Body/Language: Dubious Discourse in the Consent Movement
by Dimitrios Otis
The last several years has seen the rise of a fringe movement known as “consent culture.” You may have seen a news report about a pink-haired, self-described “sexuality educator” stating that you need to ask consent from your baby before you change their diaper. Aside from the sheer silliness of this woman, we already have something in our culture known as “respect” that she could just as well have affirmed rather than claim to have invented. Yet, the consent movement’s main focus is not babies but sex—they claim to have discovered the correct way to have sex and they expect everyone to conform to it.
Consent is already our operating principle for sex. It is an established tenet of behaviour and law. The Criminal Code of Canada defines consent as “the voluntary agreement…to engage in the sexual activity in question.” So, consent in sex is not new, but “consent culture” wants to impose something new on it: they want consent instituted as a verbal behavior, even though this is not the case in nature, society or the Criminal Code.
Verbal Consent on Campus
Much of “consent culture” has been fostered and propagated at post-secondary education institutions. In the province of Ontario, the Trent University webpage on “Understanding Consent” states “it’s not just about stopping when you hear no, it’s about doing nothing until you hear yes.” The University of Guelph has a formal campaign in which everyone is told to “stop and ask for consent.” The Lakehead University “Importance of Consent” page describes that “there must be an understandable exchange of affirmative words that indicates a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.” None of these are consistent with our Criminal Code, but they are being presented as authority.
Overriding the Criminal Code
The Canadian Criminal Code puts the burden of proof on the initiator of sex. It inherently acknowledges that sexual consent cannot be limited to the verbal realm, but it comprehensively qualifies the defense of belief of consent, in complaints of sexual assault. As a National Post article declared, “Canadian law decisive on what constitutes sexual consent: there's nothing 'implied' or 'implicit' about it.” And because consent is not implicit, then it cannot be explicit either. In the article, Melanie Randall, a professor of law at the University of Western Ontario, is quoted as stating, “the idea of explicit consent is dangerous because it plays on and is contrasted with the idea of ‘implicit consent’…and there is no such thing in law.” Randall’s profile on the WesternLaw website describes her as an author on the subject of “sexual violence in women's lives, including state accountability for responding to and remedying this violence, particularly through law.” But despite this informed legal view against explicit consent, that is exactly what “consent culture” is demanding, and they have infiltrated post-secondary schools, women’s centers, and government programs with this misguided agenda.
One of the rallying slogans of the verbal consent movement is “Understand Consent.” Yet, instead of using the Criminal Code as the critical reference for this understanding, consent activists have created their own alternate standards.
The McMaster University webpage on “Sexual Assault Prevention” states that “any form of sexual activity with a person without their consent is sexual assault.” But in the same section they also offer this touch-feely statement; “Not asking for consent puts you at risk of hurting your partner’s feelings and perhaps doing something illegal.” These are confusing if not conflicting messages. Further, some sample consent questions are provided, including the straightforward “Do you want to have sex?” What could be clearer? But in another section of the same webpage is an opposing message; “consent is not just about a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”
The University of Guelph has its own program called “Stop. Ask.” What could be simpler? Except...to “stop” means you have already started. And while in some circles that might be a crude-but-effective way of scoring—just make your move and hope she gets stimulated before she gets repulsed—it also counts as sexual assault, so promoting the idea of stopping and then asking someone you are already assaulting is a really bad theme for a consent program.
The website of ASCC (Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent, pronounced “ASK”), a group associated with Wilfred Laurier University, states “We should ask and ask again” and “Never stop asking.” Yet on another page of their Consent section it states “Consent is not as simple as ‘yes means yes.’”
How do these self-anointed consent experts expect students to “negotiate consent” (another confusing consent culture phrase) by trying to follow guidelines like these? The convolutions of “consent culture” actually complicate matters—and may even cause young people to get into difficult situations, believing that the basic reality of sexual communication is verbal, when it is quite the opposite. Perhaps this is a factor in why, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the number of Canadians who “fully understand” what consent in sexual activity means fell from 33% to 28% between 2015 and 2017.
The claim of verbal consent is problematic enough, but the consent movement neurotically applies this requirement to the entire sex act. The Algoma University Sexual Misconduct Policy states,
It is the responsibility of the initiator of sexual activity to obtain clear and affirmative responses at all stages of sexual engagement. Relying on non-verbal communication can lead to miscommunication about intent and it is important each participant clarifies their willingness to continue at each progression of sexual activity to ensure active and ongoing consent.
