Why Consent Needs to Be More Than “Sexy”

The “Consent Is Sexy” campaign is important. It is a positive thing for many reasons. I am glad it exists. I am glad that people are wearing the pins, are doing things like Slutwalk, and starting to talk about consent.

I am glad that people like my dad, who grew up never having heard about consent outside of a legal context, are now telling me about how much they wish consent had been tied together with sex and celebrated as a sexy, positive thing (family discussions in the Dunlap house are pretty rad).

I am glad that people are consuming consent culture. I am glad that people are seeing consent and sex as connected.

I am glad that consent is, through this campaign, marketed in a way that means people will buy it. I will always say “Thanks!” when people tell me that my work is sexy, or “That’s awesome” when someone is wearing a “Consent Is Sexy” pin or shirt or has a poster.

But consent is not a magic wand for eternal hotness, no matter how dreamy clear communication is.

Consent is not always sexy. Sometimes asking for what you want sucks. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes you feel nauseous, sometimes you need to take big risks to ask for what you want.

Sometimes you ask for something that you want, and you and a partner try it out, and then it turns out you are not so into it after all, and you have to tell your partner that it isn’t something you want to do again, and risk hurting your partner’s ego or feelings/being embarrassed.

Sometimes you spend weeks working yourself up to a point where you feel secure enough to voice your needs or wants.

And then it turns out that your partner is not into what you are into, or shames you for wanting it.

Sometimes you have to do without what you asked for, or find creative ways to get what you want.

And often, it hurts to go without.

Sometimes it hurts all parties involved to feel like they may not be “enough,” which is another issue entirely, but I wanted to make it clear that not wanting what your partner wants is really really difficult.

It’s scary to voice your needs, it’s scary to tell someone “I want this” or “I need you to listen to me” or “No” or “Yes” or “I don’t feel safe doing that” or “Not now.”

Every time you ask for what you want, or state what you do not want, you are risking rejection and being shamed.

Every time you ask for what you want, or state what you do not want, you are communicating really critical information that will always positively affect the situation.

Because even if the answer is “No” or “I don’t feel safe doing that” or “I think we should take space from each other because I feel uncomfortable with what you just said” or, more realistically:

  • “That’s disgusting”
  • “I can’t do that with you”
  • “You want WHAT?!”

You are making sure that lines are not crossed, that boundaries are discussed, and you are learning about yourself and about your partners. You are learning about what you all want from your interactions and relationships, you are learning about the shame and stigmas that exist in your communities, and as we all know, learning can be seriously uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable is not a bad thing; successful communication may be just being able to communicate at all. Communication does not need to be about sex to make it about boundaries and respect.

Consent does not have to be connected to sex.

I can successfully teach about consent and consent culture to a group without once mentioning sex.

This is because consent is about all boundaries and mutual respect and acknowledging humanity and the act of actively working to improve your interactions with others, be those interactions platonic or naked and frisky.

It’s about things like cultural closeness, info-sharing, intentionality, accountability, good manners, and what to do when you make mistakes.

When consent is seen as “sexy,” I am pleased,  but when consent is taught and defended as necessary, as a birthright, I am elated.

I am affirmed. I feel like safe spaces could be a large-scale reality.

It is critical that consent is embraced as a part of every day interactions. It is critical that we feel the discomfort of actively pursuing consensual interactions, and that we continue to put ourselves out there when inquiring about sharing touch/space/food/friends/partners/stories/money/experiences/books/clothes/beds/seats on the bus.

Because when asking for what you want, or when stating your boundaries, you are reminding yourself and those around you of the power or yes, and of the power of no, and how they are both something that you want to know about.

And that inquiring, that discomfort you feel, is the discomfort of challenging and rejecting rape culture.

Keep it up.

13 comments

  1. I would *LOVE* to repost this as a guest post on Purrversatility- would you be ok with that? I think you nailed this.

    1. Yes, definitely. Thanks so much for the repost request/passing on info about my favorite thing ever: consent.
      Hope your week is off to a great start!

  2. That’s my sign and arms! From Slutwalk Brisbane, Australia.

    An important conversation. I agree with all that you’ve said.

  3. Excellent post – but what about when objecting to something like being pushed to consent to something one does not want of near necessity turns into a, shall we say, less than civil exchange? Because sometimes setting those boundaries can get really messy with some people – and the need to continue to speak out can be messier still.

    1. Glad you liked it! I am a little confused about your question. I think you are asking,
      “What can you do when saying no turns into a voilent or dangerous situation?”and “What do you do when your no is challenged/dismissed/not respected?” (If that is not what you are asking please let me know because I don’t want to speak for you)

      I’ll wait to hear back from you before offering any advice or response. I also would love to maybe make this its own post, with your consent of course.

  4. Wow. Really great text!

  5. bandaloopdeloop · · Reply

    Way to show the whole issue, Parks! One of these days, I need to write a piece about informed consent & politics/economics.

  6. This is an absolutely amazing article! Amazing, amazing. I am so proud of you for writing this. I am so proud to live in a world where someone knew, felt, and believed all of this…where this can be a discourse that we share, and someone can somewhat casually write about it. Really, this post made me feel so good about humanity.

  7. I have a slightly unrelated question. But here it is: How does one ask for consent for a first kiss without it being awkward? Do you think a simple – May I kiss you would work?

    1. This is a great question. I am going to write a post about it ASAP to give you lots of options. But yes, asking “may I kiss you” is a great way to start off being sweet and physical with a partner. Or even, “I would really like to kiss you. Would you be into that?”

  8. [...] called “Consent Is Sexy.” [side note: there have been some good critiques of the idea that making consent "sexy" is a way to combat rape culture] We came up with this three-pack of underwear with a set of [...]

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