"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Monday, June 24, 2013

speak now #5: consent, morality & safety

Now Playing: How to Save a Life by The Fray (lay down a list of what is wrong, the things you've told him all along and pray to God he hears you) 

Sooo...what is sex positivity?

Sex positivity is a new way of looking at sexuality and sexual behaviour - with the emphasis not on 'morality' (i.e. stone-age logic and patriarchal, homophobic bullshit) but on consent. It is the promotion of sexual education and knowledge with the message that any sexual behaviour that is safe and consensual is FINE. OKAY. SERIOUSLY. DO IT. HAVE FUN. Sex positivity is also the acceptance of all people regardless of anatomy, identity, expression and orientation, and the recognition that sexuality isn't binary, that all dichotomies are false dichotomies, and there is nothing immoral or sinful about...being human, really.


Consent is the free and informed decision to participate in any sexual activity, with the right to withdraw that consent at any time. Consent, also known as 'enthusiastic consent' doesn't mean that there was no 'no' - it means that there was a 'yes'. Instead of looking to religious texts or outdated social norms about what is and isn't okay when it comes to expressing sexuality, the sex positive movement encourages consent to be the moral guideline for sexual behaviour.

Examples of Consent:

A lot of people claim that legalising gay marriage will lead to a 'slippery slope' that will end up with people marrying multiple people, their relatives, animals...etc. This is because our sex negative society fails to see the importance of consent in the context of sexuality, and the irrelevance of religiously-imposed morality and social convention on the private activities of freely-consenting adults. Bestiality and incest will never be endorsed by the sex positive movement not only because, you know...the scientific evidence that suggets that might be a bad idea - but because incestuous relationships can often involve pressure from people in positions of authority and animals can't give consent. Legalising gay marriage and encouraging sex positivity will lead to nothing but a lot of happy gays and a massive reduction in unwanted pregnancies and diseases.

The sex positive movement is opposed to polygyny and child brides because in the cultures that encourage these marital practices there is often resistance from either party, especially from the bride. Resistance to marriage and forced arranged marriage is not consent. Sexual activity within unwanted marriages constitutes marital rape. 

Although there is some dispute as to whether current ages of consent in some parts of the world are realistic reflections of sexual development, the sex positive movement opposes children engaging in sexual activity, especially with adults. Children cannot give consent to sexual activity. 

But consent also matters in our day-to-day interactions with people, as well. The sex positive movement encourages people to not categorise sexual activities into 'good' and 'bad' and then expect their partners to be up for whatever you think is okay. Instead, the sex positive movement emphasises the importance of making sure there is communication - what people like and don't like, are or aren't comfortable with, etc. If you want to do something, ask, and then respect whatever the other person says. It really is that simple. Consent doesn't count if someone is pressured or threatened into giving consent. This includes emotional abuse, physical intimidation or the perception of threat.

One other thing - consent is situation-specific and can be withdrawn at any time. If someone refused to be kissed yesterday and then says they want you to kiss them today, that is consent. If someone slept with you last week and then doesn't want to sleep with you today, last week's consent doesn't count. You can't use someones' history, either with you or with anyone else, to substitute consent - it doesn't work on precedent. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time - everyone has the right to say yes and then change their mind, and the right to expect their partners to cease and desist. Sexuality is confusing. People get confused about what they do and don't want. And that's okay.

I know the idea of consent can be intimidating, especially for people who find it appealing to take what they want and are afraid of being rejected. Refusing to give consent isn't...rejection, per se, and shouldn't be taken personally. A lot of people feel like sexual attention is an honour and people don't have the right to turn it down - I've seen these poisonous attitudes especially towards people who are perceived as being fat, ugly, or otherwise unnattractive. Which is total bullshit; sexual agency is a human right and isn't tied to what you look like or whether or not some fuckhead thinks that you're fuckable. Sexuality is something personal and convoluted and confusing and not something all people are willing to be all gung ho and adventurous with. And, you know, if you want to do stuff and the other person doesn't, that's not your fault - and the other person has no right to make you feel dirty or gross for wanting something that they just might not be into. If you're in a relationship where another person is consistently refusing to consent to things you might want to do, then maybe that's a sign for a conversation about what you want and where things are heading or, maybe, to find someone who is more sexually compatible. Consent also shouldn't be considered a...mood killer, and it doesn't mean you can't do anything spontaneous - asking 'is this okay?' takes three seconds, it's not like you're presenting a thesis.

The importance of consent (and why morality can go suck it)

Morality seems like the easy way out. Black and white rules. You can't do this, you can do this. If you do that you're a slut, if you don't do this you're a prude. It means that you can approach a sexual relationship and know exactly what to expect.

