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I wrote 4,000 words on what sexual consent is because apparently we still don't get it

Sexual consent.

It shouldn't be a difficult thing to grasp, but apparently it is. Working out if someone wants to bump with you shouldn't be a convoluted excavation. It also shouldn't be something we take lightly either.

But really, it shouldn't be something I find myself writing about on a Saturday night. I would rather be in the pub. But apparently we - as a society - still can't quite grasp sexual consent and I apparently have a lot of feelings on the topic as well. So I'm spending my Saturday night writing this. Not because I'm a loser with no friends but because we need to have this chat.

(Side note: I wonder what I'll do with my life when the patriarchy falls? Maybe I'll go to the pub more).

Since the #MeToo movement started I (and probably you) have seen the men asking "can we not even touch a woman's knee now without consent". No, you can't. Because going around stroking other people's knees is weird. Then you see the men who get defensive because they wouldn't (intentionally) assault a woman and they think you're trying to imply something (maybe we are).

But then you see the other men who show genuine concern that they've maybe (unknowingly) assaulted or taken advantage of a woman at some point in their life. And they want to learn how to be better.

And that's where this blog post has been born - the honest chat about what consent is. A 101 guide, if you will. Because even in the feminist community we're still debating consent. Can making money from sex ever be consensual? Is pr0n wrong? Can you enjoy getting chocked and still call yourself a feminist? Is fellatio misogynistic? If a man won't go down on you is that a sign that he thinks women shouldn't have the right to vote?

My definition of consent is: do what the fuck you want but chat it out with your partner. Fucking communicate. Realise that sexual needs and desires are unique to the person. You might decide not to fuck each other after that chat because you realise your sexual needs don't quite align. That's okay. Because the world would be boring if we were all the same (that's the saying, right?)

I see the sexual revolution as a world where sweet missionary by candlelight and a BDSM orgy in a dungeon are both valid sexual choices. And everything in between; no matter how kinky or gentle it is. Cannonball each other naked into the sky for all I care, just as long as it is consensual and you agree on safe words.

But obviously, it is a bit more complicated than this because if it wasn't we wouldn't be in this massive mess.


First off, we don't really know how to talk about sex in a mature and adult way. I might be spending my Saturday night writing about sex on my blog but I used to blush at the word anus. I was always okay speaking about sex with a partner, but not so much in public or with friends. That is part of the problem. If we want consent, we need to let go of the shame that surrounds sex and learn to talk about it maturely. And that starts with schools and parents. Even at 28 years old, I lie to my parents about where I am if I'm on a date or hanging out with someone casual. I really shouldn't have to. Like, dating and sex should be a normal thing that I shouln't feel the need to actively cover up from my parents.

And....schools. Decent sex education was the first issue I ever strongly cared about, and I still do. But apparently we can't have that because then the teenagers will start humping in the school toilets. Listen, today's teenagers know what sex is. And if they want to do it, they will (hopefully not in the school toilets though). And I don't see the problem. If two (or more, because sex isn't always two people) are thirsty af at the sight of each other and everything is consensual.....I don't really see the problem. Teenage love is real as far as I'm concerned and I know people who had sex in high school (as in high school age, not physically in the school) who never regretted it.

If you have a problem with teenagers having sex (including teenagers who are emotionally ready to have sex) you really need to sit with that for a while. Think about why you get so wound up about young people engaging in consensual sex. Do you have a problem with sex in general? Because if you do have a problem with young people getting freaky then you're doing them a disservice. They will do it no matter how much the Prude Brigade tries and stop it, and you'll put them at risk.

This is where I remind you that there's an Age of Consent enshrined in law. That matters too.

Oh, and sex education when I'm finally in charge will cover more than just biology. It will cover all the contraceptive choices. Talk about STDs in a non-shameful way. And consent!!!!! Whatever consent actually means (because we're still a bit confused, but I'll cover that later).

