Izzy Posen argues that the so-called ‘scrapping’ of consent classes is misleading. He contends that the existing talks are patronising and repetitive, focusing on all the wrong things.
As a fresher at the Welcome Fair on Friday, I came across the student newspaper Epigram for the first time. From the front page a big headline jumped out in front of my eyes, reporting the recent change in the university’s method of teaching sexual consent to new students. As I opened the paper, another headline was asking me in what was, presumably, a rhetorical question: ‘The end of consent on campus?’.
‘So annoyingly patronising and repetitive that I felt like swearing an oath of eternal celibacy’
To be honest, I would have been outraged myself had I not been a fresher and experienced first-hand the ‘scrapping of consent classes’, as the article calls it. Besides for the e-induction that we all had before getting our place in university residences, we sat through the UniSmart talks about sexual consent and then every floor had their own talk with their Senior Residences – again, about sexual consent – which was so annoyingly patronising and repetitive that I felt like swearing an oath of eternal celibacy, rather than having to listen to any more of this.
— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) September 8, 2017
Of course the Intersectional Feminist Society released a statement ranting about consent classes that “exclude the narratives of marginalised groups” – as if there is a special kind of intersectional consent that we heteronormatives just don’t get. But, hey, they wouldn’t be intersectional if they didn’t make silly statements like this every now and then, and who am I to mansplain them anyway (I do identify as a man – on most mornings)?
‘The basic idea behind consent is very simple: don’t be a dick’
But of course the problem with the sexual consent classes is not that they are inadequate. What’s problematic about them is the message they impart about sex. Coming out from each of these classes and looking around on the somber faces of my fellow male students, something felt wrong. Ever since I had my first sexual encounter I knew that sex – when done correctly – is good. There’s nothing more emotionally noble and satisfying than two people simultaneously pleasuring each other. Sex is therapeutic, healthy and exciting. But that was not how it was presented to us in the consent classes.
— Bristol Uni iFemSoc (@BristoliFemSoc) September 6, 2017
The basic idea behind consent is very simple: don’t be a dick. Like everything in the world, sex is good if you do it right and bad if you do it wrongly. A sixteen or eighteen year old in want of some healthy pleasure does not need to be a lawyer and memorise a whole set of laws and rules in order to satisfy his desire. All that he needs to know is that sex is a two way street and that he needs to be thinking of the other party involved. It’s not good sex if it’s not mutually pleasurable and selfishness in sex – like with everything in life – is bad.
‘Sex is therapeutic, healthy and exciting. But that was not how it was presented to us in the consent classes’
The kind of classes in which consent is made out to be a transactional contract and in which verbal and expressive consent is preferred if not required, takes away the whole fun and purpose of sex. Sexual encounters usually happen spontaneously and consent is implied, not expressed. The law does not require participants to say that they want sex, merely that it should be obvious from their behaviour – which it usually is.
‘[focus] on the pleasure and fun of good sex and not only on the wrongs of bad sex’
We need to put the fun back into sex. We are post the sixties and the sexual revolution, casual sexual encounters are no longer taboo, but we must make sure that it stays this way and that we do not go back to an era of sexual stigmatisation. Let us teach about consent in a way that does not make it more complex than it needs to be and that also focusses on the pleasure and fun of good sex and not only on the wrongs of bad sex.
Disclaimer: The views presented in Comment are those of our writers and do not reflect those of Epigram or the editorial team.
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