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Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student


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Pillowtalk – Consent is not (always) sexy: A realistic take on enthusiastic consent


Hi Eli,

I read an op-ed recently about consent and “good sex” and it got me thinking. They said that the whole enthusiastic, affirmative consent thing hinges on people knowing what they want in bed, and that good sex can come from willing consent as much as from enthusiastic consent. I’m curious about your thoughts on this topic in general. Is the way we’re taught consent unrealistic?

So, you’re looking for my opinion on enthusiastic consent. I welcome this question and I am very willing to answer it honestly and explicitly, but it might not be what you want to hear.

I personally believe that consent education (and sex education in general) is only helpful and useful when it is directly relevant to and realistic for its audience. This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge people’s ideas and promote new ways of thinking, but it is to say that we can’t hold people to standards that they won’t meet.

Think of alcohol and drugs, for example. A barrage of messaging from consent education tells us that you cannot consent while intoxicated, which is true in essence. Legally, you cannot consent when intoxicated, and certainly you have impaired judgement and little autonomy when incapacitated. However, is that going to stop people from having drunk/high sex? No. It won’t. You cannot delude yourself that intoxicated sex is going to go away entirely, because it is convenient and fun, regardless of how dangerous it is. Instead, we should teach the specific dangers of intoxicated sex, how to take precautionary measures, how to create safety plans, et cetera. Abstinence education is unrealistic in every setting.

I’m not saying that consent in every sexual situation is unrealistic. Consent needs to be present in all sexual experiences. Affirmative consent and enthusiastic consent, on the other hand, do not necessarily need to be present. If I say “sure, why not?” instead of “YES please fuck me,” I’m still giving consent. If I open my legs up to someone’s face and relax instead of explicitly saying, “oh my god I would LOVE to get my pussy eaten,” that is still consent. The standard of enthusiastic verbal consent is just plain unrealistic. Not everyone likes talking during sex and certainly very few people sit their partner down ahead of time and hash out all the dirty details of what they want to do. Part of the fun of sex can be spontaneity!

If we’re teaching that consent is only present when it is explicitly, verbally, enthusiastically given, then we are setting ourselves up for abject failure. Of course, it is a helpful standard as a tagline, and it succeeds in placing itself directly against rape culture, but it sort of misses the point too. Rape culture exists not because we’re engaging in sex too casually and not talking very much to our partner. It exists because of a systemic power structure that places sexuality as a tool of oppression. We’re not fixing anything by setting a standard of enthusiasm.

As for the concept of “good” sex, I think the only hand that consent really plays in creating “good” sex is it’s presence or absence. It isn’t sex if it isn’t consensual. Whether it’s good or bad is up to other factors. Enthusiastic consent doesn’t guarantee a better sexual experience, and simple willing consent doesn’t guarantee a bad one. Even if you do sit down with your partner at the beginning of a sexual experience and outline your boundaries, comfort levels, ideal positions and activities and preferences, you might have bad sex. 

I don’t believe that there’s any ethical or quality-of-sex difference between willing and enthusiastic consent. You don’t have to be hyped out of your gourd to have incredible sex, and not all of your sex has to be incredible! Conversely, just because you’re really excited for a sexual experience doesn’t mean it’ll be great, and if you have that expectation set for yourself, you might get really discouraged because the type of sex you’re told is the best isn’t always the best. 

Also, feel free to have sexual experiences where you’re not sure what exactly you want ahead of time. Feel free to make decisions in the moment. Feel free to choose sex because it’s there, not only because you’re incredibly horny. Maybe you’re giving willing consent because your partner is horny and you’re perfectly fine with indulging them even if you don’t get anything out of it. Maybe you’re giving willing consent as part of your job. Maybe you’re giving willing consent because you don’t usually get aroused until you’re actually having sex. Care about consent, but don’t use it as a gauge for your success in bed. Consent gives you nothing more or less than permission.

Consent isn’t sexy, it’s necessary. Don’t equate consent with quality. Your sex is not worse because it isn’t passionate and loud and enthusiastic, and your sex is not better because it is those things.

Have a question for Elleri? Send it to http://bit.ly/2LZTHeY or scan our QR code here!

Have a question for Elleri?

Send it to http://bit.ly/2LZTHeY

or scan our QR code here!

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