Let's try and stop being funny around sex chat. Especially between people who are doing it together. Talk to your partner. And that doesn't mean you need to get all 50 Shades of Grey on them and get your lawyers involved (which is wrong on so many levels, as consent can be withdrawn at any time). It can be snuggling on the sofa and telling them about all the dirty things you want to do to them. Or it can be putting on your sexy voice and asking them what they like before you start.


Oh, and let's agree that virginity is a social construct. I can't believe I'm admitted this on the internet because it is really fucking embarrassing: I was one of those prudish teenagers who was "technically a virgin" for two months because I viewed penetrative sex as more up there than oral sex (lol). I'm glad I'm not that person anymore.

When you hold up the idea that certain sex acts are more valid than others you are holding up the idea that certain types of assault are more valid than others. Did you know that, in the UK, rape is forced penetrative sex and everything else is sexual assault? It's bullshit, but true. Any type of sexual assault can create trauma regardless of what the sex act was. I remember in university halls a conversation broke out about "how it's harder to rape a man because of erections" and some smart-ass chimed in that you could put an elastic band at the base of the penis. Oh ffs. Even if sex is against someone's will they can still react physically to the sensations (e.g. an erection). And you can still assault a man by performing a sex act that doesn't require an erection. Because sex is more than penis in vagina.

Okay, but what is consent? I'm glad you asked. Because we get confusing af messages. 

Society likes to tell us what we should like and what we shouldn't like in bed. And here's where I call out my own feminist community. Or more specifically sex-negative feminists. You know, the ones who like to tell us that women don't really like rough sex; we only do it because the men are coercing us into it. Or because we watched some porn one time and decided to take inspiration. Apparently, we're all romantic beings who want candles and Celine Dion playing in the background.

Plus apparently, a man who doesn't enjoy period sex or going down on a woman is a misogynist. Why? Because everyone is allowed to turn down any sex act that they please. And that includes the so-called feminist sex acts. I hate period sex and I'll fight anyone who tries to make me hand over my feminist membership card.


As far as I'm concerned, sex-negative feminists who reckon individual kinks are up for theoretical debate are part of the problem. When you decide what are "good" sex acts and "bad" sex acts you not only sound like a leader of a religious cult, you also give a free pass to assault. Yes, you do. Because you're telling people how to feel about their own bodies and what gets done to it. You make victims question their experiences. Stop it.

And just to keep the debate balanced: I need to deliver a TED talk to my own sex-positive community. People are allowed to like missionary-style sex (personally, I think it's quite underrated) with the lights off and t-shirt on. If someone isn't kink-friendly it's not because they haven't been liberated from the clutches of a sex-negative society. It's (shockingly enough) because kinky sex doesn't do it for them. That's cool. Start respecting it.

In case no one has ever told you this and you need validation:

Every time. 100%. In every lifetime. And every universe. You are the ONLY person who gets to decide what you like in bed. No one is allowed to debate that with you. Not ever. This your body. Only you get to decide who touches it, especially sexually. And you get to decide the way in which they touch it. You decide your boundaries. 


In Hot Feminist (which is a shit book overall, but the chapter on sexual assault is v.good) Polly Vernon makes the very valid point regarding sexual assault and the law: it's a hard crime to prove as it essentially comes down to one person's version of events versus another person's.

Many of us (and I was once one of these people) think of rape as someone jumping out a bush at a lonely woman in the middle of the night and knocking her out and sticking it in. I mean, that probably makes for better television but it doesn't represent how mundane sexual assault actually can be.

Sexual assault can manifest itself in so many ways.
  • someone was drunk or high and couldn't really understand what was going
  • someone thinks being married to someone means they should drop their pants whenever
  • someone went "oh, please baby"
  • you were staying in an AirBnB and the host started coming onto you, and you were scared of being kicked out
  • the person you're dating fucking pouts when you say no (I had an ex-boyfriend who did this, I never gave in but it shows how fucking whiny men can be when you say no)
  • you were kissing someone and they make the assumption they can move their hands south
  • you complimented someone's kitchen work surface and they decided that was a cue to initiate sex (wait...what?)
And that last point is what I want to touch on first, and I'll be using the accusations levied about Aziz Ansari as my inspiration. 

