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.

Is Premarital Sex a Sin?

A friend asked me recently whether I thought premarital sex is sinful.

I answered simply, “No.”

But more deeply, my answer is: what makes some sex premarital? What defines something as premarital? And why are we so worried about that here in America?

My friend was worried about a biblical basis for the answer–and the thing is, the Bible has a diverse amount of things to say about sex. It has about as much to say about marriage:

Biblical marriage models
Some of the many models of marriage depicted in the Bible, courtesy of http://images.elephantjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/marriage.jpg

A lot has been made about the Bible’s negative views of sex and marriage and relationships–but it has also modeled some positive views. The entire book of Song of Songs, for example, can be read straight as the love poem it is–about two lovers meeting, trysting, having sex with one another, all without being married. Interestingly, this was the most-translated book by monks in the Middle Ages–mostly to say that it was a metaphor of God’s love, of course–but it does leave one to wonder what else the monks may have been thinking. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

A lot of people who put forth that two people must wait until marriage to have sex will try to claim that such views come from an Adam-and-Eve model of sexuality (which is very cissexist and heteronormative of them, to say the least). And while starting with creation sounds like a great foundation for laying claim to something–because what better way to stake a claim to power?–it doesn’t really hold up on examination.

If we read the creation stories in Genesis–and yes, there’s more than one! even in the first two chapters!–we can very quickly realize that not only is marriage never mentioned, but in at least the first creation story canonically (which is probably the later-written story,  chronologically) the first beings can be read as intersex/transgender/non-binary/non-gendered.

So, not only do Adam and Eve not get married before they have sex and have children, but also–at least one creation story doesn’t seem to require human beings to be heteronormatively paired (and thus biologically capable of reproducing together) in order to have children, thereby destroying another common argument: that sex is for procreation, and that’s why two people should wait until marriage (because all children ‘obviously’ need two [heterosexual] parents–neveryoumind cases of abuse, incest, and the like, or people who consciously choose to be single parents, or people who choose to partner but cannot procreate or do not want to procreate…..).

Ahem. Anyway.

So, no, the argument that sex-waits comes from Adam and Eve doesn’t hold up, because hey: Adam and Eve didn’t get married. And–even if they had–their marriage likely wouldn’t have looked like what we consider marriage to look like today.

So where does it come from? I argue that it comes from the pseudo-Pauline epistles. What are those? These are the letters after the seven likely letters of Paul. Most people I know raised in the Christian Church think of Paul as an anti-LGBTQI, anti-woman, anti-sex, prudish, non-inclusive, exclusive ass. I used to agree.

But.

It turns out that Paul has only 7 likely epistles, with 6 more attributed to him by admirers and one undoubtedly not by him at all. The 7 likely letters by Paul show Paul to be a pretty inclusive person–he wanted everyone to be on equal standing with one another, with no one above or below. All were to be a part of the body of Christ, with no ‘body part’ functioning in a superior manner to any other body part–because all were needed. And Paul utilized women in his ministry in very important roles, which may have angered those who came after him. 1 Timothy in particular, as well as the other Pastoral epistles, turns these verses of inclusion on their heads. Where Paul preaches for women to be cared for, the Pastoral epistles preach that the church should not provide for women unless they reach a certain age and are widows–thereby ruining many women’s chances to enter the ministry in an effective way. And where Paul taught that all were a part of the body, with no body part superior, the pseudo-Pauline epistles taught that man was the head of the woman, ruling over her, in the ‘body of Christ.’ Superiority was put in place.

The church had been providing for women’s livelihoods under Paul’s instructions, allowing some women to remain unmarried and therefore able to be ministers. But in marriages, they had duties to perform, customs to follow, and usually could not stray from those duties in order to be ministers like the men of their communities could. Thus, with women suborned through a twisting of Paul’s teachings, men could retain power.

I think this is where our ‘modern’ ideas about heteronormative, cisgender sex-waits marriage ideals comes from. And I think this is the sin. I think it twists because it unnaturally binds, shaming people who do not deserve to be shamed.

