I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately. What it is, what it isn’t, and how little we seem to value it as a society.
This, of course, plays out most clearly, and disturbingly, in the sexual realm. But it has implications that go far beyond that. And today, I’d like to talk about the ways in which consent commonly gets railroaded in relationships.
I’ll give you an example.
A meets B. A is looking for commitment [i.e. a long-term, committed, more or less monogamous relationship]. A does not explicitly ask B what B wants, and therefore doesn’t really know, but gets the feeling that B is resistant to the idea of commitment. Whenever A brings it up, B goes kind of quiet and strange and changes the subject as quickly as possible. However, A believes that over time B will grow attached to A, and will eventually want to commit. Little by little, A pressures B into accepting agreements, often under dubious circumstances, and gets angry and even violent if B breaks those reluctantly-agreed-to agreements. In fact, A gets upset whenever B displays any sort of resistance to the kind of commitment A wants. A doesn’t see this as in any way manipulative or underhanded. In fact, A believes that it is A’s cross to bear to make commitment happen and that if it weren’t for these kinds of tactics, nobody would ever commit to anybody else.
Now, re-read that entire paragraph, but substitute “sex” for “commitment.” Sound kinda rapey? That’s because it is. But because it’s a relationship, the idea of “consent” doesn’t seem to enter most folks’ thought processes.
I’d like to question that logic. I think the mutual respect on which the possibility of consensual intimacy is founded begins long before sex even enters the picture. In short, I think we need to rethink the importance of consent on a very basic level in all human interactions.
And to do that, we need a working definition of consent.
By the dictionary definition, consent is simply agreeing to the proposal of another. And this is exactly how it generally plays out in our culture: so long as a person ultimately acquiesces to your will, then congratulations, you have secured consent.
I would like to throw that definition out the window. The highest possible window we can find. Actually, that’s not really satisfying enough. Let’s set it on fire and throw it off the edge of the Grand fucking Canyon. Nope, still not enough. Let’s drop it from the cargo bay of a 747 at cruising altitude. Yeah. That’s better.
Alrighty, now that we’re rid of that nasty old thing, I would like to propose a new definition, one that reflects genuine empathy, mutuality, and alignment. This is a modified version of the definition put forth by my kickass friend Courtnee Fallon Rex in her ground-breaking blog post on rape culture, I Don’t Like Being Raped; Apparently That Makes Me a Weirdo:
IDEAL (Informed Direct Engaged Aligned Lucid) Consent is:
I am fully aware that I am being propositioned, and what it is I am being propositioned for. I am aware of any surrounding circumstances that pose a risk to me. I am free to ask questions and am given clear and honest answers.
I have communicated clearly and emphatically through my words and/or actions “I want this.”
I am interested in what we’re planning and I’m enrolled in that process as well as in the results. I am decisive; even if that means I have decided that I want you to decide what it is we do.
My words and actions match up, there is no contradiction between what I say I want and how I am behaving. Furthermore, this activity is aligned with my values as I understand them; my overall feelings about participating in this activity are positive.
Lucid means I am awake, I am conscious, and I have control of myself.
ALL of the above must be true in order for any cooperative activity – sexual or otherwise – to be consensual. Otherwise what you have is not an agreement. It is a nuclear bomb of resentment and trauma waiting to happen.
I strongly encourage you to look at every relationship in your life, every activity that requires agreement from someone else, and ask yourself: “Do I have IDEAL consent?”
If not, for your sake as well as for theirs, please make a change. Like, now.