There are lots of reasons to adopt positive consent as a standard across the board. The most obvious and important one is that getting an active, positive “yes” from somebody else indicates that they are engaged in what is happening, as opposed to begrudgingly accepting it. Positive consent negates issues concerning coercion, and helps us to foster a sexual culture with more fun and less assault.
There’s another reason that I want us to consider today, however. Let’s start with a simple but important premise though: there are (to generalise) two extremes of why you would want sex. You might want it because you are interested in a casual hookup, and therefore value sex for its own sake, as a simple, viscerally satisfying experience. Or you might want sex as a form of intimacy, akin to a beautiful, romantic dinner, where you experience the true merging of two souls, etc. Both of these conceptions of sex exist, and are perfectly valid.
That’s all well and good, but there are issues concerning how you get to the sex to begin with. Perniciously, many of the common ways of attaining sex are still awkwardly intertwined with rituals associated with romantic courtship. Take clubbing for instance: let’s face it, many people go out of their way to go clubbing because they want to find someone to hook up with. And yet, clubbing is also seen as a way to meet people. It’s probably a cultural descendant of traditional dances, where people would meet one another and assess each other’s viability as a long-term partner.
This results in two problems. The first is that it conflates the process of finding a partner and just getting a casual fuck, and often leaves one in a state of confusion afterwards, or of people having to awkwardly clarify what the whole experience meant to themselves and to others. The other problem is that it just becomes really annoying. Why the hell do we have to go through this long and protracted process of going out on Thursday, drinking, dancing, reading body language, when sometimes all we want is really just one thing?
Enter the solution: positive consent.
Let’s go back to the start of this article again though, for a second. Given how great positive consent sounds as a way of combatting rape culture, why is there even opposition? One common critique is the silly-sounding but nevertheless important issue of awkwardness. It is often just really awkward to directly proposition someone and ask: “would you like to sleep with me?” (or so I am told). But this awkwardness might actually be the key to why we need positive consent, to address this broader issue concerning sexual norms that I’ve described above.
If “would you like to have sex” becomes ingrained as a regular thing to say in a conversation, a few things might happen. The first is that we de-conflate all sex and all romance. It would still be very plausible that sex could be meaningful in particular contexts (for instance, after a romantic dinner), but it is now also possible to just enjoy the act for its own sake, in a casual way, much as we enjoy food, without being particularly concerned. Secondly, it would make it much easier to solicit sex to begin with, because instead of having to deal with the whole ritual leading up to casual sex (whatever it may be), we can just use an ordinary phrase that everybody is used to, to get there. Hooray.
Obviously, this article is somewhat reductive, but hopefully it perhaps raises an interesting point concerning why positive consent might have utility beyond combating rape culture. A world in which we can freely discuss sex, in a fashion that is laid-back and casual, is one that is probably more fun for all.