“Can I kiss you?”
According to most of my students (your average group of community-college-attending young adults), this question is just too cheesy. Apparently the embarrassment you risk in asking it is worse than the rejection you could receive by leaning in for a lip lock and landing on a hastily turned cheek.
This is bullshit.
Why is our culture so anti-consent? Why is the absence of a “no” better than the presence of a “yes”?
Personally, there are two reasons why I’m a fan of consent. One is just an old-fashioned appeal to charm: I find it adorable to be asked for a kiss, rather than be thrust into one unawares. Second, and most important, is that it shows a valuation of my desires, an acknowledgement that my kisses are not to be taken, but rather given.
But this becomes extra-sticky when we move beyond kisses and into sex. Those same students who object to asking for a kiss think you should just “get a feel” for your potential partner’s mood, and enter into sex “naturally.” My question is, what’s so unnatural about discussing it?
I talk the hell out of sex. I will not engage in sex with a new partner unless we’ve covered all the most important topics, including but not limited to: Contraception, STDs and testing, and triggers. This doesn’t kill the mood; to the contrary it helps it flourish. I’m not going to be able to lose myself in the moment if I’m worried about getting knocked up, catching chlamydia, or being fucked through a rape flashback.
With established partners, I believe in continuing to practice radical consent. Kisses are sometimes spontaneous, but sex does not occur unless each party has enthusiastically agreed that it’s a good time, place, and situation. I don’t do nagging for action, pressured excuses, or lackluster fucks. Everyone is going to be fully engaged in the moment or shit isn’t going down. And I have lots of sex–this insistence on consent does not impact my ability to get laid. Rather, it keeps sex a pleasurable experience, rather than a chore or burden.
The assumption that a lack of a “no” is enough to proceed with sexual activity excuses a lot of coercive rape. A person’s body does not exist to be used by others. And this does nothing to touch on the old stereotype of rejection being pressured and pushed until someone just says “fine” to appease their partner’s wheedling. None of this is acceptable; not within the confines of one-night stands, new relationships, or established partnerships. Your partner does not owe you their body, you have no right to it. It is theirs to share or keep private as they so desire.
This is the lesson we need to be raising our children with: That consent is necessary. There have been attempts to label it as “consent is sexy” to get people on board, but it shouldn’t fucking matter if it gets you horny or not; this is about basic respect. And everyone deserves that respect.