I have a bit of a problem. It sometimes affects my enjoyment of light-hearted pleasurable things and can cause people to use their ‘confused face’ on me when I tell them. It started a few years ago, but now I can’t switch it off. My problem is… I just can’t enjoy fantasies unless consent is very clearly dealt with. Seems odd, doesn’t it? I’m not entirely sure how it happened either, as I wasn’t always like this.
It started a while ago with my own fantasies. I’d be imagining something hot happening with my latest crush, and then the logical side of my brain would step in and say, “but that would never happen”. Or we’d get dirty and then my brain couldn’t continue the fantasy until we’d showered. It’s like my brain has no editing facility. If I can suspend my disbelief for television shows and movies, why can’t I do that for my own imagination?
The problem soon started to spread and, before long, I realised that it wasn’t just my fantasies that my brain was correcting. No, it couldn’t deal with other people’s either. Any piece of erotica – movie sex scene, filthy book etc – was now being criticised by my subconscious to the point where I couldn’t enjoy it. It’s annoying. I don’t want to have to read erotica that comes with a disclaimer, stating that the reader should assume the consent of all characters in the following stories. I can watch a television show and believe that no animals were harmed in its making without having a disclaimer at the end, so why does the issue of consent in fantasy sex bother me so much?
Maybe it’s the same as watching porn where the performers aren’t using condoms? I know that a great many precautions are taken by these people to ensure that their sex remains safe, but I sometimes worry if everyone who watches it knows this. How many teenagers just don’t know about the regular STI testing of porn stars and so assume that you don’t need a condom for penetrative sex? How many young men assume that it’s OK to go straight for anal because they’ve watched lots of porn with it in and the women always seem to love it without being asked? I know it’s bad to assume the worst of people, but the mere thought that someone could get the wrong idea from something where consent is not explicit seems to be bugging me more than I realised.
It means that the movie Secretary is now not quite so enjoyable. I realise that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character Lee is on a path of discovery. We all find ourselves doing things at that sort of time in our lives that our older selves look back on and think, “I can’t believe I was cool with that.” I understand that E Edward Grey apologises for taking rather than asking. I know how wonderful the ending is… but now I worry that some people will see that behaviour as acceptable between strangers. Should I worry about other people’s misinterpretation of a fantasy with implied consent? Probably not, but I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. I don’t want a world where all movies with sexual content come with a big Jackass-style disclaimer that reminds people to ask their partner before attempting to recreate anything they see. I don’t want to be reminded that some people are ignorant enough to need that.
What we need, is better sex education. The sort that covers relationships too, telling kids and young adults how important respect, consent and honesty are. There are always a few people who just won’t get it, but some are just following the wrong example and need to be put right. In the meantime, I shall try to work on my own little problem. What would be your recommended course of action? Perhaps I should write down some fantasies so that I can edit them on paper and then read them back to myself? Maybe I should just immerse myself in smut until my rational brain admits defeat? Either way, it’ll be fun trying.
This article was first published on BitchBuzz in 2011. Image via Joan Scahffer‘s Flickr photostream.
@lipsticklori Ooh, *good* piece.
@lipsticklori great piece!
I don’t have any suggestions on how to solve this problem, but hopefully you got some back in 2011. It’s a really interesting one, and something I think about quite a lot; and all such issues do seem to ultimately come back to “we need better sex education.”
As an aside, and funnily enough, I actually have the complete opposite problem… if I’m reading a story and consent is made really explicit, 9 times out of 10, it loses it’s buzz for me.
I tend to worry about the same issue from the opposite direction. As a writer, it is very important to me that consent is clear, that I am depicting healthy relationships. Part of this comes from my personal disgust, as a long time fan of romances, with realizing just how many romances include rape scenes that are depicted as a ‘normal’ part of romance.
Honestly, I don’t think sex ed it enough. I think that as long as rape culture is a thing, we are either actively working against it, or complicit in it, and the way to actively work against it is to either show healthy relationships with clear consent or show both rape AND sexual encounters where the participants aren’t clearly communicating their wants as having negative consequences. I’ll admit I don’t do as well as I’d like with this. Once you start trying to write healthy relationships in romance stories, you realize just much you need to break every convention of the genre, and just how fucked up most romance stories are.
Re: Harper Eliot’s comment, might be just me, but my general take is that if a story with explicit consent is a buzz kill, then the writer doesn’t know how to writer consent so it’s sexy. Unless you just happen to be into rape fantasies, but that’s a whole different ball of was.
Yeah, I’ve found wonderful erotica where the writer has such a delicate way with words that the consent (and any necessary precautions) are somehow woven into the sex scenes without distracting the reader. It’s a wonderful skill to be able to add such things in without ‘breaking the spell’, as it were. Are there any workshops for writers on how to do this type of thing well?