Consent Culture

By Cliff Pervocracy

Additions to the original text have been made by the 2017-2018 School Schmool coordinators and are marked with a *.

CW: sexual violence

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sexin fact, of human interactionis centred around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.   

I don’t want to limit it to sex. A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well. Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to. Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then. Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine. Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway. The good news is, there are things you can do to bring this about. Things beyond just “don’t rape people” (although that’s an excellent start).

Ways You can Work Toward The Creation Of a Consent Culture

1. Don’t rape people. It does bear saying. 

“There is no implicit consent to touch someone’s genitals because you have kissed them, or to have intercourse because you’ve had oral sex. Consent means that all parties involved have agreed to the activities voluntarily and uncoerced. Consent can also be revoked at any time if someone doesn’t want to continue.”*

2. When you see something that looks abusive or nonconsensual going on, don’t turn your back.      

Just the presence of another person can be someone’s biggest guarantee of safety. Stepping in and checking if everything’s okay is even better.

3. Ask before touching people.

Say “do you want a hug?” and if they say no then don’t hug them—and also don’t give them any shit about not being friendly or affectionate. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just make it part of your touching people procedure.

4. Negotiate sex!

Explicitly negotiate sex play, and BDSM play if you do that. Be eminently clear about the fact that play is not a package deal for you, and your partner is free to change their mind about any part of it at any time—as are you.

5. Learn to love consent. I worry that I’ve made getting consent sound like a chore. It’s anything but. Asking for consent is a moment of
emotional connection.

It’s much less pressure to offer someone a choice (“Would you like to come home with me or would you rather hang out here?”) than a request (“Would you come home with me tonight?”). If we allow for slow and comfortable intimacy, we are likely to experience it more fully and joyfully. So, if you are often the initiator of your sexual experiences, experiment with patience and let someone else take the lead. If you are less likely to initiate sex, think of ways you could safely ask for intimacy.*

6. Talk about consent. Make consent part of the stories you tell about sex. Just a natural part of the process, something that ought to be taken for granted will be part of a sex story.

“So last night I asked Sandra if she wanted to hook up and she totally said yes.”

“Ohmygod, Jane asked me to have sex with her, and it was awwwesome.”

“Kirk laid Spock tenderly across the science console and whispered hoarsely in the Vulcan’s pointed ear, ‘Do you want this? Do you want me inside you?’”

7. Bring consent out of the bedroom.

I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

It’s good to practice drawing your own boundaries outside of the bedroom, too. It can be shockingly empowering to say something as small as “no, I don’t want to sit with you.” “No, you can’t have my phone number.” “I love hugs, but please ask me first.” It’s good practice for the big stuff. Simply learning to put your mind in the frame of “this person does not want me to say no to them, and they will resist me doing it, but I’m doing it anyway” is a big, important deal.

Consent culture is a tough thing to build. But it grows in little microcultures, tiny bubbles of sex-positivity, and circles of friends where consent is the norm, and it has potential to grow so much more. Give it a hand. Make it part of your own life, and it becomes just a little bit bigger part of the world. Start living consent culture.

8. Decolonize your views on consent.

Think about how a lack of consent in your current context is informed by settler colonial doctrines. Think about how racialized bodies are disposable and forced into things they didn’t consent to and how that plays into power dynamics.*