But that's just really not a realistic way to approach sexuality. Everyone is different - everyone has different preferences, different attitudes, and because sexuality can be so intense and intimidating some people can have crazy powerful desires or extreme aversions. Consent empowers the individual to make their own choices about their sexuality - choices that can change and evolve as we grow as sexual beings. Using consent as a sexual guideline is the only way to not only respect different cultures and social attitudes that might reflect in our personal choices, but also to transcend them - many of the incidences of sexual violence, forced sexual relations, slut shaming, etc are caused by a clash between personal interests and the oppression of society.

The sex positive movement believes that no safe and consensual sexual activity is wrong, which is the basis of religious sexual morality - that gay sex is a sin, that premarital sex is a sin, period sex is a sin, pretty much anything fun and not for the purposes of making babies or asserting patriarchal authority is a sin...pfft. This has evolved into our semi-secular society into a force used to pressure people into doing things they don't want to do and to not do things they do want to do. Consent works by empowering people to set their own boundaries, and to force people to have some fucking human decency and respect those boundaries, with or without some kind of moral superiority. There is nothing wrong with a safe and consensual BDSM relationship, if all parties are freely consenting adults. On the other hand, even an 'innocent' kiss is wrong if the other person isn't interested. If that's too complicated a concept for you to grasp, then seriously, don't have sex. You are evidently not mature enough or good enough for anybody.

It is also important to note that morality has its base in religion, and in times and places where we didn't know what we now know about sexuality and reproduction, a time and place where sex and marriage and babies were very tied up with gendered politics and a war between the sexes. We can't let ideas that are drenched in superstition and ignorance dictate the sexual behaviours of modern relationships in the modern world. In the age of globalisation we live in societies where not everyone comes from the same place, believes the same thing, worships the same gods. Consent is universal. Morality is not.

Morality really has no place in sexuality. It makes public what should be private, and holds people accountable for things that are really none of our business. By using false ideas of morality, the idea that you can judge the moral worth of someone based on who they do what with, when and how often, encourages this dangerous idea that we can use someone's sexuality against them.


I'll discuss safer sex and protection methods later, and find some awesome sauce resources that I have stumbled across, but I just want to discuss safety in the context of sex positivity. Sex negativity argues that abstinence, or only expressing sexuality in certain situations with certain people lowers the risk of sexual behaviour, but that is just totally not accurate. People are going to do weird and wacky and, yes, dangerous things in the context of sexuality and there's nothing wrong with that. The sex positive movement is all about educating people to feel good about themselves, and also to be safe whilst doing that.

If you're not grown up to discuss protection methods and options with your partner, or your partner reacts negatively to the concept, then a sexual relationship is a baaaaad idea. Sexual behaviours all have their risks, but nothing and no one is worth your safety or your future. If you or your partner want to do something it is very important to do your research - work out the risks involved, be that pregnancy or STIs, work out the best method for you to manage that risk and then always make sure you understand that no matter what you do every sexual activity has its risks, and every protection method - even abstinence - has its pros and cons. There's no foolproof, totally safe way to be human. Sorry.

Another part about staying safe is making sure that consent is part of the sexual dialogue of any relationship - even if it's just a "friendship" or "casual". You don't need to be going out with someone to demand consent, and consent isn't just associated with sexual intercourse - any physical or emotional thing that you want to do with someone, you have to get consent first. Pour exemple: I am a very cuddly person and I love hugs. My friends know that and we can get pretty touchy feely. All that being said, I can and have refused hugs and that has - and hasn't - been respected by some people. And I also know that not everyone is as comfortable (or as addicted) to skinship as I am and I respect that too.

Lack of consent isn't just about being respectful to peoples feelings and values; consent is the difference between sexual activity and sexual assault. Witnesses of the Steubenville incident, even the Steubenville rapists themselves, had no idea that what was occurring was rape because it wasn't violent and there were no protests - the entire defence for the perpetrators is that the victim never said 'no'. And no, perhaps she wasn't battered and bruised and didn't die screaming. That doesn't make it acceptable or consensual. Lack of consent and the wrongness of nonconsensual sexual congress isn't just about violence - it's about people not obtaining permission, and it is every person's right to give or deny permission before things are done to them.

My experiences with sex positivity/sex negativity

When I was very young there was this extreme pressure to be very disinterested in sexuality - during those health classes everyone would complain loudly and watch carefully for anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest or seriousness in the subject. But at the same time I watched as everyone was transfixed by all those outdated 'What is Happening To Me?' animations and realised that we can pretend all we like, but we're all fascinated with sexuality.

When I got a little older I definitely felt the pressure of the contradiction between being sexy and attractive, but at the same time not being interested in sex. We all wanted boyfriends but we weren't allowed to want boyfriends, which was really doing my head in. I never had much patience with social convention and that tightrope between slut and prude was a line I walked very badly, and often ended straying too far either way just to make things a little easier.

