The importance of enthusiastic consent

I wrote a post about consent which was lost in the big website disaster, but it’s such an important topic, I am rewriting it. TW: rape, sexual assault.

Let’s talk about consent. I am not sure why it is such a difficult concept for people to understand, but it seems that the message still isn’t clear, which is why I am going to talk about it today.

Consent starts young

It is important to teach children the meaning of consent. Don’t force a child to kiss Aunt Jane on the cheek if they are shy or don’t want to. It should be their decision. Allow them to shake Aunt Jane’s hand instead. When they are a bit older, respect their boundaries. Don’t touch them without asking their consent. But it goes both ways. They too should respect other children’s boundaries and ask consent before touching another child. My youngest son is quite physical with his friends. They wrestle and muck about and my son sometimes has a hard time judging when he should stop. It is important to me that he understands that if his friends says “no” or “stop”, he respects that and stops his behaviour. Similarly, when I tell him “no”, that is not the start of a negotiation. I keep saying “no” no matter how much he wheedles and whines and throws a temper tantrum. He needs to learn that no means no.

Enthusiastic consent is key

While it is important to learn that no means no, when put in a sexual context, I would take that even further. I would argue that you should look for enthusiastic consent. The absence of no does not mean consent. Sometimes a woman is too drunk to say no. Sometimes she is intimidated by the power imbalance to say no. But does she say yes? Is it an enthusiastic “yes”?

Coerced consent is not consent. I think this is the problem in a lot of date rape scenarios. It was in mine. I was staying at a friend’s (or what I thought was a friend) house in Paris and he wanted to have sex. He implied that if I didn’t agree, I was no longer welcome to stay over at his place. Since I had nowhere else to go and no money for a hotel, and since it was the middle of the night, I reluctantly agreed. For a LONG time I blamed myself for not saying no, for not struggling or refusing. But I felt I had not choice. It was either having sex or being out on the street in a city I didn’t know with no means to go home. I no longer blame myself as I now understand I was date raped, but that realisation only came when I learned the concept of enthusiastic consent.

Let’s look at what enthusiastic consent looks like. You will be looking for phrases such as, “Yes please!” or “I’d love that” or “I can’t wait to fuck you”. You are looking for – you guessed it – enthusiasm.
“I suppose so” is not consent.
“I’m too drunk to say no” is not consent.
“Sure, whatever” is not consent.
Silence is not consent.

Consent does not stop in a relationship

Some people think that once you are in a relationship you should always be available for sex and you cannot say no. This believe – entitlement – seems more prevalent among men, but women can have this attitude as well. I completely disagree. It is just as important in a relationship to check with your partner that they want to have sex as much as you.

This can be sexy and romantic. It does not mean you have to ask permission for every action, every touch. ‘Would you like me to fuck you senseless tonight?’ whispered in your ear while you go about your mundane tasks during the day can be extremely hot. A ‘Yes please!’ will let him know you are up for it. My husband often checks in during sex as well by simply asking ‘Do you want me to lick you?’ or ‘I would love to use this vibrator on you, is that okay?’ In no way does this ruin to mood for me; in fact, it makes me feel secure knowing that he won’t do anything I don’t want.

If you have been in a relationship with someone for a long time you and your partner will know each other well enough to be able to pick up clues. My husband always gauges my mood and if my reaction to his proposal is lackluster, he immediately asks ‘Are you sure you are up for it?’ He also checks in regularly during our sexual activities to ensure I still like what he is doing to me. He knows me well enough that he can tell if I am not enjoying myself enough, at which point he will just ask ‘Is this still good for you?’

Whenever the topic of consent in relationships comes up at Twitter, there are always one or two people who protest that they don’t feel consent is necessary, often because they are in a D/s relationship. The argument I have heard is that as a sub they are not allowed to say no to sex whenever their Dom wants it, and they love it that way. I am not a specialist on D/s relationships, but what I understand is that in any D/s relationship you agree the rules and boundaries with each other beforehand. Your Dom should have ensured your enthusiastic consent to the rule of not being allowed to say no to sex. In that case, the agreement to the rules is the consent your Dom has received.

Yes means yes

In conclusion, if you don’t have an enthusiastic yes from the person you want to have sex with, a yes that is freely given, then you are acting without consent. And let’s not mince words here, sex without consent is rape. Touching a woman in a sexual way without her consent is sexual harassment. It’s time to put an end to that.

1 thought on “The importance of enthusiastic consent”

  1. Well said Isabelle. Every base is covered here and I like that you have started with consent freely given in child rearing – this is indeed the foundation. No person should feel that they should go along with anything sexual without proper enthusiasm and investment – I’ve definitely felt I ‘owed’ it or it would be awkward to back out of or making a fuss will be stonewalled by more senior colleagues – I shouldn’t have! It is not a situation I ever want my daughter or my son to be in – lets hammer this lesson home.

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