We’ve all seen the stickers and heard the mantra. Consent is sexy. It’s a terrible phrase with decidedly noble intentions. The main reason this is an awful phrase is that it implies there is sex with and without consent. There isn’t consensual sex. Any sexual act without consent is rape. It can never be anything else. People should not ask for consent as part of sex or feel concerned that they are ruining the mood by insisting upon consent. Consent is not a bonus to sexual encounters, it is part of their foundation. Sexual violence does not occur because someone ‘forgot’ to get consent. There is no one time affirmation of consent that grants unlimited access. Every sexual action needs consent. Every time.
Another problem with ‘consent is sexy’ is that it limits consent to the realm of sex and intimacy. This narrow approach to the concept disempowers people and disregards their fundamental right to choose what happens to their body in everyday life. People often try to separate boundaries and consent instead of recognising their similarities. If someone touches you or speaks to you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable they have violated your consent. You have a right to boundaries between yourself and the world and these should be respected. No one should ever make you feel that they can better decide what you want and need better than you.
We recently shared a viral video on our Facebook page showing a primary teacher greeting her students. This video deserves special mention because the teacher has a placard outside the door with 6 options for students to pick from each morning. These range from hug, fist bump, dancing to just wanting ‘hello’. This is a perfect example of consent being taught at a young age and it has absolutely nothing to do with the sexiness (or unsexiness) of consent. These children are learning to trust their instincts and create a path in life that allows them to construct and maintain boundaries. This video is a great tool in justifying teaching consent early and often. This is especially important in Ireland as there is still no mandatory consent education. There has been significant progress under Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, but much of the attention is on 2nd and 3rd level students. It is imperative to teach consent at all ages, not just once you are old enough to understand sexual consent.
One of the reasons the phrase ‘consent is sexy’ is so frequently used is because most of us were never taught that consent is mandatory. We are taught to be aware of someone forcing us into a situation where we are uncomfortable or scared, but most people never learn how to react when a friend or sexual partner puts on the pressure. What happens if you are in a situation that is unsexy and want to talk about consent? If you do not discuss consent with someone (and they also do not discuss it with you) are you still having a consensual interaction?
A focus on the ‘sexy’ aspects of consent disregards the importance of consent in platonic or professional interactions. Consent is not sexy when you are trying to enforce professional boundaries. This can range from agreed employment hours, promised training or professional support. If your place of employment tries to make you do something that you feel is inappropriate or beyond your capabilities you should feel entitled to assert your right to consent. Consent is an emotional component of all relationships. It applies when your family is asking more than you can give and you are feeling guilty because you cannot help.
Consent and boundaries helps us learn to put ourselves and our well-being first as often as possible. We need consent throughout our lives because it’s part of a conversation. It’s more than sexual and it’s not about it being sexy. Consent isn’t sexy. It’s mandatory.
By Consent At UCD