Introduction To Informed Consent

I’ve been thinking about consent a lot lately, and so I’m going to use this blog post to kick off a series of posts that focuses on one aspect of consent: informed consent. I’ll address what informed consent is and how it differs from plain ol’ regular consent, and I’ll set up a discussion about the importance of informed consent that will continue in my next few posts.

The most basic definition of consent is to give permission for something to happen. Sex educators and feminists generally agree that consent is a significant component of healthy sexual relationships: situations that lack consent are considered coercive or abusive, hence we try to educate people about consent so that they can make sure they’re always having consensual sex and thus not hurting anyone.

How does informed consent differ from this? The premise of informed consent is that in order to fully consent to a given situation, a person needs to know all of the relevant details about it. So for me to consent to have sex with someone, a relevant detail would be whether both of us are available/single, whereas an irrelevant detail would be whether it’s going to rain that day.

Obviously there are a lot of facets to informed consent when it comes to sex: relationship status, STI status, whether birth control is being used, whether everyone involved is fully conscious and hence able to make sound decisions, and so on. But the idea of informed consent pops up in other scenarios too, such as in the social, psychological, and biological sciences where human subjects are needed for experiments. I’ll go into the meaning of informed consent in these situations in future blog posts.

For more on consent in general, check out fellow MSPer Holly’s Consent Is Sexy! post as well as my posts exploring harassment and consent, the idea that consenting to one sex act doesn’t mean you’ve consented to them all, and the jokes that can develop in a relationship wherein both partners are used to talking about consent.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.