||[Oct. 14th, 2011|01:23 am]
Consent is important to me. I have multiple people in my life who have been in situations that ended badly, even life changingly, over issues with consent. Like many things, I've put more thought into this subject in a few years than most people will in their whole life. Like many things on that list, talking about this in depth is a social taboo, despite not talking about it leading to very negative outcomes.
Consent means that you are willing to do something, and that you've conveyed your willingness to someone else through some form of communication. Coercion means you've influenced someone's decision making, in this context their giving of consent. Enthusiastic consent means you are eager to do something, and is as large a step above consent as consent is above lack of consent.
Consent comes in many flavors. "Yes" is obvious, but neither complete nor necessarily explicit. Consent can be a nod. It can be a request. It can be a novel, or a post-it. It can be conveyed in as many manners as you have ways to communicate any other idea. It comes in many degrees and flavors. It can be grudging. It can be enthusiastic. It can be coercive. It can be false. It can be broad. It can be narrow. The more you communicate, the better all of these can be distinguished. Just "yes" can be any of these, in different situations or even just with different inflections.
Coercion also covers a broad spectrum, on multiple different axes. It can be abusive, dangerous, illegal, exploitative, and generally bad. It can be thoughtful, unintentional, explicit, unspoken, strong, slight, or anywhere in between. It can be playful, enticing, seductive, and fun. Everyone draws these lines in different places, and it is important to be sure that wherever you and your partner draw these lines, you err on the side of caution. Conversely, when you're the third party looking in, you have to recognize that what is unacceptable to you may be accepted or even expected to two other people.
There are no bright solid lines between different levels of consent and lack thereof. There is a very wide gradient from the the absolute opposite of consent, wherein you have actively conveyed your unwillingness to do something, to the most enthusiastic consent, involving activities you want to participated in regardless of any additional considerations. Most people group the "bottom" of the scale, everything from active dissent up to the most obvious lack of consent, together as "bad". In the case of consent to sex, that would be rape. Where lack of consent turns into indifference, or indifference into grudging consent, and how coercion of various sorts affect those distinctions, are the largest and most important considerations on this topic. And all the way at the other end of the scale is the most wildly enthusiastic consent, most strongly evidenced when in the form of an unsolicited request. Again, even if you think there are strictly defined lines, you draw those lines in a different place than anyone else, and recognizing that is an important part of effectively communicating things related to this concept.
If any of that doesn't make sense, or you fundamentally disagree, then I'd like to talk to you about the matter. I think communication is key, even if we can't come to an agreement. Within the concepts outlined above, I'll describe how consent generally works with me in relationships that are or might be intimate. For the sake of the narrative, I'll address the following as if I am discussing a potential relationship with you.
When we discuss involvement or a relationship of any sort that approaches a need for consent, I will be very explicit about all of the things I am eager to do to you or have done to me. This makes me come across as very forward and blunt, which I agree with, and I've heard it described as creepy as well, which I regret. For reasons only partially related to consent I like to get at least some significant fraction of this sort of information sharing out of the way up front. I will frame this conversation in such a way as to hopefully gauge your level of general interest in a particular activity as well as ascertain both our immediate and likely eventual level of involvement on a particular matter. I want answers like "yes, do that to me" / "yes, I'll do that to you", or "ask about that later", or "no, never". I'm also interested in hearing "that's interesting, I don't know" or "I need more information about that".
When I ask if I can do something I will hope to make it obvious, either by context or explicitly, whether I am referring to an immediate act or to the future. When we have discussions of this nature, you will be awake, sober, cognizant, and attentive, as will I. If you say yes to something immediately, that is generally not consent to doing it again in the future. If you say yes to having something done in the future, I need to hear from you if you change your mind. Unless stated otherwise, if you consent to something in the future, I will consider that still in force if you are not capable of giving informed consent later. Put more explicitly, if you're sober and agree to sex tonight, then you get drunk, I'll still have sex with you. If you're drunk and ask me for sex and we haven't previously discussed it to a positive conclusion, it's not going to happen.
One of my kinks is trust. I value it, and want yours. Honoring your consent and lack thereof is a big part of how I go about building it. I've made one serious mistake on that front, which cost me an enjoyable relationship, and don't ever plan to repeat that. Over time, as we interact more, the need for distinct conversations and explicitness will decrease. On day 1, I want a "Yes", and I want it while you are level headed and without coercion of any sort. As we spend more time together, socially or intimately, I hope to learn to read you. Facial expressions, body language, non-verbal noises, etc. I also want to figure out exactly when you want things that you've said "maybe, sometimes" to, and what I need to do to lead you to those things. The fuzzy areas at the edges of all of these concepts come into play a lot more in a long term relationship, and that's something we would discuss as it became relevant.
All of that said, I have relationships that break some of these rules. I've posted elsewhere about my thoughts on trading money and shelter for sex, and that's relevant here. This also includes relationships with strong Dominant/submissive aspects. Those arrangements are very explicitly negotiated, and you won't ever accidentally find yourself in one of them.
PS: An alternate approach, as cited here, establishes the idea of consent before, during, and after an act, in the context of bdsm play, and a requirement for only two out of those three. Consent during and after, but not before, is seduction. Consent before and during, but not after, is remorse. Consent before and after, but not during, is a desirable-to-some type of play. I cannot endorse this approach, because it entails a significant degree of risk. There is no way to avoid the possibility of remorse, but in the latter case the interaction can easily turn into a matter of consent before, but not during or after, which would fail his 2/3 test, and produce very negative results.
I hope this gives you some insight into my thoughts on the matter of consent, both in general and as applies to my current and potential relationships.