more consent talk

Guess what I found today.

That’s right, you guessed it. (Actually, I have no idea what you guessed).  It was a strange, small-poster-sized, handwritten note pinned to one of the corkboards in one of my university’s buildings.  These corkboards usually have posters and fliers advertizing various events and services, usually with images and color and such.  So this big bland black-and-white thing with nothing but marker writing on it kind of stands out, visually.  Out of curiosity, I stopped to read it.

It turned out to be this very blunt announcement about consent.

If there is no INFORMED, Enthusiastic, and Continuous CONSENT, Then it’s not sex, it’s RAPE

If this were the internet, I’d have replied with a discussion of how consent can be more complicated than that (and how announcements such as this may not be helpful for everyone) ((not to mention, yes, rape is sex; the word “sex” doesn’t need to be reserved for only good and righteous acts)).  But it’s not the internet.  It’s a corkboard.

So I wrote on the poster itself.


[small, faint text reads: I have questions about this part. How can we have a dialogue about this?]

Mostly, I’m just in awe of how little thought they seem to have put into this.

36 responses to “more consent talk

  • epochryphal

    I was just thinking about “enthusiastic” today, and if “certain” was a step in a better direction or had equally many problems

  • JJ

    While maybe there were better words to use, what they had in mind was probably sex that someone isn’t guilted into, sex that doesn’t feel obligatory just because they’re in a relationship, etc. I don’t think it necessarily means too little thought was put into it, but signs like these always have messages that are short- that’s how they work.

    No, it doesn’t take into account that the routine sex of a married couple, for example, might not be “enthusiastic,” so for reasons like that it isn’t perfect, but making people consider consent and their own behavior is still a good thing, especially for the age group currently attending university.

    The ‘it’s not sex it’s rape’ was probably aimed at those who like to brag about the sex they’re having- if the sex their bragging about contradicts the qualities the sign describes. As if to say ‘it’s not really the sex you’re thinking about, it’s wrong and nothing to be proud of/ happy with.’

    No it, isn’t perfect, but no one would be able to describe it in more complexity on a hand written PSA sign intended for quick reading. Personally, I like that people are trying, and trying to get others to consider themselves.

    • Coyote

      ….Yes, they were certainly trying.

      Hopefully, you’re aware that “informed, enthusiastic, and continuous consent” can still describe how someone acts toward sex they were guilted into.

      • JJ

        I wouldn’t really consider that enthusiasm, no. Agreement. Even being eager to dissipate the guilt is a separate entity from genuine enthusiasm. Emotions can of course only be felt by the person experiencing them, so even if a person guilting someone into sex perceived the other’s behavior as “enthusiastic,” their assumption does not make it so.

        • Coyote

          I hardly think this message was intended for the guilted party. But regardless — have you seen Hezekiah’s comment?

        • JJ

          Why wouldn’t this message be intended for everyone having sex? And what other scenario would enthusiastic likely be intended for, if not someone being coerced or guilted?
          Bringing DD people into it, well, Hezekia says enthusiasm is EXPRESSED differently, which doesn’t contradict my point that one’s interpretation of whether or not their partner is enthusiastic doesn’t mean one way or the other whether they are or not.

        • Coyote

          It came across to me like an admonition directed at rapists. For the people who’ve been raped, it’s… I can’t imagine that’d be helpful. See the discussion on this post.

          “And what other scenario would enthusiastic likely be intended for, if not someone being coerced or guilted?”

          Can you rephrase this question? It’s not making sense to me.

          “Bringing DD people into it, well, Hezekia says enthusiasm is EXPRESSED differently,”

          and experienced differently. I don’t know about anyone else, but I know that my personal interest in something doesn’t always correlate with a strong emotional component.

          What I’m trying to get at here is that there are ways to give consent to something without being enthusiastic about it. I get what that wording is trying to do, and that’s appreciated and all, but I’m not convinced that’s the best way to go about it.

  • Calum P Cameron

    I would say that defining sex as requiring consent actually makes a lot of sense. The word “sex” originally came from “sexual intercourse” – and “intercourse” generally connotes a 2-way mutual conversation in which both parties are interested. The “inter” generally denotes something that two entities are working together on, rather than something that one entity is doing to another. By that logic, it makes sense to define sex as different from rape for the same reason as one would define “conversation” as different from “being shouted at” or “being spoken over” or “listening to someone ramble about something you find it impossible to engage with”.

    And it wouldn’t be the first word where the consent was part of the definition. Consent is the major difference between “generosity/charity” and “being stolen from”, when you think about it.

    I would still agree that “sex” doesn’t need to be reserved for that which is good and righteous, but it’s entirely possible for something to be mutually consensual (and thus “intercourse”) WITHOUT being good or righteous.

    Of course, one of the problems with a descriptivist language is that it’s borderline-impossible to say that any definition of any word is “wrong”, only that it’s less popular, less sensible or less useful. In this case, I can see how both interpretations could be considered sensible or useful to certain people, and I’ve honestly no idea about the popularity of either.

