Consent has been on my mind for a few months. With the political climate of the hearings for a new Supreme Court Justice there have been some very strong emotions and opinions being voiced. I get some of my sexual stimulation from reading erotic stories. One I was starting this morning had a young woman "hijacking cock," reaching into a man's pants to get him to want her. The only difference I see between this and a celebrity grabbing a woman by her sexual organs is there will be fewer men complain or feel violated. That is as much a symptom of some of the changes our society needs as many of the public comments made in recent weeks by politicians and many in other positions of authority. What about those men that wouldn't feel comfortable or flattered by her actions?
On the other hand I have seen many advocating for "enthusiastic consent." I hope to differentiate between enthusiastic consent, and what I would call positive consent. If a heterosexual couple wants to conceive a baby and both have already consented, then it could be possible one or the other may not be in an enthusiastic mood to engage in sex but will do it to achieve the goal of conception. That is an example of positive consent that isn't enthusiastic at the time. At times my wife has been in a mood to have some form of sex buy I was tired or for some other reason not really enthusiastic. I would still stimulate her in some form or other to orgasm. No enthusiastic consent, but positive consent.
I think if you do not already have an established sexual relationship with someone, then not only do you need consent, but it needs to be given enthusiastically. I have read about some in swinging situations that consented, but felt they were taking one for the team, and ended up resenting it. If you read the About Me page on this site you will read about an experience where my wife gave consent by not saying no. I wish I had understood enthusiastic consent at that time. It would have been a situation that needed the "enthusiastic" part. The man involved was talking about polyamory which I had been exposed to through Neo-Paganism that we looked at for a while. He may have thought he was being sexy and seducing my wife in a way she felt good about, but she didn't, and didn't feel she could say anything.
My wife has written some romance novels, though she has never submitted any for publication. Myself and others she has shared them with have felt they were as good, or better, than much of what was on the market when she wrote them. One I read again lately and another she let me read that is sort of a spin off of the first are set in about the 1870's. The couples are brought together through means that would seldom happen in real life so they are obviously fantasy. She does include some elements of real life relationships, like both members of the couple not making wise choices because they assume the other is feeling a certain way but don't ask. Our society has so taught us to not communicate about love and desire to be together, much less sexual desire, that it has been used in movies and books as a common occurrence, yet it is often made fun of. The thing that strikes me as I think of consent, is that both partners want the other, both romantically and sexually, yet they won't tell the other person about their feelings. Without that communication there can be no positive consent, much less enthusiastic consent. The first step to normalizing positive, and hopefully enthusiastic consent, is to normalize communication about desire, both romantic and sexual.
A real challenge is how to start that communication if not already in a relationship. Some people will do what is know as flirting. I checked a few definitions online for flirt. It has a larger number of different definitions than any term I've looked up. All but one mentioned expressing desire for a sexual relation. Some said it wasn't serious and done knowing the desire could never be fulfilled. What happens when a guy is flirting thinking it is just for the fun of the moment but the woman feels he is trying to start something long term. When she strongly rebuffs him and he is like, what did I do to warrant that? Those that want us to move to a more explicit form of consent from just passively putting up with things until we say no, need to find and model ways for others to learn to take those first steps. Is it fine to tell someone they look nice in that outfit? That is a nice compliment, could be considered by some as flirting, and be a sexual comment to some. The latest studies I could find earlier today say such a small number of lasting relationships come from work that it isn't cutting into chances of finding someone to have a relationship with saying things like that don't belong in the workplace, so that part is easy. What about a social situation? The only thing I can think of is listen carefully to the response. If unsure what the response means, then ask in a way that tells her you are looking for information and not using the question to pressure her. If you really want to get to know her better, for whatever reason, then it is worth taking the time to start communication. I hope the day will soon come when women generally feel they can start the conversation as well.
In talking about the sexual assault survivor that recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a "lovely person" my own Senator showed that someone who should be looking for facts to base a decision on was instead going by appearance. Our culture bases too much of its language about a person, especially women, on appearance. When approaching someone in a social situation to start a discussion, start a discussion. The men that are saying MeToo scares them are saying, "I don't want to learn what changes I should make." For example, I just saw a meme that said men are now afraid to touch women, and the women say to not touch them. As we meet new people we need to talk with them, find out about them, show an interest in their thoughts and feelings, etc. Talking about their looks and touching should come with already knowing something about them. With communication opened up, consent can be given for touching, and more.
Once upon a time saying they were a lovely person meant they were intelligent, a good conversationalist, well mannered, etc. I know my Senator is old, but no one is old enough to remember lovely meaning those things. For more than a hundred years, for some people at least, it seems everything is based on looks. One way to counter that and improve our society is to learn to value people for more than if they turn me on sexually just by looking at them. Basing it all on looks makes it easy to use dating apps to choose, though I doubt they have a very good number of results for anyone wanting more than a one night stand.
How can we open society up to accepting each couple defining their own relationship if we can't even start a conversation in the process considered building up to a traditional relationship? People are people. Each person has their own desires and wants. They should be free to love whomever they want. Each person should be valued for the good they do through their work, through their helping others, and not just who they have romantic and/or sexual relationships with. Those relationships need to be based on communication of what each couple wants, and what each person consents to. I use the word couple as each relationship is between two people. If a group of people are polyamorous then there are more couples, but each relationship is between a couple. A triad will have three couples, each member of the triad defining their relationships with two other people. A triad could have three same sex relationships, or two opposite sex relationships and one same sex relationship. Either way it is a total of three relationships. If more defining of relationships went on to begin all relationships, then there would be longer lasting, more satisfying relationships in all lifestyles. Hopefully the communication created in that beginning definition would be used to make adjustments as life always seems to bring needs for adjustment.
I am convinced good communication is the essential tool to obtain the needed consent for any relationship to flourish, whether the relationship being defined is for one night, a lifetime, or any period in between.