Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Consent, in addition to being a major buzzword in the post-#metoo world, is an incredibly important concept in human relationships, especially in regards to sex. But what does it actually mean?
By the dictionary definition, consent is simply agreeing to a given proposal:
And this is exactly how it generally plays out in our culture: so long as a person ultimately acquiesces to your will, then congratulations, you have secured consent.
I would like to throw that definition out the window. The highest window I can find. Actually, that’s not really satisfying enough. I would like to set it on fucking fire and launch it into space.
As the #metoo movement has poignantly demonstrated, there is an urgent need to redefine our terms around sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Just as “no means no” was eventually found lacking, since all too often victims aren’t even given the opportunity to say no, it’s time to re-examine “yes means yes.”
Does yes mean yes when the person saying it is being blackmailed, threatened, or terrorized?
What if they don’t actually understand what they’re saying yes to, or have been purposefully misled about some aspect of the proposed activity?
Is yes really a yes from someone who has been drugged, or who is so drunk they cannot stand up on their own?
Simply saying the word “yes” does NOT automatically reflect agreement around, and enthusiasm for, the proposed activity. “Getting to yes” may be an accurate reflection of the dictionary definition, but it is NOT the kind of consent we should be striving for as humans.
In fact, when we say consent, most of us mean something closer to consensus:
It seems unlikely, though, that I will actually get consensus on changing the word we all use to describe agreement around sexual activity from consent to consensus. So, instead, I propose a new definition of consent. One that reflects genuine empathy, mutuality, and respect, and empowers all participants equally.
Consent, in order to be consent, must be IDEAL: Informed, Direct, Engaged, Aligned, and Lucid.
ALL of the above must be true in order for any cooperative activity to be consensual.
Otherwise what you have is not consent. It is simply successful coercion.
I strongly encourage you to look at every relationship in your life, every activity that requires agreement from someone else, and ask yourself: “Do I have IDEAL consent?”
Because if you don’t, what you actually have is a time-bomb of resentment and trauma that started ticking the moment you took action without genuine agreement.