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Consent is also about the ‘how’ of sex. It’s not (only) about the yes and no. The Aziz Ansari case got us thinking about consent to sex.
I am not weighing in on the Aziz Ansari and ‘Grace’ article. There is enough said about it on the web, from every possible perspective.
But here’s what it got me thinking about.
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Consent to sex is not (only) about a yes or a no.
There absolutely needs to be a yes to begin with, but I can off the top of my head think of so many situations where a woman can want to have sex with a man and yet say no to certain things.
I want to have sex with you but not today.
I want to have sex with you but not as soon as we get in to your apartment.
I want to have sex with you but I don’t feel like doing (particular sexual activity).
I want to have sex with you but not if you don’t want to use a condom.
I want to have sex with you but not when I am so sleepy!
I want to have sex with you but I don’t feel like being rough today.
This should be really easy to understand, you’d think. And also, that explicitly writing it down in this fashion should not be the only way men get it.
After all, what part of ‘I am moving my hand away from your penis right away’ is not understandable as a call for a halt or a change in some fashion?
Sex does often involve some negotiation. You like X but I don’t like it all that much and hence can we try Y instead?
Except, we can’t always say it in those many words and we shouldn’t always have to. Sometimes, negotiation is verbal and sometimes it isn’t. Part of being in a sexual moment is listening to ‘all’ of your partner’s cues, and I am not saying this in a legalistic sense. A partner ignoring the quiet language of your body may never be liable in court.
But, in our bedrooms and in our lives and even in our media, women are saying that we’ve had enough of bearing all the burden of this communication. Men are being held to a higher standard now, and that’s okay.
Watch this video on Consent and it should be simple, really.
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Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
Excellent post Aparna and every sentence speaks about some discomfort most women identify with and have often had trouble articulating. Like you rightly point out, the “how” of consent is as important as a “yes” or “no”. The concept of a “right to grant or refuse consent” in my opinion is also what needs more weight. At a young age, all children, but especially girls, need to understand and internalise the idea and be assured that they are entitled to withhold or refuse consent to anything and anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable. They must internalise that this right exists with all others as well and coercing someone against their will into submission is a selfish and vile act worthy of condemnation and punishment. Women and children face a lot of discomfort, violence and sexual abuse simply because historically, over centuries and millennia, they have been suppressed until they lost their sovereign right over their own bodies and decision making autonomy. At the point where they lack the strength, will and confidence to assert their right to consent or refuse consent, they are most vulnerable to opportunists, who can prey on such a vulnerability to the maximum, feigning ignorance of concepts of rules, boundaries or personal rights. Why is it that we rarely here of similar situations where women or children have coerced someone into submission for a bodily comfort or pleasure, urge or whim? How it is that women have largely understood and internalised personal boundaries and rules so well? Were girls and women the only ones being made aware and conscious of submission to such restrictive rules and boundaries, while boys and men were left free to make those rules that benefitted them and allowed them a complete lack of discipline and control over their urges and whims, thus favouring them with a free conscience and the impunity to prey on the vulnerable? There is a pressing need to dig deeper into our societal structures starting first and foremost from the basic social unit of family, and extending later to religion and other social institutions as well to understand how inequalities and disadvantages are woven into their fabric so seamlessly to make them imperceptible and thus seem acceptable, preordained or predestined. We have to uncover and weed out the rot that grows at the roots and disengage from those patterns that disadvantage some at the cost of others. We have to change the narrative to empower all.
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