It’s Not Really About Consent

Especially when it’s supposedly about consent

There is nothing political about sexual transgressions. It is a moral issue — where morality requires that you respect the sexual boundaries of your fellow humans, and those boundaries involve whether or not they want to have sex with you.

This piece of writing started off as a comment on one of the many stories flooding the internet about Aziz Ansari’s immoral sexual conduct. As I was writing it, it occurred to me that I have a few thoughts about sexual morality that I haven’t seen clearly laid out in what I’ve read thus far within the deluge of editorials about sexual assault, harassment, and other terrible goings on. Being a writer by nature, I decided to write out said ideas. My hope is that they give even a few people (let’s face it, mostly heterosexual men) pause, so that they may reflect on their response to the public discussion about sex and consent.

I have seen, in the wake of stories like the one about Ansari, a reaction from many men of throwing their hands up — being unsure what they are supposed to do in order to get clear consent from a woman to sex. The claim is that it’s just a sexual minefield out there, and that men are not mind readers — that women need to be clearer about saying “no, I don’t consent to this sex you’re trying to have with me.” But that’s kind of an odd thing to say, isn’t it? It’s odd because it presupposes a very transactional view of sex. Almost like having sex is a business deal, a sale that men are closing as they take their pants off in the presence of a lady who is also perhaps disrobing.

Is that where we are as people? Is sex just a transaction? Is it a deal devoid of a feeling of collaboration and emotional safety?

Surely, some people — as articles on millennial sexual habits tell us — prefer to keep the long-term attachments out of sex. They prefer casual sex. But that doesn’t change anything, really. It seems that even if you don’t plan on seeing the other person after having sex with them, the act of having sex still demands a connection while you’re with them — the kind of connection that wouldn’t allow you to be oblivious to the other person’s feelings.

If you are being intimate with someone — and sex is about as intimate as it gets — you should be connected to them in that moment in such a way that you can detect how they’re feeling about the encounter. You should be able to feel — emotionally — whether or not they want to do this.

To me, that’s the kicker right there. It’s not even really about consent. It’s about connection. It’s about caring enough to be observant, and pausing when you observe reluctance or that connection beginning to fade.

If you’re having sex with someone, you should — at least at that moment — be connecting with them. I mean, you’re asking this person to open up their body’s most intimate parts to your touch, but you don’t want to bother to be receptive to their intimate feelings? That’s just disrespectful, and unfair.

And for crying out loud, err on the side of caution! There’s no harm whatsoever in pausing for a second when you’re not sure of the vibe and saying simply “hey, are you okay? Let’s slow our roll a bit here.” The worst case is that you look a bit sappy. The worst case with going the other way is that you literally violate someone.

To me, the price of admission for a sexual encounter is that you muster up enough care for the other person that you pay attention to their emotions and be sensitive to them. 99% of the time, when you do that, it will be laughably easy to detect if the other person would rather not be doing it. If anyone — men or women — are claiming that somehow, such a thing is too much to ask, I feel genuinely sad for the state of humanity.

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”:

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