Such a model doesn’t allow for same-sex unions, doesn’t allow for polyamorous families, doesn’t allow for the fact that rape happens. Such a model often leads to purity culture, wherein most often young women are shamed for their sexuality (though sometimes young men are, too, particularly if they sway from the strict hyper-masculine, heterosexual line set for them).  Such a model leads to a need for SlutWalks, because it cannot understand that rape and sex are not the same thing and it creates rape culture by assuming that women’s bodies are for men’s consumption. Such a model does not allow that some sex workers do choose sex work and enjoy it, even while human trafficking remains a problem. Such a model doesn’t allow for women to enjoy sex even while we expect men to do so. And it certainly doesn’t allow for us to be  kinky, even when that correlates with better mental health–because everything has to be about procreation and cisgender, heterosexual marriage. (Even when, as the title of Stephanie Coontz’s book says, that’s The Way We Never Were.)

I don’t think this is what God intended. I don’t think God ever intends for us to shame one another about how and who we love, and how and with whom we have sex–so long as we’re doing so honestly and openly, with integrity. Even casual sex–that much maligned predator of all our young people!–can be healing. Just as importantly, choosing not to have sex–if we don’t want to (maybe we’re demisexual, for example)–is awesome, too. The point is that all of us get to choose, and it doesn’t have to be dependent on some arbitrary line drawn in the sand by society or by a legal body. So long as we are able to consent, then we are able to make our own choices about our sexualities and our bodies–and I think that’s how God intended it when God made such a diverse array of human beings.

So, no, I don’t think premarital sex is a sin. I think sex that is forced–rape, coercion (without it being consensual non-consent)–is sin. I think that forcing people into unnatural unions just to get their needs met is sin. I think oppressing people for power is sin. And I think we’ve been doing all of these things for centuries, while gaslighting one another and ourselves into believing the opposite–which is why there’s so much cognitive dissonance surrounding sex in our culture.

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.

But I didn’t want a Daddy

When I started exploring the world of kink, I adamantly denied wanting a Daddy. Freshly out of undergrad, I’d explored Philosophy of Woman and other such world-expanding courses (I grew up Fundamentalist Christian), and I was afraid having a Daddy would keep me or pull me back into an inescapable cesspit of patriarchal crap.

{I apologize now to all the Daddy/little pairings out there; really, to all the Big/little pairings out there, and Big/middle, and etc. I didn’t know as much then as I do now. And of course I don’t know as much now as I will ten more years from now.}

As I explored, I found myself wanting to submit and craving praise. I found a lot of people craving to dominate and to punish, for various reasons. And I found a lot of people who wanted to Daddy or Mommy me, and who also wanted to punish me. Additionally, almost all sources on Daddy Dominants I’ve come across have included some element of punishment/discipline as a ‘must’ for Daddies.

The thing is, I’m a self-punisher, somewhat like Rory Gilmore:

Punishing me would be redundant, and, given a particularly not-fun childhood, potentially harmful.

So I actively stayed as far away from Daddy/Mommy/Big types as I could, even as I looked for a Dominant.

When Zyn and I started dating, neither of us put ourselves into a kinky context. We joked that he was my experiment in vanilla. Over time, we began dabbling with exhibition/voyeurism, threesomes and moresomes online, etc.

When we kissed and I took a selfie of it for the first time, he lovingly called me a brat. Surprised and intrigued, I waited to see if I could provoke that reaction in other ways. It turned out that playful things would elicit such a reaction.

I’d never thought of myself in brat-like terms. The brats I knew of in the kink world did things like glittering their Dominants’ crops and sass-talking. If I did something like that, I would probably also cry while presenting whatever thing it was to my Dominant (not a crop–I’m not a masochist, but whatever thing) and already have a shiny new one on the way from Amazon Prime.

When he moved in, he began to ‘care’ for me more, for two reasons: 1) my chronic illness began ramping up; 2) his nature began to show through more. My spouse already took care of me to the extent that she could, but she was going through her own transition and desperately needed to take care of herself.