    • Coyote

      “The ‘inter’ generally denotes something that two entities are working together on,”

      I’m not following your logic, dude.

      • Calum P Cameron

        My apologies. It could very well be something specific to me or to some subculture I occupy without thinking.

        Generally, when I hear “interaction”, I assume we’re talking about things acting on each other. If we were only talking about one thing acting on another thing, I’d be more likely to expect the word “action” without the “inter-“. When I hear “interplay”, I assume two things playing off each other. When I hear “intercourse” in the old-school sense of “conversation” I assume a dialogue.

        “Inter-“, to me (and, if it helps, also apparently to Wiktionary) connotes “among, between, amid, during, within, mutual, reciprocal”. Obviously what precisely that means depends on context, but to me, generally speaking, if something is being done which is not mutual or reciprocated, it would in most contexts seem odd to describe it with any term containing the “inter-” prefix.

        • Coyote

          “Generally, when I hear ‘interaction’, I assume we’re talking about things acting on each other.”

          Sure, but think about international trade. That’s not necessarily mutually beneficial. It can be quite exploitative, in fact.

          Regardless, I don’t think this has any bearing on “sex” as a word, as it’s come to be a word in its own right.

        • Calum P Cameron

          International trade can be exploitative, but if there were such a word as either national or international “intertrade”, I’d imagine it’d be more mutual. It makes a difference whether the prefix goes on the noun or the adjective.

          I would personally say that, from what I’ve seen and heard, not only are most people aware that “sex” is synonymous with “sexual intercourse”, but even those people who are not aware of that would still think of it as a mutual activity upon hearing the word devoid of context. The notion that “raping” someone implies something different to “having sex with” them is hardly a new or uncommon thing.

          Whether definitively separating the two like that is more or less problematic than equating the two is probably a question beyond my pay grade, so I have no objection to you taking a firm stance on how you think the word should be used or would be used in an ideal world, don’t get me wrong, but one couldn’t really look at the world as it currently exists and the usage of the word “sex” as it currently exists within that world and come to the conclusion that the usage shown above is in any way incorrect.

        • Coyote

          “Whether definitively separating the two like that is more or less problematic than equating the two is probably a question beyond my pay grade,”

          Meaning you would accept an appeal to authority?

        • Calum P Cameron

          Hmm… probably not. Depends what kind of authority. Possibly someone with a great deal of demonstrated experience, knowledge and understanding when it came to the way we talk about sex and the effect it has on society, and who held the uncontested respect of a significant majority of those who were personally affected by this particular example in some way, I guess?

          I was using “pay grade” as a tongue-in-cheek metaphor for “ability to come to a conclusion on the issue and be reasonably certain that it was the right one” – primarily, I suppose, for the purposes of humour. Obviously, my actual pay grade (which is functionally non-existent) doesn’t come into it. I apologise for any confusion.

        • Calum P Cameron

          It explains one viewpoint. At the same time, however, the person from whom I first encountered an actual moral opposition towards saying “rape counts as sex” (and thereby blurring the distinction and reducing the emphasis on the necessity of consent) was ALSO a rape survivor, and one whom I very greatly respect as a trusted personal advisor.

          Like I say, I don’t think I (as someone who, thank God, has never had to personally deal with the experiences of either my friend OR the survivor whose words you posted a link to there) am qualified to come to ANY hard-and-fast conclusions on which suggestion is morally better.

          For me to vocally oppose and contradict claims that rape is not sex would be (or at least, would FEEL like) equivalent to me deciding that I – not a rape survivor – know better than my trusted friend who IS a rape survivor, and that seems all kinds of horrible. But at the same time, I understand that many of the arguments from the other side are ALSO coming from people who know better than me.

          As it is, I try to maintain some sort of balance, which often results in me functionally taking a sort of extreme-descriptivist, “live-and-let-live” approach and just assuming that so long as I understand what the speaker/writer was trying to say they can use the word either way in their own speech – and that, in turns, leads to me occasionally finding myself playing Devil’s Advocate in favour of whichever stance is being openly shot down or policed in the post I happen to be reading at the time, unless said post is from someone I know to be a survivor in which case that instinct is overpowered by a desire to leave well alone when I’m clearly not the expert here.

          Sorry, it’s a bit rambly – does that spiel make sense?

        • Coyote

          Well golly, it’s almost as if a concrete statement either way would entail more than semantics. Fancy that.

  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    The enthusiastic part definitely leaves out people who don’t express enthusiasm in traditional/expected ways (autistic & developmentally disabled people) and people who decide to do a sexual activity as an experiment to see if they like it. For people in the former category (which includes me), the requirement of enthusiasm (and the pronouncement that sexual activity involving me is rape) is effectively saying I and other DD people can have no sexual agency. I unsuccessfully tried to draw attention to this back when I was in college and preparing goodie bags (condoms plus candy) for an event on consent. The response I got was silence and changing the subject, so I assume that meant that the organizers decided “It’s okay because developmentally disabled people don’t go to our school” despite that I was right there in front of them.

