The following is an excerpt from “Consent Is ____: The Things They Didn’t Teach in Sex Ed,” a forthcoming book by LEO columnist James Wilkerson that will be published by Nanny Goat Press on Jan. 16. It will run for $16.99.
One general misconception about express consent is that it ruins the mood. There are some that think that if you’re in the throes of passions, asking for permission will be a complete turnoff, snapping their partner out of their romantic haze and back to reality. I personally have never known this to be the case, but because I love some good old fashioned empirical research, I polled 20 women asking them, “if you were about to hook up with a guy and he verbally asked for consent, would that alter your mood in anyway?” 19 of the 20 all stated that being asked for consent would not turn them off (the one respondent that didn’t answer “no” stated that as she has never been asked for consent before, she wasn’t quite sure how she would react. Let that sink in).
Several respondents elaborated on their answer, stating that verbally asking for consent conveys an overall theme of respect. One respondent said, “it shows respect and also eliminates the dangers of making assumptions.” Another similarly stated, “I would feel it was respectful and would prefer it. It means he actually appreciates me as a human, much more than a man who just assumes.” A third respondent simply stated that it “shows kindness.”
Another thing the survey revealed is that express consent need not be awkward. In fact, you’re better off if it isn’t. 35% of the women in the survey stated the way in which the consent was asked for needed to be right. One respondent stated that verbally asking for consent wouldn’t alter her mood, as long as it wasn’t asked for in a “creepy way” while another respondent stated it needs to be done “tactfully.” One respondent even stated that verbally asking for consent could even positively alter her mood “depending on the delivery.” Perhaps that is what some men are worried about: the delivery. The angel on your left shoulder says, “just ask” while the devil on your right says, “you might screw it up.” One thing about asking for consent I’ve come to realize though, is that asking for it doesn’t have to be a huge production. In my day, the phrase “is this cool?” was usually enough to let me know whether in fact it was “cool” or not. The answer was either “sure” or “nah.” As one respondent states “you don’t have to go too far with the asking. Asking ‘is this okay’ or ‘are you sure’ is not a turn off.”
You want to know what would be a huge turnoff though? One joke (well… I think it’s a joke) that I hear from time to time is, “I’ll just have her sign a contract.” To which I say, “look, if you are able to get someone to sign a legal document right before they have sex with you, then your game is far better than mine!” When they say, “try not to make it awkward”, I think this is what they are talking about. I know Dave Chappelle may have famously gotten his partner to sign the “love contract” in a skit on his legendary TV show, but I would imagine producing pre-arranged documentation affixed to a clipboard from your nightstand in the real world would probably be frowned upon. Stranger things have happened though.
So, what of implied consent? In a guest lecture, about 5% of audience members will raise their hand to claim they would prefer implied consent over express. When asked why, typically the response is “it’s just more natural.” I can agree with that in some instances. For example, my wife and I pretty much have our romantic pattern down to a science. We have been together for a while and as such, know our parameters. That’s not to say that we always want what is in those parameters. But when we don’t, we know the other’s body language enough to know to stop and move on. When she responds to me whispering sweet nothings in her ear by rolling over and showing her back to me while pulling the quilt over her head, that’s pretty much my sign that it “ain’t happening” tonight. So, in an instance like that, implied works best for us. Even still, sometimes we have verbal conversations about our likes and dislikes with express consent always sneaking back into the fray.
When discussing consent in a sterile environment like a classroom or through this book, it’s easy to see the obvious benefits of express consent and lean towards it as your choice. But if we catalog our past experiences, there is a good chance we’d see that a lot of our encounters involved implied consent. As I typically tell students, sometimes implied is appropriate. Other times express is fine. But neither? Well, when consent is totally absent, you have officially entered “catch a case territory.” And that is somewhere you don’t want to be. •
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