we don’t see this being done in basically anything. Not movies, not TV shows, not porn, nothing. No one ever seems to talk about what they want to do and whether or not their partner is up for it. They just…do it. And if it IS talked about, it’s rarely in terms of equal power dynamics. So, I think in people’s minds, they see this as some big interruption in the mythical process of smushing together until sex happens.

This just makes me think that there should just be some big video demonstration about the process, as well as showing people ways to do it that would be totally sexy.

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