Questions About Consent To Sex

Dealing with sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape in relationships of love and marriage


It is a difficult word. It can mean or not mean a lot of things. Can a smile mean consent?? “Hasi to phasi”? Haven’t abusers always used women’s sexual pleasure as a measuring rod of their complicity within the act of violence itself… their consent? Her mouth says no…..her body says yes??? She was asking for it? She was acting provocative and intimate? She said “yes” because she didn’t say “no” (silence is consent….how convenient)…..or couldn’t say “no”….or couldn’t afford to say “no”. She was powerless to say either yes or no. So abusers don’t wait for such dangerous self awareness in their victims…..they simply carry on.

Or…..the other way round: she was my wife, even if she didn’t want to act like one….in her marital duties… I convinced her…..through pleasure or force….or through both….or through the pleasure of force….or the force of pleasure….I convinced her. Through the politics of sex, I convinced her….not to reject pleasure. Then gradually, I taught her never to reject pleasure, however forceful it was….and taught her the pleasure of saying even no….so that convincing her could become a violently pleasurable game in itself.

We grow up with pleasurable imageries of rape….while we feel hollow, empty, lonely and violated from within. Much of Indian erotics….as we experience today…..eroticizes pain and hierarchy… soon become a subjectivity. Till a point when the victims of these subjectivities, cannot feel pleasure without hierarchy, violence or power. Abusers use different social and physical traps……to force victims into participating in the guilt of self harm…..and gain power over them by building a protective (for them) and threatening (for the victim) aura of “shame” that plays on inequality and social status and respect as means of perpetrating silence and privacy, which is one of the major tools of patriarchy. Remember the feminist axiom: the personal is political? Blast the private?

Rape can be counted as rape…..because the victim is trapped…..even if pleasured. Pleasure does not preclude the freedom to not feel pleasure….or reject pleasure……as a matter of choice. Pleasure then can become a dangerous weapon itself….that can be used to trap others under the pretext of neo-liberal excuses that instill personal responsibility for pleasure and pain…..through diagnostic categories such as addiction. Addiction or de-addiction is a personal journey…..but the moment it involves another person, it introduces the question of co-dependence and power-relationships.

Don’t abusers enjoy sex in a relationship…..even after rejecting and problematising the very premise of the same relationship: trust and respect that go hand in hand? Don’t abusers enjoy sex in a relationship…..even when they withhold dignity? What makes sex a shameful experience?? The fact that it is without respect on the behest of the more powerful person in the relationship? When sex becomes dirty by choice of only one person….who has the power to construct it as so?

And abandon the woman or child who has been victim to pleasurable violence…..alone with a painful body identity? To go ahead in the world…..crippled with the knowledge of pleasure and pain linked together….and indignity, shame about his or her own sexuality, reproduction and body…..without any choice in the matter.  No choice with what and how it ever was…..with what it became….and with what it could ever become.

Dealing with sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape in relationships of love and marriage involves the cutting of the victim into two parts: the one that can understood as addicted, victimized and ‘subjectified’….and buried with dignity and compassion…..the very act of burial becoming a voice of dignity and resistance, self respect and activism that blasts ‘privacy’….which contributes to building the other part…..gradually, part by part and brick by brick. The other part emerges as victor and survivor…..who can henceforth engage with victory and resistance against violence without fear….and to resist it non-violently…..and resist slipping back into the game of perpetuating the past… becoming violent herself/himself.

A non-violent engaging with sexual violence in love includes an articulate resistance of it through breaking the shackles of guilt…..that insidiously whispers inside the heart of each woman, while she fights patriarchy……that may expresses dissonance with all concepts of silence, shame and privacy that perpetuates its politics.

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About the Author


Deepra Dandekar is a feminist historian working on narratives of religion, community and violence in India, currently living with her husband in Germany. read more...

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