For anyone who doesn't know, this time last year an article was published in Babe Magazine by a girl who had a bit of a shit date with Aziz. And by shit, I mean was coerced into sex acts she didn't feel comfortable with. The story has caused a divide within the feminist community. Some feel like Aziz did nothing wrong and this was a standard sexual encounter. They say her story mocks the #MeToo movement. Others say Aziz shouldn't haven't made (very common) assumptions and should have asked for explicit consent. 

I'm going to say something that lies in the middle. I don't believe that Aziz intentionally went out of his way to make this woman feel coerced. He actually behaved the same way so many men do: where he assumed that date = sex. And that's the problem. 

We look for signs that someone might be into us rather than putting on our big people pants and having a conversation. The girl agreed to go back to his flat after a date and he immediately took that as consent: 

When they walked back in, she complimented his marble countertops. According to Grace, Ansari turned the compliment into an invitation.
“He said something along the lines of, ‘How about you hop up and take a seat?’” Within moments, he was kissing her. “In a second, his hand was on my breast.”
Someone complimenting your choice in home decor is not consent (shockingly enough). But so many men think a woman being nice to them is "leading them on". When, in fact, the only way to know if someone wants to have sex with you is to ask and get verbal permission. Not by reading their body language.

Would you assume it was okay to borrow someone's car because of their body language? No. So stop doing it with sex.

Getting explicit consent is really important when sleeping with someone new. If you've never had sex with someone before that means you literally have no idea what they like. Your ex may have liked x, y and z, but that doesn't mean everyone does. Even someone who writes about sex on the internet (lol, me) still has to be asked. I could publish a blog post detailing exactly what I like in bed and you'd still have to check in with me. Why? Because I'm allowed to change my mind and maybe there are some sex acts I wouldn't do with certain people.


When you've been with someone a while, sometimes the explicit consent will not be needed anymore. That's okay. It's up to the people within that partnership (whether a casual relationship or life partnership) to decide whether explicit consent is something you want to practice every time or if you're happy for your partner to stop asking once they become familiar with your sexual preferences. Style Caster have a great article on their website on creating a Yes/No/Maybe Sex Checklist with your partner. Personally, I have some sex acts I'm almost always down for and I don't require a steady partner to check in about, but I have others that I'm only-sometimes-in-the-mood-for and still require explicit consent even if I'm married to the person. But everyone's different.

I'm not suggesting that you start walking up to every attractive person in the street and asking if they want to bone you. Lol, of course not; that would still be creepy. Body language, flirtatious words, and eye contact should still be used as an indicator that someone might find you attractive. But before you start the act of sex, you need to check that sex is actually what they are looking for.

Maybe this person is demisexual or asexual. Maybe they are romantically attracted to you and want to get to know you emotionally. Maybe they don't do one night stands. Maybe they have a third-date rule. Or maybe they really don't want you at all and you read the social cues all wrong.

Asking someone if they want to have sex is one of the key ways to avoid assaulting someone (I wonder if I should make a pretty desktop wallpaper of that sentence for you all to use). The same goes for sending dick pics.

Because here is the punch line: sexual assault is how someone feels about the encounter.

If you've ever felt your skin crawl after a sexual encounter - or felt taken advantage of - then...yeah. The person didn't necessarily intentionally take advantage of you, but that doesn't change that they did. Something went wrong in that scenario that caused someone to feel like something was happening to their body that they didn't want to. Plus, the thing with a lot of people who commit sexual assault is that they somewhere in them convince themselves that they didn't do anything wrong. Men who deny sexual assault rumours and charges might honestly believe that they have done nothing wrong. The personal anecdotes I'll share later were probably done by people who really didn't think that their actions were harmful because society's definition of consent is so messed up.


"BUT JUST SAY NO" I hear you cry.

Well, aren't you a smarty pants who did well in school. Considering that quite a lot of women do say no and it ends up getting fucking ignored your point is invalid (I've had several guys ignore a verbal no, so don't fucking @ me). Many men see no as a challenge. Remember that Blurred Lines song where Thicke sings "I know you want it"? Aye, that bullshit.