I couldn't get over the fact that the way my body was changing and all the multitudes of ways I could feel towards people were natural, and yet somehow bad. I also struggled with the fact that no matter how much I tried to ignore or deny it, things happened anyway and I was still bullied. When I started menstruating my periods were extremely heavy and intensely painful but people were horrified when I complained - the very idea that one would speak openly about the inconvenience of bleeding was unthinkable amongst most of my peers, so I suffered in silence through what I now suspect to be a hormonal imbalance of some kind. Primary school and high school, in my experience, were very sex negative in that people were very hung up about the morality of sex and obsessed with how people presented themselves as sexual beings. I also noticed a massive hypocrisy when all my male friends were very comfortable with talking openly about things like porn or masturbation, especially in senior year, but that same openness didn't apply to girls.

I know it didn't really occur to people that I, like most other human beings, have a sexuality throught most of grade school; I would show up to school dances all dolled up in party dresses and absurd amounts of makeup and all the boys would be like 'oh yeah...she's a girl...' - the reaction when I arrived at my Year 12 Ball in white embroidered silk, a sparkly tiara and about a foot of makeup was particularly hilarious. And I guess that made my acceptance and interest in sexuality a lot weirder, to most people - I personally find sexual experience and openness attractive and I fail to see what is so attractive about someone who is totally disinterested and utterly ignorant about sex, but that genuinely seemed to be the general consensus. I know that I wasn't really considered attractive, which was another thing I found weird - people only seemed to think that people only had desires if they were desirable, when it really doesn't work like that, and I saw a lot of 'ugly' people being ridiculed for just being, you know...human.

Going to uni has definitely helped me find my crowd - a lot of people here are sexually active and open about sexuality, and if you find the right people sex is no longer that gross taboo that only desperate sluts do to keep down boyfriends. It has really helped me grow as a person and to figure out what I do and don't want to have people I can talk to without being judged, and I think it's really important to have this open dialogue about sexuality. Growing up there was all this shame and stigma about sexuality, even about normal natural body processes and it can get really hard. One of my main motivations for starting this series is that when I was in grade school and didn't really have a lot of support or resources I turned to the internet, and it was in sex-positive webspaces like Laci Green's YouTube channels and Tumblr page that I really began to grow comfortable with sexuality, to educate myself enough about sexuality to feel comfortable with sex without worrying about the (mostly made-up or misunderstood) risks, and to better understand other sexual taboos, like LGBT issues.

My experiences with consent

I'll be honest with you - I didn't really understand consent, or the importance of consent, until very recently. We live in this society where we don't want fat ugly girls thinking that they're fuckable, much less having the right to refuse to be fucked, and that was really drilled into me in my younger and more vulnerable days. I was kind of reckless, as a younger teen - I would flirt a lot, even with people I wasn't very interested in, just to provoke a response without really understanding that that is somewhat problematic. I always thought that I wasn't good enough for the people I liked and that anything they did was something of an honour, and so I didn't really think about consent.

I very much took for granted consent at first - in retrospect I was very lucky that I was with someone who always respected my boundaries and always asked if I was okay. I got a bit impatient, actually, but in retrospect I am very glad - those first experiences took their toll, emotionally, but it would have been a lot worse if consent wasn't such a huge part of it. Those first experiences taught me the importance of consent, but also that consent can't always protect you from getting hurt. I got hurt, badly, but nothing would have changed that. That's part of growing up. But I would have been much more worse for wear if consent had ever been in doubt.

My second experience with consent is when I got involved with one of those 'nice guys finish last' losers, attempted to 'friendzone' him and then he decided that I was a vending machine in which you put in coins of 'being nice' and 'lets be best friends' in exchange for nonconsensual intimacy. You can't buy consent, and consent can't be earned via brownie points. The irony is that he told me to tell him if I was uncomfortable - which in itself is not how consent works. Saying 'stop' is part of establishing that you withdraw your consent. But it is not for the other partner to say 'I'm going to do stuff until you realise that this is nonconsensual, and then you can say 'stop'. Consent is yes and no. Not 'I'm going to do this, so try and stop me'.

So I hope that has taught you a little bit about sex positivity and introduced you to the sex-positive approach to consent, morality & safety. I will be posting more about the sex positive movement itself, as well as exploring sex positive feminism, sex positive atheism and looking at issues such as abortion, prostitution and pornography from a sex positive perspective. I will also be talking about other issues related to consent & morality such as rape culture and exploring the impact of religion on human sexuality. If you would like to read a more personal discussion of consent and what happens when you're not quite sure what consent is all about, click here. Stay tuned and stay beautiful!


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