In my attempts to theorize consent, I sometimes think of it in terms of metaphors and stories (see my joking “tangerine consent” post for an example of this). Along those same lines, I began wondering: what if we thought of sexual consent in the same terms that we think of food? Ponder these scenarios:
- A woman is really tipsy, and someone who’s talking to her reaches toward her mouth with a piece of food in hand, as though about to begin feeding her. The conversation has not been on food, and she’s not given any indication that she’s hungry.
- A man is napping, and someone comes up to him and begins to work open his mouth with their fingers so a morsel of food can be inserted.
- A couple is arguing. One person grabs the other and forces a piece of candy in their mouth.
Kinda creepy, huh? Now, obviously, there’s a risk of choking and killing someone if you begin to stuff food in their mouth while they’re sleeping or too intoxicated to chew. But hopefully these examples illustrate how taking a nice thing that people can enjoy when they’re able to consent to it – yummy stuff like candy, or food in general, or the act of feeding someone in particular – can turn into a creepy, predatory thing when the person being fed is unable to consent.
If it seems bizarre to try to feed someone while they’re sleeping or while they’re feeling threatened and hence unable to consent, why would it make sense to try to force sex on someone while they’re in those situations? Why is consent seemingly such a blurred line? Again, the food metaphor is not a perfect one (that is kinda the point of metaphors – they don’t map exactly to their referents), but maybe thinking about these parallels will help open up dialogue on consent.