And a bit of basic psychology for you: there's a thing called fight or flight. Sometimes in traumatic experiences (you know, like being sexually assaulted) your body will break down and freeze. There really isn't much you do about it. An ex-partner once ignored a verbal no to a specific sex act and I froze up. The best way I can describe it was my mind going blank. I couldn't make much sense of what was happening which is why I wasn't able to say no again. In films we show victims fighting back and screaming, but in reality many victims freeze up and are unable to fight. Films and TV shows always portray events as more dramatic than they actually are - rape and sexual assault are no different.

Then society has a weird notion that no is a bad word. It's rude. We let people borrow things when we don't want to. We attend social events that make us want to gauge our eyes out. We make our children cuddle elderly relatives who smell of pee because it's rude for children to have some kind of autonomy over who touches them.

Society's fucked up attitude towards sexual consent is all tangled up in our confusing feelings over the word no.

I was definitely raised to believe that the word no was bad. I got into trouble when I tried to get out of social events that weren't up my street, or involved people I plain didn't like. I was told that I had hurt people's feelings, even if I hadn't. So it's no surprise that as a teenager and adult I didn't really know how to say no like I would any other word.

I'm okay with the word no now, but that shit took years to actively unlearn. Saying no to things (and in return respecting another person's right to say no) shouldn't be seen as rude. I don't have any children in my life, but if I did I would 100% never make them feel like no was a bad word. Don't want to hang out with Aunt Morag today? That's okay because I'm a grown-ass adult who knows how to handle being turned down.

And this leads us nicely onto coercion! The Office of Women's Health's describes coercion as:

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone. It might be from someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, or a boss. No person is ever required to have sex with someone else
Some of the verbal examples on their website include:
  • "If you really loved me, you’d do it.”
  • “I’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “But you’ve already gotten me all worked up.”
  • “If you don’t do this, I will tell everyone you’re gay.”
And I have my own example to add (because I've never had an opinion on anything in my life) coercion includes forcing someone closer to Yes because they're not totally against the idea. There's Flat Out No at one end, and then Enthusiastic Yes at the other - with murky grey in between. If someone is in the murky grey mid-section that's not an invitation to push them towards a Yes. Let them stay in murky grey. They should only move towards Yes on their own terms.


Anyway, where were we?

I'm going back to feminism again because apparently this How To has no structure. I'm going to use another celebrity as an example of consent.

This time it is Ellen DeGeneres and Katy Perry.

Two years ago the men on Twitter got angry because Ellen DeGeneres complimented Katy Perry very publicly on her boobs. Why does Ellen get to tell women they have a nice rack but if I do it it is fucking creepy? they cried.

Because, consent.

I am not Katy Perry and I cannot decide for Katy Perry how she should feel about a public compliment towards her breasts. I would feel awkward but that is me. Because consent is about how that person feels about the encounter. Katy and Ellen are pals and probably know where each other's boundaries lie. A random man walking up to a random woman and proclaiming that her DDs are the best he has ever seen isn't the same scenario.

But the Twitter Men did have a slight point.

Assault is generally seen as something where a perpetrator is always a man and the victim is always a woman. Statistics back this up.

But this isn't always the case, and I've met a fair few women who could do with a consent class.

I date people of multiple genders and can confirm that creepy men are everywhere. It's a problem. They can be even more fucking awful when hiding behind a Tinder profile. Creepy women are fewer and further between but they exist. They do. They're just rarer. But the fact that they exist is still a problem. And the fact that we deny their existence is an even bigger fucking problem.

You want some anecdotes? Got them here, served fresh.

When I was still a bit of a Dundee bird, I went to a certain rock club for Halloween. One of its female regulars who identifies as a feminist (I'm not naming names, but she has dark hair and pale skin....oh, I'm feeling brave tonight) decided to start slut-dropping around my feet. I froze. Like just stood there. Clearly not wanting the attention. Then I walked off. I was 23 and not as confident sticking up for myself as I am now, and I wasn't as well-versed in consent. I still internalised the idea that women can't assault women. But I remained on guard for the rest of the night. (Even better her male partner witnessed this and his embarrassed face said everything: he knew I didn't want this attention but didn't intervene).

