Enthusiastic Consent

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Guys, we’re in a situation here. The #MeToo movement has not only exposed countless men in positions of powers who have been harassing, assaulting, and raping women, it has also exposed men, who, for many of us seem way too much like ourselves. We read the account of Aziz Ansari’s date, ‘Grace’ and thought about every date that didn’t go right and wondered if we were ever pushier than we should have been. Most women I’ve talked to about it can recount more than one occasion where Grace’s story mirrored their own.

Despite the story only being a few days old, much has been written about this. The New York Times says the only thing Aziz Ansari is guilty of is not being a mind reader. Others say that his actions are symptomatic of a problem with our culture. But all of these are missing the point. The point here is that Aziz Ansari says he believed everything was consensual. His partner makes it clear that it wasn’t. Given that he doesn’t dispute her version of events, it’s worth noting that whatever consent was given was reluctant at best.

When I was a far younger man my go-to move was that once we started making out, I would say, “Stop me if I go too far.” and then respect when and if she told me there was a line she didn’t want to cross. Of course I was young and inexperienced and not bright enough to realize that for a variety of reasons, a woman who doesn’t want to do something might do something anyway just to avoid an awkward, hurtful, or potentially dangerous situation. This isn’t something that immediately makes sense to a guy like me who isn’t used to partners that are larger and stronger than me, who is never going to be called ‘easy’ or ‘slut’, who is never going to be told I’m playing ‘hard to get’, or that I’m frigid. It took time and experience for me to realize my mistake.

The problem we face is that consent can be a very tricky thing. As coercion, even unintentional coercion, can make apparent consent not real consent. You can’t control the factors that might make someone reluctantly agree to sexual activities. But you can refuse to engage in sexual activities with someone who is reluctant to agree.

Part of the problem is the idea that has been ingrained in men practically since birth that the absolute best thing in life is getting some. We learned this around the same time we were learning about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and like both of those, it’s complete bullshit. Having successfully had sex with a woman who was at best marginally interested in what you’re doing is not any sort of accomplishment. Listen to the countless women who read Grace’s story and completely related to it. It’s common. All too common. Worse, it’s scarring for women and alienating for men.

This is why I think we, and by ‘we’ I mean men, should not require consent. We should require enthusiastic consent. You shouldn’t be spending your post-coital moments wondering if she really wanted to have sex with you. You should be spending those moments well aware that she wanted you as much or more than you wanted her. There should be no gray areas here. It’s simple. If a woman hasn’t made it absolutely clear that she wants to have sex with you, don’t have sex with her. That’s it.

We need to accept that there will be times where we could have had sex and don’t because it’s not the right thing to do. And guess what? If a woman really wants to have sex with you, she will let you know the next time there’s an opportunity. Enthusiastically even.

Enthusiastic consent* gets rid of any ambiguity because while it’s easy to fake acceptance, it’s difficult to fake enthusiasm. Someone who is willing is not enough. They need to really want it. Not to mention, having sex when everyone involved really wants to have sex with each other is the best kind of sex there is.

– Jack Cameron

*As with any talk about consent, it’s worth mentioning that consent is not like buying a car. It’s not one decision. It’s countless decisions. Enthusiastic consent can be withdrawn at any time. Keep this in mind.

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