Everything is impossibly complicated

Archive for the ‘Humanism’ Category

Enthusiastic Consent

Samantha Field, in her blog post titled Consent Isn’t Enough, argues that technical consent isn’t sufficient for having sex, but that sex instead requires enthusiastic consent–meaning consent given completely freely, without any pressure or sense of obligation.

On the one hand, I appreciate the position woman have been in for centuries (and still are today) of being seen as something to satisfy men’s desires, as opposed to someone with her own desires that deserve to be satisfied. I agree emphasis needs to be put on female pleasure and female comfort, and to get there from where we currently are requires emphasizing a woman’s consent in sexual activities, to ensure that the activities aren’t serving the one-sided desire of men.

But on the other hand, the post struck me as being rather overly idealistic. She mentions:

A long time ago, I watched a movie (I think it might have been Sunshine Cleaning?) where one of the main characters has sex with her boyfriend, and eventually gets so bored that she flips on the TV and starts watching something banal until he finishes. What I saw happening there wasn’t rape, but what I did see was a guy being a complete and total asshole.

I didn’t see this movie, and I don’t doubt that in the context of the movie that her assessment of the situation is correct, but on its own, I’m bothered by the all-or-nothing approach to sex that this represents. There’s nothing to guarantee that sex will always be mind-blowing, or even particularly striking. Sometimes sex is boring. If there’s consent, even if one person is bored, if both people accept it for what it is, what’s the problem?

Further, she says:

Sex should not be a “duty.” It shouldn’t be an act we feel obligated to perform for other people.

(which, to be fair, is then followed by “It should never be manipulated or coerced” which I’m not disagreeing with–the little things that bother me are intertwined with an overall argument that I appreciate). To this I wonder, why can’t sex be a “duty”? Two people in a relationship do all sorts of things for each other, and some of those things are going to be experienced as duties. Why can’t sex fall into that category for some people in some situations?

I grant that it’s entirely possible that Samantha would allow for the idea of sex-as-duty but didn’t see any reason to focus on it in light of the much more important point that inasmuch as sex being seen as a duty is the normal experience of females and not males, something is wrong and needs to be fixed. And with that I agree entirely. But I feel it’s important to remember, as we try to implement a fix, that sex isn’t magic. Sex is a human activity, and it enjoys all the benefits and suffers all the flaws of any human activity. The reason our society views sex so idealistically is precisely a side effect of having so many taboos around it–what’s forbidden gets elevated to something supernatural. As we learn to reclaim sex as a normal human activity and not a taboo one, we must also fully accept its normalness instead of expecting it to be a supernatural experience.

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