But it's isolated! Lol, no. Let's move onto women on dating apps. Prior to coming out of the closet, I received an explicit message from a woman on OkCupid. She had chosen to list her profile as a straight male because "I'm sick of creepy of men dropping into my profile, so I'm listed as a straight male so I can still see the ladies but dodge the men". Pot meet kettle, babe.

Here's the thing with women harassing me. It has went away since I came out as bisexual. I have a sneaking suspicion that these women (I have other stories but I would like to finish writing this post at some point) could sense that I wasn't really heterosexual, but instead of taking me aside for a compassion chat or, I don't know, let me come out in my own time - they decided to....harass it out of me instead? That's an interesting technique for queer liberation.

Anyways, my point is: believe assault stories of queer women and people of all genders.


And a sort of related point (but I maybe could have found a better place for it but whatever, I'm mind dumping): contraception is a consent issue. If you are the sort of person who refuses to get tested, you're not giving that person all the information they need to have sex with you. Accidentally passing around an STD is a shitty thing to do. If you're a sexually active adult you should be getting your genitals (and blood) tested between partners (just like people with teeth should go to the dentist every six months).

And the "awwww, don't make me wear a condom, I want to feel closer to you" chat needs to stop. I'm not going to pretend that condoms are sexy (they aren't, and sex does feel better without them) but if a girl (or guy) doesn't feel comfortable humping you bareback respect that, or get out. I've relied on the pill and even the pullout method with guys I'm actively dating where we've had a conversation, but I'd never trust a new guy to pull out or automatically believe he is STD free. I don't personally know a woman (who I've asked this question to, at least) who feels comfortable going condom-less with a new guy. Men, start carrying a condom on a first date by default.

And ONE MORE POINT! I'm nearly done, promise.

We need to work on the way we console our friends who have been dumped, or where their love for someone is just flat out unrequited. It's shit when someone doesn't feel the same way or decides to end a relationship. But we need to start respecting their decision. Saying things like "it's their loss" or "he doesn't know what he's missing" isn't helping. The same goes for remaining eternally angry at an ex who didn't do anything wrong (e.g. adultery, theft etc) but just felt like the relationship wasn't really working for them anymore.

Same goes for setting people up. Don't force it. Your co-worker might be a "great guy", but that doesn't mean that your cousin should "give him a chance".

I know this 3,000+ words mind-dump might sound self-righteous and ho ho ho all men are out to assault women even when they're not intentionally doing so. So I'm putting on my big girl pants and admitting that I've made assumptions about taking it to the next level and let my hands slide places without checking that the person wanted to go further than kissing. I've failed to sit down with a sexual partner and create a Yes/No/Maybe checklist. I've been a dick about rejection. Consent is something I've had to sit with and check myself on. I've improved at having conversations that feel awkward because we're not used to having them. I don't try and make my love life look like the movies where they seamlessly glide from First Base to Third. I make sure moving further forward is something all parties want.

Okay, a re-cap.

What does consent in the sexual revolution look like:
  • You can register when someone is too drunk (are they slurring and wobbling when they walk?)
  • Silence is not a yes
  • When a partner tells you what they're into sexually, you don't dismiss it
  • Differing sex drives and desires are legitimate reasons to break-up (or talk about non-monogamy)
  • Get explicit consent and never assume
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time
  • You don't take flirtatious behaviour as consent
  • In fact, you don't take anything that isn't explicit verbal consent as consent
  • Discuss contraception, and get tested 
  • Thorough sex education in schools that includes consent
  • Agree that if someone feels like they were sexually taken advantage of, then that means they were
  • If someone is willing to spend money on lawyers and go through fucking court, then they're not lying
  • Support sex workers (if they say they want to fuck for cash, believe them)

Have I missed anything?

Because I really want to go to the pub.
morag | mo adore
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