I write a lot about sex in my novel Appetite but I never mention consent. Not writing about consent was a deliberate act. I chose not to discuss how Naomi and Mike interacted with each other and how they discussed their encounters both on and offline, because this is how most people currently make their sexual choices: without conversation – often without much consideration for themselves or others.
In Appetite, Mike never discusses or asks. He uses the dynamic that Naomi has responded to, to take things as far as he can. I see this happening everywhere (including the BDSM scene), all the time. Both men and women take because they fear that if they ask, they will not get what they think they want.
This is toxic. It diminishes and harms all involved.
Consent is not complex. It is about what we say YES! to. It is about enthusiasm for an experience. Non-consent is everything that is not a clear, verbal or written YES! to all the aspects of the experience as it is planned, takes place or evolves.
Anything other than outright enthusiasm needs to be discussed and explored in a safe and respectful way.
A yes can change to a not sure or a no, both of which mean the same thing: stop…and discuss and respect what is happening. A yes needs to be thought through if it involves a new practice or toys etc… Always make sure you are safe, aware of what you are doing, of any inherent dangers or pitfalls and make sure to remember that there will be things that you cannot yet know. Anticipating these, making them consciously know unknowns, is important.
Like Naomi, I was sexually excited by certain things, but I never took the time to think or find out why that might be. I never considered what it was about certain encounters that worked in a way that others did not. I was almost always led by how the person behaved and by what they wanted, rather than my own desires and preferences.
This lack of consciousness, of awareness, is what causes problems. All too often we are too busy grabbing at an experience to consider what we are doing and why. We are not taught to respect and understand our own physical and emotional needs and, because of that, we do not and cannot understand or respect the physical and emotional needs of others.
As I have outlined in my interview with Lori Beth Bisbey, in my 20s I was never explicitly asked what I wanted, what I liked. And to be fair, I never asked anyone else either…there was just an absolute absence of dialogue about it. The only conversations I ever had with a partner seemed to involve positions, rather than the emotional and physical tone and quality of sex: the texture and feeling of what was desired. I did not understand my body or my self; how could I expect sex to be how I wanted it if I did not know what I wanted? How can an exchange of intimacy be an exchange, if it is not discussed and agreed upon?
To help the conversation about consent to become part of all our sexual conversations, it is crucial that men and women give themselves time to discover and consider their preferences and desires when it comes to having sex (or not having it). To read, think and consider for themselves as well as learn to communicate that effectively. For it is something that has to be learnt and practised.
It is about developing an acceptance and a love of your own body, about considering and accepting your desires, about becoming comfortable with all the aspects of your body and mind when it comes to sex – and, this, of course, goes along with becoming comfortable with and accepting yourself as a whole. The mind and the body are one, and never more so than when it comes to sex and physical intimacy.
It is clear that the consent conversation is so much wider than just about sex. It is about the respect we give our selves as well as the respect we believe we deserve. It is about knowing that our body and our self is something to be respected. This conversation and understanding has to start with how we, individually and socially, treat and respect children; and with how we learn, as adults, to understand the negative lessons we have been taught about ourselves and our bodies.
Consent is not just about sex but about how we engage with ourselves. It is about how much we know that self and how we then engage with others as well as with life itself. The conversation takes work, but it transforms how we interact with others emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. It is a conversation about what we say yes to and why in all areas of our lives. It is a conversation to start now.