What even is consent?

As kind of a follow-up to my last writing, and maybe for those who aren’t drowning in the ocean/sea/river of consent: what is it?

In its briefest, consent is permission/agreement to do something.

That’s it. It’s not inherently sexual in nature–which is actually pretty awesome, since not everything done in kink-land is sexual in nature, and so we need it to cover a lot of territory.

It also means that someone’s consent can be violated without that person having been raped, and it means that someone can be a consent violator without being a rapist.

This is part of why we need to talk about it–because right now, there’s a lot of “but if X violated consent, X is a rapist,” or “but I don’t see rape there, so it’s not consent,” and neither of those statements actually follow a logical progression. I understand the reason why so many have gotten there–because one of the most egregious forms of consent violation is rape, and so it’s pretty easy to equate consent violation with rape. But consent and consent violation cover much more territory than rape, and that’s actually a good thing.

It means we can talk about being touched in ways we don’t like to be touched that aren’t inherently sexual, and point out those consent/consent violation boundaries. For example, hugging: not everyone is a hugger. I love hugs. My best friend only hugs people with whom she’s super close. She really appreciates people who ask before assuming, because then she doesn’t have to be a stiff, awkward body stuck in someone’s arms when they’ve swooped in for a ‘genial’ hug.

My spouse is a pretty private person about her computer, her notebooks, or anywhere she writes. It took a really long time before she was okay with me seeing her screen or anywhere she’d written–years after we were married–and that was a privacy boundary for her. It had nothing to do with sex. I needed her consent first.

I am in the process of learning that I can’t be in the middle of my mom and grandma anymore as their go-between messenger (and that really, I shouldn’t be doing that for anyone who is capable of doing their own messengering). I’ve consented to it in the past, but I am setting up new boundaries now, because that gets messy fast. They need my consent for that.

All three of these examples are about consent. None are about sex. All three can be violated, and the people violating would be consent violators but not rapists.

To summarize: Consent is permission/agreement to do something. Consent violation is breaking a boundary set. Rape falls under the heading of consent violation, but is not the only form of consent violation.

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Consent and Silence

Consent.

It’s a hot topic around here lately.

Sometimes it seems like it’s not talked about at all, and sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing being talked about. Some people seem to read or write about it all the time, others seem to never have encountered the concept, and others are only just realizing it exists as a Thing.

There are lots of ways to talk about consent, from sexual to non-sexual, from kinky to vanilla, from boundaries to negotiation, from safewords/gestures to none at all.

These are all important things.

But I think the most troubling thing is when I hear people say, “We need to stop talking about consent.”

Why? Why would we need to stop?

I understand the feeling of swimming in that river of C O N S E N T, being near-drowned in arguments about it. I understand feeling like I’m beginning to have a good grip on consent–what it means, what it looks like, what some good models and practices are around consent–and to therefore maybe feel like Idon’t need to be educated about it much.

But.

There’s always a but.

Just because I am educated about it doesn’t mean the next person is–or even that I actually am. I may actually have quite a bit to learn on the topic and just not realize it. Either way, my feeling of being deluged in consent topics doesn’t mean we should stop talking about consent. Stopping the talk about consent would mean not educating people about consent. Not educating people about consent will more than likely lead to more cases of harm, assault, broken boundaries, breached trust (however intentional or unintentional, however ‘gray’ these cases may be).

When I feel drenched in consent topics, I take a step back. I take a breather. I spell myself. I go find another topic to read or write about. And then, when I’m ready, I come back. Because this is an important topic, one that is not well understood in any of our communities and not well-taught in most places. I come back, because I’m a survivor, and too many of my loved ones are survivors, and too many of theirs are survivors.

Silence isn’t the answer here.

A brief note on sex

I don’t have a lot of time to write today, but I wanted to make sure to say: if you haven’t read this piece by Pervocracy, drop everything you’re doing and read it now.

It’s a couple of years old, but it’s still wonderful and accurate and perfect, I think. The points are spot-on. It discusses sex, consent, poly, kink, BDSM, and relationships. It’s well worth the time to read and ponder and store away and utilize.