The scarlet umbrella is the international symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement

Complicating Consent

Consent has been a consistent theme throughout this module. In the section on Affirmative Consent, we saw that consent cannot be implied, that it must be positive and ongoing, that it can be retracted at any time, and that an unconscious person cannot be deemed consenting, whatever they may have said before they passed out. While the “Tea Consent” video made recognizing consent seem simple, we also saw that this a simple understanding of consent, in which we always know when something is consensual, has been questioned by feminists. For example, we saw anti-pornography feminists question the genuineness of consent in at least two contexts, that of sex work and that of BDSM. For anti-pornography feminists, women who perform in pornography and engage in sex work are likely coerced, whether by pornographers and pimps or by financial desperation. For these same feminists, women’s consent to masochistic sexuality is also up for debate, given that they see such sexuality as a consequence of women’s social conditioning and the internalization of their oppression. Affirmative consent takes us from “‘no’ means ‘no'” to “only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’,” however we saw that for some feminists, even “yes” may be questioned if takes place in a context of oppression or poverty.

As we also saw, these complex debates around consent are at stake in feminist and queer debates about whether children can consent. While some sex positive feminists have objected to claims that children cannot consent to sex with an adult – arguing that in at least some cases this denies their agency and expressed desires and represses them sexually – others have questioned both the cognitive ability of minors to consent and whether meaningful consent is possible within the adult-minor power dynamic. As we saw, parallel debates exist around animals’ ability to consent, particularly within the context of domesticity. Finally, this module raised questions of when consent is considered to matter at all, and examined the context of animal agriculture where routine violations of the sexual autonomy of animals – and arguably also of children – are legally protected.

Test Yourself


The Sex Wars, Consent, and Ethical Sex

CHALLENGE ONE: One topic that was debated in the feminist sex wars but that was not taken up in this module is the contentiousness of butch-femme lesbian relationships. For this Challenge, do some research on this topic and write a report on the two sides of this debate in the context of the feminist sex wars. Write a short (500-750-word) report on your research findings and share it in the Challenge Sharing Forum by Friday at noon.

The Sex Wars, Consent, and Ethical Sex

CHALLENGE TWO: If you grew up in a rural or agricultural setting, and perhaps had experiences of 4-H, how did you respond to the discussion of bestial acts in the context of industrial farming? Do you agree or disagree with Rosenberg, and if so, why? Write a short (500-750-word) response to Rosenberg on this topic and share it in the Challenge Sharing Forum by Friday at noon.