The more Zyn cared for me, the more  I began to tease him about being my Daddy, and the more he would laughingly call me brat. He told me he calls me that because he knows I’m not a brat.

In between the teasing, we discussed it. He doesn’t punish me, ever. It’s not in him to punish, and it’s not in me to be punished. He’s sparing in his words of praise, so when he hands them out they feel worth receiving. He remembers the treats–I love Toblerone and KitKats and My Little Pony. He started randomly buying me My Little Pony plushes, and when he can he buys little gifts (how he shows his love). On the roughest days, I want to curl up in his arms. To me, he feels like a safe wall of warm strength and calm, with big pillowy arms. I know he won’t lash out unreasonably. I know I can seek his advice and it will be well-reasoned.

By the same token, he never treats me as anything less than a person with a brain. He’s proud of my accomplishments and cannot wait for me to do more. He’s patient with me as I work through my illness(es) and mental issues. He’ll expect more from me as I get back on my feet.

At some point in my life, I might not need for our relationship to be like it is now. He might not, either. We’ve talked about that, too.

But for right now–I feel like he’s my Daddy. And he calls me his girl. And even without the punishment part, that works for us.

A look at 50 Shades

Fifty Shades has a lot of elements to it that I want to explore. Most of those are external cultural elements.

On the one hand, there’s the ‘porn’ aspect of it–that it’s just trashy entertainment that ultimately doesn’t harm anyone. For a certain part of the population, this can hold true. Those lucky enough never to have been through rape, sexual assault, and stalking at the hands of a partner or prospective partner probably aren’t terribly triggered by a trilogy that is, at its best, poorly-written porn.

As well, because of its quick rise to popularity and the ease of getting it in digital format early on, it has been and continues to be an introduction to BDSM–which can be good, as long as it serves as only an introduction and not the complete manual on What It Is We Do (not that there is any one complete manual–but this would be a pretty poor one). For those who get turned on by some of the sexier play bits in the books and movies–awesome.

But on another hand, I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the massive culture into which these trilogies come, as well as those things they enable in their wake. Not only are the books and movies heteronormative and cisnormative both in characters and in the roles they take on, but they promote rape and stalking and ignoring safe words as sexy. They equate Dominance with stalking and rape (not rape play, not consensual nonconsent, but actual rape), equate submission/submissiveness with being vapid/devoid of self, and sensationalizethe violent aspects of BDSM without giving any nuance or context to the types of play we consensually desire and do.

I can’t see these books and movies as ‘harmless entertainment,’ because too many of us, across gender lines, have experienced stalking, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. Too many of our communities still protect predators at the expense of victims and survivors. Too many are disbelieved when we try to report our rapists and assailants, and few of us ever see any support or justice for experiences of domestic violence, assault, rape, stalking, and harassment. These books and movies play into a culture that prefers to see BDSM as harmful and the stuff of severely damaged people, rather than something that is a play preference that may lead to better mental health. They play into the cultural stereotypes that men know women’s bodies better than women, that female Dominants are evil, that female submissives are lost vessels just waiting to be broken and remade in the male Dominant’s image (and heaven forbid there be same-sex or same-gender pairings, or pairings involving sexes and genders other than binary genders and sexes), that BDSM is the same as sexual assault/rape/harassment/stalking, that ignoring safewords is just fine, that ‘the rules’ set in advance don’t apply to one half of the slash, that rape isn’t rape if it doesn’t fit a certain mold….

So, sure. On the one hand, there’s trashy entertainment that will probably help some people broaden their sexual horizons. But on the other, far weightier hand, there are huge issues with these books and movies that we cannot safely ignore. We need to be ready to have these conversations with people just as much as the ‘Hi, welcome, come on in!’ types of conversations, or the ‘What’s your kink?’ conversations, the comparisons of marks and paddles and costumes and collars. We need to see the harm in these ‘entertainment’ pieces and look to our own communities to make them better, to roust out predators and support survivors, to work to make it as difficult as possible for abusers to hide behind the mask of kink.


Edited to add: This made me laugh a bit. What a reimagining.

Previously posted on my FetLife profile.