Thus, we get the protocol of asking not just before but during the romantic encounter, for each desired action and every time that action is desired to be performed—and these questions and answers are required every time the persons have a romantic encounter, no matter how many times they have had sex previously, or how long they have been in a relationship. Any fault in asking all through every sexual encounter you ever have is sexual assault. Yes, this is the new Sexual Revolution.
There are several problems with this verbal conceptualization of sex:
- Sex is a physical act, impelled by hormonal bodily urges, so attempting to mandate verbal mediation on it is complete folly.
- Sex, like many other human activities, such as the performing arts, involves spontaneity, and to try to conform spontaneous activities to a Q-and-A format is ridiculous.
- Human communication in general has a very significant non-verbal component, and this certainly applies to romance and sexuality. Verbal consent dogma completely denies this enormous area of human behaviour, which is an incredibly reductive view.
- Verbal consent effectively contraindicates dance floors and loud bars —particularly gay ones—where a lot of sexualized interaction and touching may take place but where verbal request and assent are rendered difficult if not impossible by loud music.
- The “consent culture” movement is closely aligned with “progressive” sexual identities, including all the latest initials and pronouns and their ever-expanding range of sexual expressions and interactions. Part of these groups’ purposes is to campaign against societal attempts to limit their sexual expression and polymorphous modalities of sex. Yet verbal consent rules enforce only one, strongly limiting, version of how sexuality can operate. There is a contradiction here that “progressive” groups need to address before they start playing Consent Police.
- The “consent culture” rules operate on the presumption that there is one person initiating sex—by deafualt a man who is supposed to be asking all through the encounter—and another person who is passive and assenting (or not.) This is a rather dated, traditional, and even patriarchal view that completely excludes the possibility—and reality—that both parties may play both active and passive roles over the course of a sexual encounter.
- The attempt to impose verbal sexual consent on society is oddly close to religions attempting to impose their own morality-based sexual rules. For example, Christianity includes the belief that only sex after marriage is morally correct—sex outside of marriage being “sin.” That’s fine for Christians, but to try to force that view on everyone else is clearly unacceptable.
- The rules of verbal consent are so stringent and comprehensive that it would be literally impossible to adhere to them, if anyone actually tried. Considering that most people have two hands, a mouth and a torso in active play during sex, then that is up to four requests that would have to be asked and answered by each person involved at any given moment, on an ongoing basis, for them to avoid sexually assaulting each other. Sure, its absurd—but this is the “logic” of verbal consent, and it makes everyone who is sexually active a criminal.
Aside from being one of the current moral fads that claim the young and the earnest—we might ask why these people have concocted such a flurry of verbal sexual consent claims, buzz-phrases, hashtags, posters, videos and workshops? Coming up with new ways to explain something that is already established (consent is like making tea—no, consent is like riding a bicycle…) The Catholic Church took centuries to develop and propagate its sexual rap—but in just a few years the consent-obsessives have constructed their own complex discourse they want implemented immediately. And while the Church at least admits they think sex is bad, “consent culture” hides behind taglines like “consent is sexy” when they actually view sex as a threat.
As with the expanding definition of “sexual violence”, the real purpose is Victorian—demonizing sex to justify intervention. Whether we cite Michel Foucault for their obsession with formulating discourse to control sex, or Camille Paglia to expose their suppression of primal desire, the “consent culture” bunch cannot tolerate the idea of young people—young women, that is—engaging in heterosexual acts without the Consent Clergy’s guidance. But that is only half of it.
Those who are behind “consent culture” believe women are inherently victims of sex with men, and phrases like “consent is a must for all of this hot stuff” are cynical decoys by people who believe heterosexuality is a patriarchal construct that must be subverted, if not destroyed. Thus, the ultimate goal is to change the Criminal Code so that verbal consent is law. Since men do most of the initiating in romance and sex (whether by nature or nurture), then a legal requirement of constant verbal consent will undermine “male power.” Any woman will be able to state at any time after a sexual encounter that she didn’t give verbal consent—which will be effectively true—so what was sex is now sexual assault.
But the purpose is not to put men in jail. The activists behind “consent culture” want women to have control in society and sexuality, yet they don’t want women to have the responsibility of asking in romance. That is far too much of a risk for fragile female vanity! No, better to keep the onus of pursuit on men, and add the threat of moral denouncement and criminal charge to it, both highly effective control mechanisms.
Its a perfect feminine solution.
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