Consent sounds like one of those concepts that puts the fun in funeral – a killjoy, a deboner of boners, a font of earnestness in the midst of a field of pleasure. ‘Surely,’ some small voice pipes up, ‘we can figure this stuff out for ourselves, when we’re getting it on. I know when a girl/guy/non-binary buddy is hot for it and when they’re not.’
Famous bleedin’ last words.
There are all sorts of assumptions in that sort of thinking that need challenging. Firstly that we can intuit consent. Ask pretty much anyone, including people who really care about consent, if they’ve ever got it wrong and I’d lay money that overwhelmingly they’ll say yes. Ask them how that feels and, unless they’re just godawful human beings, the answer is ‘pretty crap.’
Few things can eat away at a person like knowing that they’d caused someone else hurt or trauma because they assumed rather than asked. It can kill relationships, including casual, just-for-fun ones. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can get consent right!
Then there’s the idea that consent is somehow unsexy. A few years back I was in the audience for a talk by the kink educator Midori. It was about negotiation. Negotiation and consent go hand in hand. What she made abundantly clear is that negotiation does not have to break the spell. Indeed it can help weave it in the first place.
Talking with someone about what they’d like to have happen can be unbelievably sexy. It also allows everyone involved to make clear what it is they enjoy, what they don’t and how they’d like the scenario to work out. It’s an opportunity to agree boundaries and to share safe words – verbal slow-down and emergency-stop buttons.
So, it doesn’t have to be difficult. However, as Meg-John Barker says in our episode about consent, the culture we live in is non-consensual and, for most of us, raised in a culture that teaches us to go along with things we don’t like, it can be tough to say no.
There’s a simple checklist that we can use as a benchmark for consent, and a mnemonic to remind us of its five tests – FRIES.
F – consent must be freely given.
R – it’s reversible. Consent is not an ongoing negotiation not a permanent contract.
I – it’s informed. You have to know what it is you’re consenting to.
E – It’s engaged. You’re consciously consenting. Better still, it’s enthusiastic. Hell yeah!
S – It’s specific. Yes to apple crumble does not mean yes to tiramisu.
We go through the whole issue of consent in more detail in episode three. Listen in and let us know what you think.
The other key thing to mention is that November 30th is the International Day of Consent – ‘I DO Consent’ – geddit? Clever huh.
Our other guest, Jenny Wilson of Consent Culture UK, is a prime mover behind the IDOC. S he’s also organising two weeks of online events and content starting today and running up to the 30th. Keep an eye open for things happening.