Consent Consent Consent

consent

/kənˈsɛnt/

noun

  1. permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

“no change may be made without the consent of all the partners”

Similar: agreement, assent, concurrence, accord, permission, authorization, sanction, leave, clearance, acquiescence, acceptance, approval, seal of approval, stamp of approval, imprimatur, backing, endorsement, confirmation, support, favour, good wishes, go-ahead, thumbs up, green light, OK, approbation.

Opposite: dissent

verb

  1. give permission for something to happen.

“he consented to a search by a detective”

Similar: agree to, assent to, allow, give permission for

Types of Consent

  • Informed consent

“To be informed, consent must be given by persons who are competent to consent, have consented voluntarily, are fully informed about the research, and have comprehended what they have been told” (Chambliss and Schutt 2010, pp.57-8). Unless they are emancipated minors, individuals under 18 may never give consent. Also question the legal competence of people affected by mental illness or institutionalized in the prison system. If a person is not legally competent to give consent, a parent or legal guardian must give it. The participant may still give assent.

  • Implied consent

This is acceptable for studies that provide anonymity, such as opinion surveys. A statement at the top of the instrument should clearly state that by filling it, the participant consents to participate, but does not wave any of their rights as research participant.

  • Explicit consent

Participants give consent by answering a specific question about their willingness to participate. This may be done in written (consent form) or oral form.

  • Active consent

Participants indicate their willingness to participate by agreeing to a specific statement, and then are included in the study.

  • Passive consent

This procedure is often used in schools that send forms to parents asking them to allow their students to participate in various studies or activities. Although it yields high participation rates, it should be limited to completely innocuous research (typically not involving minors). It is acceptable for participant observation (ethnographic) projects.

  • Written consent

Participants give their consent by filling out a consent form. Written consent guarantees active and explicit consent, thus offering the highest guarantees to the participant. It is most appropriate in studies that contain some level of risk, but also in many studies with no risk above those of daily life, when participants disclose personal or sensitive information, when they are exposed to deception, or any experimental treatment.

Consent within BDSM is when a participant gives their permission for certain acts or types of relationships. It bears much in common with the concept of informed consent and is simultaneously a personal, ethical and social issue. It is an issue that attracts much attention within BDSM, resulting in competing models of consent such as safe, sane and consensual and risk-aware consensual kink. Observers from outside the BDSM community have also commented on the issue of consent in BDSM, sometimes referring to legal consent which is a separate and largely unrelated matter. However, the presence of explicit consent within BDSM can often have implications for BDSM and the law and, depending on the country the participants are in, may make the differences between being prosecuted or not.

Where an act has been previously consented to, the consent can be terminated at any point, and by any participant, through using a safe word. Within BDSM it is generally considered a high-risk activity to engage in BDSM without a safe word. Acts undertaken with a lack of explicit consent may be considered abusive and those who ignore the use of a safe word may be shunned within the BDSM subculture.  One study has shown that BDSM negotiations to establish consent consist of four parts covering style of play, body parts, limits and safe words.

Consent, consent, consent

Despite what you might think from Fifty Shades, consent is not just a matter of having a safe word! In fact, we can see from Fifty Shades itself that safe words are not enough. The first time that Christian spanks Ana she’s not sure if she likes it. Her feelings about it change from when it happens to later when she reflects on it. She has similar ambivalence on other occasions but clearly doesn’t feel that she can use her safe word to express that uncertainty.

There are huge cultural pressures around sex. We often feel – as Ana seems to – that we must have certain kinds of sex a certain amount in order not to lose a relationship. We feel that we should ‘perform’ certain kinds of sex in order to be a ‘real’ man/woman, or a ‘proper’ straight or queer person. We feel like if we’ve had a kind of sex before we’re obligated to have it again. We feel too embarrassed or awkward to say we’re not enjoying something. We feel that because we’ve done one thing, we should automatically do others. All of these are deeply problematic ways of thinking about sex which hurt us badly, but they are also hard to completely step away from because they’re so engrained in our culture.

So, when it comes to consent, we can’t just rely on partners to say ‘no’ or safe word if they’ve stopped enjoying it. Instead, consent should be about trying to minimise the pressures that they – and we – are under, so that we can be as confident as possible that what we’re doing is consensual. How can we do this? Well it is worth talking about the messages we’ve received about sex and reassuring the other person that we really wouldn’t want them doing something they don’t enjoy. We can also deliberately avoid making any suggestion that kink or sex should involve certain things (e.g. genitals, pain, orgasms, or fancy outfits) or that certain things are normal.

It’s also worth thinking about wider power dynamics that are in play between you. Is one person older than the other, or from a gender, race, or class with more social power? Does one person earn a lot more than the other (hello Christian Grey!)? Is one person much more sexually experienced or confident in their capacity to find other sexual/romantic partners? Are there differences between you in terms of mental or physical health? All of these are worth considering in relation to how the person with greater power (in these various areas) can maximise freedom of the other person to be able to say no (or yes). Of course, it’s likely that you’ll each have more, or less, power in different areas.

Finally, it is troubling how much we tend to assume that we’ll be able to have consensual sex – or play – when our wider relationships are not very consensual at all. The Pervocracy puts it well:

I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunch table–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

Fifty Shades is a perfect example of how to get this wrong. Christian is constantly doing things after Ana has clearly said ‘no’, such as buying her expensive gifts, following her on holiday, and getting involved in her work. How on earth is she to trust that he’d respect her ‘no’ when they’re playing? And just as Christian tries to convince Ana that she’s a submissive, Ana tries to force Christian to be the ‘hearts and flowers’ boyfriend that she’d really like. How are they to trust each other not to try to pressure, control, and manipulate when it comes to their sex life?

If you’re bringing kink into an existing relationship it’s worth having a good hard look at whether you treat each other consensually around other things, such as socialising, food or finances, and how you might be more consensual in those areas. It’s also worth thinking about whether you treat yourself consensually! This is something Meg-John Barker written more about here and there is lots of useful stuff about cultivating consensual communities over on the Consent Cultures blog.

Conclusions

I hope these posts have given you a flavour of some of the things that are worth thinking – and communicating – about when exploring kink. As I said earlier, there are heaps more helpful resources out there to draw on. There’s another excellent list available from Clarisse Thorn’s website here.

It can be amazing, when you haven’t done so before, to finally give yourself permission to have the kind of sex and/or play that really excite you. Tuning into yourself, communicating with others, and cultivating consensual dynamics, are all excellent ways to start opening that door.

  • “NO” means NO.
  • “Not now” means NO.
  • “Maybe later” means NO.
  • “I have a boy/girlfriend” means NO.
  • “No thanks” means NO.
  • “You’re not my type” means NO.
  • “*#^+ Off!” means NO.
  • “I’d rather be alone right now” means NO.
  • “Don’t touch me” means NO.
  • “I really like you but …” means NO.
  • “Let’s just go to sleep” means NO.
  • “I’m not sure” means NO.
  • “You’ve/I’ve been drinking” means NO.
  • SILENCE means NO.
  • “__________” means NO.

 

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