This week we are going to dive into the topics of consent and ethical sex. While the readings cover various topics, the central thread that ties them together is the issue of sexual boundaries and sexual ethics. Before discussing each of the readings specifically, we will go over the idea of affirmative consent.
The following video is a good springboard for a discussion of affirmative consent.
Affirmative consent is the legal consent standard in Canada. In R v. Ewanchuk (1999) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that there was no defense of implied consent. This is key to understanding some of the crucial aspects of affirmative consent. As the name indicates, affirmative consent goes beyond the phrase ‘no means no’ and replaces it with the mantra ‘only yes means yes’. What that means is that in order for a sexual encounter to be consensual, there must be voluntary and positive evidence of agreement determined from the perspective of the complainant.
In the tea video we see many of the central tenets of affirmative consent at work through the analogy of offering someone a cup of tea. If someone says ‘I’m not really sure’ about tea (sex) then you should not push them, guilt them, or get annoyed – that is coercion. The Tea Consent video does a great job of emphasizing the importance of ongoing consent. Just because someone says ‘yes’ to tea, or sex, doesn’t mean they are in a perpetual state of consent. People can change their mind any time during a sexual encounter, whether it is on the drive home or in the middle of sex.
A great example of affirmative consent at work can be seen in the Elizabeth post, “How to Have Sex With An Asexual Person”. The author clearly outlines the way that seduction is a violent framework for asexual people, since it invalidates their identity. The article is clever in that it is aimed at an audience who may be interested in having sex with an asexual person, but the ‘lesson’ in the post is that the framework that should be used is the one used for everyone: affirmative consent. Elizabeth goes through a series of steps that are useful for those thinking about carefully and ethically pursuing a sexual relationship with someone who identifies as asexual, however, these steps are a useful guide for anyone wanting tips on how to have ethical sex.
But why is attempting to seduce an asexual person violent? Because asexual people experience little to no sexual attraction, and are not interested in having sex. While theoretically they can have sex, and of course they can consent to sex, going into an encounter with an asexual person wanting sex basically says to them: your identity does not matter to me.
See the video below for some more thoughtful pieces of advice from asexual people.
What the discussion above makes clear is that ethical sex is more than consensual, and negotiating sexual boundaries is complicated. When it comes to ethical sex, affirmative consent is just the beginning; issues of communication, satisfaction, power and pleasure may also be explicitly addressed. The assigned readings all grapple with these complexities.
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