  • JJ

    Ah? I didn’t have the option to reply to your last reply.
    This sign could be interpreted as being directed at rapists, but truly it doesn’t specify it’s audience. It could also be read by someone in a bad relationship, perhaps someone who IS guilted regularly into having sex, and give them reason to pause and consider how they are treated.

    Enthusiasm is a bit strong of a word, my point is just that while not exactly perfect, I believe the writer of the sign did have specific things in mind, especially since they are among university students and have probably experienced or know someone who has experienced some negative sexual behavior on campus.

    I also wonder how much better at getting the message across another sign could be, and still be short enough to be read by all who pass it. Wordy signs are likely to be ignored- especially those who feel criticized by it.

    • Coyote

      “This sign could be interpreted as being directed at rapists, but truly it doesn’t specify it’s audience.”

      It’s the only thing that makes sense, given that this person didn’t seem to stop to consider that these unexpected messages could be triggering.

      Did you read the comment section at the link?

      “Enthusiasm is a bit strong of a word,”

      Yes. It is.

      “my point is just that while not exactly perfect, I believe the writer of the sign did have specific things in mind,”

      Yes, yes, the intentions were good. I’m already with you there. We’ve covered this. It looks like the real point of disagreement is whether or not the actions of a person with good intentions should be shielded from criticism.

      Here, I got you some links.

      • JJ

        Well as I’ve said, it makes sense for anyone to read it. There are people who need to consider the words who aren’t rapists themselves. Those who haven’t had sex yet and who perhaps haven’t considered how they will conduct themselves, for example, and yes it DOES make sense for someone currently being victimized by any manipulative behavior to also consider the words. Many may not be aware of being mistreated and allow such behaviors to continue. Some negative sexual conduct is very normalized, it isn’t only rapists who should be informed.

        While I understand anything can be criticized, I still can’t see how a different sign could do much better.

        While it may be triggering, the same could be said for anything mentioning rape, yet still awareness needs to be spread, and not only through mediums where hashtags can be used as warnings.

        And yes, while all other boxes had a reply option the previous two lacked them. nbd

        • Coyote

          “yes it DOES make sense for someone currently being victimized by any manipulative behavior to also consider the words.”




          the link

        • JJ

          If it isn’t worth the effort for you to converse, then it isn’t worth my effort to leave the page. Do these links directly contradict a point I’m making? If not, I don’t need to read them and if so, you could simply share your thoughts with me. I don’t need to see them from another source to hold them in higher regard, or whatever you think the point would be.

        • Coyote

          Wow, you have an ideological opposition to clicking links? Okay.

          The comment section has comments from people who’ve experienced sexual assault and rape saying that someone telling them how to class their experiences would not have been helpful to them. I suggest you view the comments in their own words.

  • Klaraa

    You know, if I had, before the Age of 24, been made aware that an activity between two people, involving genitals but no informed and enthusiastic consent, is rape, that would have been really helpful, and a sign like that might just made the difference and set me to think about it before. Not everyone is very aware of sexual ethics before they do something practical.

    Also, had my kid’s father been made really, deeply, aware, that raping/grey-raping/manipulating-into-babymaking is not just legally but also morally wrong, life would have been very different. Not that a little black-on-white sign with a few somewhat abstract words on it would ever be enough to break through those layers of patriarchy, but still…

  • JJ

    Again I can’t reply directly, but again I’ll do this. Hope you’ll see it.

    Speaking of comments- there’s one right below our last exchange saying that a sign like this WOULD have helped them. In fact, it would have done more for them as the victim of such behaviors than the perpetrator. Nothing can ever be 100%, but if it could help anyone, wouldn’t it be worth doing?

    And my, an ideological opposition? Maybe you’re a bit too dramatic over there.

    My point was, and was obviously so and in layman’s terms, that it’s more sensible to simply speak while you’re within a conversation, rather than make someone leave and then come back. It shows you don’t want to really be having the conversation, but rather just have someone agree with you already. The sign was designed to help people, public awareness is important even when it’s imperfect or wouldn’t help 100% of the people who read it, the intended situations they were speaking out against were pretty clear as well and I still think it’s unreasonable to expect that they include every possible scenario on poster board meant to be read quickly. That’s all. I think your criticism of this thing is too extreme, and your expectations for posters are too high.

  • luvtheheaven

    Thank you, Coyote, for all of the thoughtfulness in this comment section here.

    • Coyote

      Is that snark I detect? haha.

      • luvtheheaven

        No, I meant no snark. I wasn’t sure how to word it, I guess, but I consider your replies to all of the comments very GOOD and well thought out and full of passion toward a cause I think is a good one, complete with links to other people’s experiences and writings on the subject to back up your points, and to me that is thoughtful. That’s all I was trying to say. Although, then again, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m not 100% sure what “snark” even is. I’m not being sarcastic, if that’s what you’re saying, or ironic or anything. My point was supposed to be genuine. I just spent quite a bit of time reading through all of the comments on here, and I wanted to express that I appreciated them, that’s all. And that I’m in agreement with what you’re saying, over all.

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