Thursday, October 10, 2013

Affirmative Consent

Since this concept has been making its rounds on the various boards and blogs I read, it feels appropriate to weigh in, in detail, on this subject.

Affirmative consent is the idea that avoiding a "no" in a sexual encounter is insufficient for true consent. That only a verbalized "yes" to each and every act performed is sufficient.

I'm actually quite fond of the idea.

The biggest stumbling block I run into when quietly contemplating a better legal situation than the current age of consent, or arguing for its abolishment in open forum, is the fundamental fact that our current system of consent for adults is fundamentally broken. We let adults abuse and manipulate one another in ways that should rightly horrify any human being of good conscience. Thus the idea of exposing children to those culturally and legally sanctioned abuses rightly causes us all to recoil from the idea.

I don't like recoiling from ideas. When I get that impulse, I choose to dig deeper. To find out WHY that reaction strikes me. Because if I recoil, I can't learn specifically what about the situation is so inimical to me, and I can't examine if those distasteful parts can be excised.

The way I figure it, if it isn't acceptable to do inflict something on a five year old child, it isn't acceptable to inflict it on an adult either. If you think we need an age of consent to protect children from predatory adults who would lie their way into bed with them, there is no valid justification for treating those same predators as harmless or even admirable just because they're doing the exact same thing to other adults.

Now, that isn't to say there aren't serious flaws with the concept of affirmative consent. Firstly, like all aspects of sexual consent in this culture, it's gendered, in that males need to get consent, and females need to give it, never the other way around. Not a problem specific to the concept itself, but a problem inherent in our culture and one that rightly needs to be called out whenever the subject of changing the standards of consent come up.

Second is that how far it needs to be taken is never sufficiently defined, nor will its proponents ever submit to limiting cases, always shreaking about their "better safe than sorry" nonsense. Under reasonable standards, this practice could force better communication between sexual partners, make everyone take accountability for their own agency in deciding to participate, and reducing the tragedies that currently result from our current standards of "implied consent". If stretched beyond reasonable boundaries, however, it becomes a standard no one can ever live up to, and thus redefines every sexual interaction as rape, with all the gendered and ageist asymetries that go along with rape accusations in our culture.

Some claim that this standard infantalizes women, because it denies their ability to speak up when something is bothering them about a sexual encounter, and instead relies on the man to ask for confirmation. Aside from the obvious sexism in the idea that only a man would need to be held to this standard (not that it isn't an objective fact of our culture that this would be the case), I actually agree that it's infantalizing. That's why I like it so much.

Maybe if we can get the level of discourse and behavior of the general population to a place where a child would have no difficulty navigating it, why would we need the age of consent or anything to replace it?


  1. "Maybe if we can get the level of discourse and behavior of the general population to a place where a child would have no difficulty navigating it, why would we need the age of consent or anything to replace it?"

    So many things wrong....

    First only a small portion of society seems to bank their happiness on sex with kids. Unless you are one of those men who act like all men everywhere want to have sex with kids exclusively. Most people aren't as "moved" as you to get kids to bang adults to please them. Most people in the US are focused on serious issues that impact kids daily. As a guardian I'm worried about a lot of things for my kids and not "oh no she can't please men like yourself because it is illegal when she successfully deals with the first 99 issues....she will be greatly disappointed at issue 100"

    1. The point is, if we're pushing for a standard that treats women like they're five, then there's no reason we shouldn't let five year olds consent based on the same standard.

      If you want a standard where only rational adults are allowed to consent, maybe you should consider treating the actors like rational adults.

  2. You’re damn right I think ignoring people’s consent is a problem. The fact that you’re disgusted by the idea of people deciding what to do with their own bodies tells me all I really need to know about your position. Are you actually, or have I misread you?"

    So if a child:
    Refuses vaccines/shots
    Refuses medicine for illness that is minor to deadly
    Refuses to let dentist exam their teeth/fill cavity
    Refuses surgery that are minor to life altering
    Refuses to be examed by a doctor
    Refuses to eat healthy
    Refuses to wear seat belt
    Refuses to hold hand when crossing a street
    Refuses helmet when riding bicycles
    Refuses to brush their teeth
    Refuses to sleep or take naps
    Refuses to be bathed
    Refuses wear clothes
    Refuses to wear glasses

    Runs into a street not looking both ways
    Tries to drink household cleaning products
    Wanting to use diapers and not go to the toilet
    Playing with feces
    Self harm (cutting)

    These all involve their bodies. Many times kids refuse/do everything on this list. Based on your argument, child will probably not live to adulthood  (not a problem for you because unlike a good caretakers you don't care about children so you won't be devasted if they die.) A guardian 's responsible for the child’s life and well-being. Failing to grasp that you seem to think children are solely responsible for themselves. Children aren't capable of this which is why they have guardians. I'm sure you will use yourself as an example and claim that none of the above was an issue for you. Thus applying it to all children. Your argument pretends like guardians serve no purpose but to harm children.

    1. I believe you'll find that I've stated numerous times that ignoring consent is appropriate in cases involving medical urgency. If you can't figure out what that means just ask.