Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Do I Think About "Active Consent?"

This is a topic that has been hot in BDSM and sex positive communities lately. I'm calling it active consent because I think I've heard some people call it that and I can't remember the other thing that it's called. Why am I writing about this? Well, I'm certainly no expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I don't even think I have that strong an opinion; this is something I have only really began to think and talk about myself within the last couple of years. But the fact is that I will be speaking on a panel about this tomorrow night, and I think writing this will help me get my thoughts in order. I might as well share it with the likes of youse out there in the blogosphere. I can only hope that it will create controversy and traffic! Oh and this probably needs a trigger warning too. TRIGGER WARNING.

On it's most basic level, I'm totally behind active consent and the consent culture that is popping up around this movement/ thing people are talking about. I can't imagine that there are very many people who aren't behind it; the vast majority of non-consensual situations happen when one person gets carried away, or believes that the situation is consensual when it's not, or when someone believes the situation to be consensual when in fact they have just talked someone into it. I'm not saying outright aggressive, blatantly non-consensual situations don't happen. But I do believe in the inherent good intentions of most of humanity, and I do not think most people intentionally set out to hurt others. Full disclosure dictates that I should tell you at this time that I have never found myself in a situation where I said "no," and was ignored. I have never been attacked or sexually abused by someone who had the intent of hurting me, and when I have said no it has always stopped whatever was happening.

So consent culture= good. I have established that. I also believe that different people have varying levels of what sort of consent they need to be able to give, and what consent they feel they need to ask for, before an encounter. And this can also be complicated by the situation you find yourself in. The sort of consent you need to ask for/ give is different at a play party with a stranger than it is with a longtime lover. Or in my case, a client, which adds a whole new complicated level. Understatement of this post: consent is very complicated. I believe most people haven't really thought much about how to ask/ give consent. Like I said, I didn't until very recently. It's very complicated, very important to discuss in your BDSM/ Sex Pos community, and very important to think about if you want to be a sexual/ kinky/ adult person. 

So there's nothing controversial about my opinion so far. At least mostly. I'm actually a little bit afraid to get into the part that I believe to be controversial, because I think it's not the most popular opinion of all time. But it is one that I think is important and maybe not talked about as much as it should be. It is difficult to speak up about, especially when you agree about how complex and important the issue of consent can be.

But you know what? A discussion of my consent is really just... not sexy to me. Interestingly enough, I am just as guilty of having a discussion about another person's consent over some sort of act. Especially with my clients. But there is nothing, nothing that turns me off more than someone asking if it's ok for them to fuck me now. Questions I never want to hear when I'm about to get down with someone are:

"What sort of barriers do we need to use? I'd like to finger you, if that's ok... should I get some gloves?"

"Are you OK?"

"Is what I'm doing alright/ feel good?"

"May I eat you out/ fuck you/ spank you now?"

Etc, etc.

And what bugs me is all the people out there who keep asserting that conversations like that are sexy. People act as though everyone wants to hear these types of questions during sex/ play. I really, really want to respect the fact that some people do like consent questions as part of their sex/ play. Some people find these questions sexy. But when I hear other people saying questions like that are sexy, it makes me feel like there's something wrong about me or my sexuality because I don't think they're sexy. Like I'm the problem; a victim who will continue to perpetuate violence and non-consensual sex for submissive people everywhere. It's a hard thing to come to terms with.

I have no problem talking about barriers or what I do or don't like sexually ahead of time. But when it's business time, I just want to be ravaged. Just take me and do what you will with me. I like to have my limits pushed, and I like to say no if something isn't going right for me. I hate to say it, but consent culture has made a lot of my lovers question whether or not they are just rape-happy monsters. Men specifically. And I don't think that was ever the point. I think the point was to discuss the whole situation openly and honestly. In my mind, this is not completely a male vs. female issue. We all take advantage without knowing that we're doing it, and we all have been taught some really stupid shit about how sex works from the society we were raised in. While my sexuality does tend to adhere to a feminine role, and I can see how men who are questioning their consent practices might feel like they need to ask me if everything is ok. But come on! Is it never ok for a woman to want a man to just have his way with her? Is that not a legitimate sexuality?

What I propose to deal with this situation is to have a pre-consent conversation consent conversation. Some people, such as myself, find it way sexier to talk about consent before anything is getting serious. It may seem like an intimidating thing to talk about on a first date, or with someone who you have met in a club. But you know what? Tough shit. I think that if you want to have sex with someone, you should ask them what their boundaries are waaaaaayyyy before sex is happening. Does this mean you can't ask a question if it comes up during sex? No. I still believe consent is a very important thing to have at all times, and if ever you're uncertain... it's better to ask. But their are sexier ways to ask. Seriously:

"Your tight little asshole is making me hard. I want to fuck that asshole."

Don't worry: to me a statement like that is not coercion. I would totally say "not tonight," at that point.


  1. i like this post. I agree, at least I have only seen the, what I will call consent questions be sexy when people already damn well know it's happening. Then it's more teasing of course which I like.

    Of course, being shy, much shier than you seem, maybe shier than most, The questions are very important. I'm a fan of beforehand discussion.

    Do you also feel judged for liking yr limits pushed? I like the idea that i'm not really consenting once the fun starts, that's why I work so hard to outline myself and understand partners beforehand. I feel like just like there is the idea that somethings are always sexy there is the idea that somethings are always wrong, and ideas are just ideas. Partnerships of whatever capacity and duration are for airing sharing and practicing them among those that chose to freely-or discovering I keep this idea just idea.

    My 2 cents. Good post, thought-provoker.

  2. First time on your blog and I'm already becoming a fan.

    This is a really interesting topic you bring up, and obviously important if there are good people out there who are alienated by certain consent culture assumptions. I had never thought of it in that sense--that these posters and slogans claiming that consent is sexy could make people who are turned off by in-the-act convos about consent feel like there is something wrong with them. And I know that I am guilty of having circulated those assumptions myself, so I will definitely be more conscientious from now on.

    I definitely agree with you that if you know you will be frustrated by in-the-act consent topics, then you should bring this up with your partner before things get heated--that you already know that you want to have sex and that you don't want to be asked, that you want to be taken, or whatever it is--a system that will make everyone feel safe without turning anyone off.

    I don't want to be a consent-chauvinist and am open to consider other viewpoints, but I believe it's the best etiquette to take for granted that asking for consent and making check-ins during sex should be everyone's default behavior unless you've made other pre-arrangements. This way, no one feels disrespected, taken advantage of, pressured into anything, or any of these other yucky feelings that happen when one partner isn't demonstrating that they care about the other partner's right to have fun, too. But of course, I'm one of those people for whom it's really frustrating when someone just doesn't talk at all during sex, and 21 check-in questions is way sexier to me than non-verbal consent (though I agree dirty talk to allow a space for verbal non-consent such as "I really want to sit on your face right now" is twice as fun).

    So maybe the slogan should be changed from "Consent is sexy" to "consent is spoken, not presumed" or something like that--I'm not a professional copywriter, evidently.