Recent posts

Informed Consent: Risk Assessment vs. Stigma

As part of my informed consent post series, I’d like to talk about the issue of risk assessment regarding STIs when deciding whether to have sex with someone, and how to grapple with the problem of stigma. I wrote about stigma in my post on the adjacency effect, but the brief recap is that stigma is a sense of judgment or pollution attached to people who deviate from the norm. They’re seen to be dirty, unworthy, and so on. People who have been diagnosed with STIs certainly fall into this category; many face judgments such as slut-shaming, intolerance, and even human rights violations. In the context of informed consent, it is incredibly important for people to disclose their STI status to potential sexual partners. Continue Reading →

Informed Consent: The Milgram Experiment

I mentioned in the first informed consent post that we apply the idea of informed consent in academia and research in order to make sure we’re being ethical when dealing with human subjects. Why is this a big deal? Stanley Milgram’s experiment that tricked people into thinking they were administering electric shocks (in dangerous amounts) to other people is a great example of how an experiment can be psychologically damaging to people who don’t know what they’re in for. This video clip succinctly explains the experiment and shows footage from a similar experiment. If you felt disturbed while watching it, just imagine how the unknowing subjects involved felt! Continue Reading →

Informed Consent: Relationship Status Questions

An important way that informed consent is relevant to sexual pursuits is in the question of relationship status, availability, and ethical entanglements. Let me put it this way: say that you’re single and on a date with someone. It’s going well. What if, after the date (and whatever ensuing erotic activities you might’ve pursued), this person reveals that they’re actually in a long-term committed relationship, or married? How would you feel about that? Continue Reading →

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? Continue Reading →

What If We Took Every Marriage Proposal Seriously?

When I made Caesar salad from scratch, my dinner guest proposed to me on the spot. Fortunately, we already happened to be married, so we didn’t really have to do anything about that proposal. But what if I had someone else over for dinner, and the same thing happened? What if it happened again and again, because my Caesar salad recipe is just that good? Obviously it’d be ludicrous to suggest that I should take every marriage proposal seriously, since I’m already married. Continue Reading →

If You’re A Consenting Adult, I Support You Doing Anything

When I write that I support consenting adults doing anything, that statement of course comes with a few caveats: “anything” should not include acts that harm others, at least without their pre-communicated consent (as in, say, giving a beating in a BDSM setting). This is where the discussion gets complicated, since how do we define “harm”? Is it possible to consent to ostensibly harmful acts, like being punched or whipped as part of a sexual scene? I think it is, but I also think there are coercive situations where consent gets muddled and there are then social pressures to not talk about it in those terms.

In general, though, if you’re an adult who is informed about the circumstances and thus able to give consent, I’m not going to tell you

Who to date
Who to have sex with
How to have sex*
What props or toys to use (or not use) while having sex with others or yourself
Whether you should or should not try kink or polyamory
Whether you should choose to sell sexual acts

I am, however, going to tell you

To go out of your way to get as much information as possible about the potential risks and benefits of any sexual acts you might try
To make sure your partner(s) are clear on what you’re planning on doing so that everyone can give informed consent
To make sure you want what you’re pursuing and that you’re trying it for the “right” reasons (which, admittedly, may not be the same as society’s version of the “right” reasons, but in general, try to identify what it is you want so that you can be authentic to your desires rather than giving in to peer pressure)

I may not be a fan of every sex act or relationship choice out there, but I support your right to choose these things. I try not to fall into the trap of thinking that if I don’t like it, it must be morally repugnant. Continue Reading →

In Order To Prevent Rape, You Must Talk About Sex

In light of the recent Steubenville rape trial, there has been a flurry of internet activity discussing rape culture, consent, and the role of social media. This is great, since the silence and shame surrounded sexual assault must be combated with open communication and social analysis. However, I’d like to make a precise point here: in order to prevent rape and sexual assault, we – ALL of us – must talk about sex. This Polyamorous Misanthrope post on teaching your sons about consent is a wonderful step in the right direction: it involves a clear, honest, direction conversation that defines consent and goes through a number of sample situations where consent might or might not be possible. The topic of that conversation is implicitly sex… Continue Reading →

Some Thoughts On Harassment And Consent

How to deal with harassment – street harassment like catcalls, as well as persistent attempts to flirt – is an ongoing topic in feminist circles (as it should be). There are frequently misunderstandings, however, about what harassment actually means, and why it’s considered a big deal. This Brute Reason post lays out a lot of reasons why the men who say “But I’d love that kind of/that much attention!” aren’t actually talking about street harassment. They fail to understand that harassment is, by its nature, unwanted attention. Continue Reading →

Tangerine Consent

On a lighter note, my partner and I were recently driving somewhere, and I was feeding him a tangerine (as he was the one driving). We generally have good communication in our relationship, especially when it comes to consent, which we took to a silly level with the act of eating a tangerine. Me: *tries to put a tangerine slice in his mouth*

Him: “I don’t consent to this. My silence is not consent.” Me: “But your body language made it look like you were asking for it!” Continue Reading →

The Puzzle Box Model Of Sex

Recently, I saw a blog post called “I am not a puzzle box” making the rounds on Facebook. It was popular for a very good reason: it provided a metaphor that explains why “creepy” behaviors and harassment are so often made out to be innocuous, normal, or the fault of the victim. The author’s main point is that to the men who’ve been enculturated with the “puzzle box” viewpoint, “inside every woman, there’s a tasty Sex Treatâ„¢, and there’s some way to get it out. Some combination of words, of behaviors on the man’s part, some situation will pop that box open and the treat will be his!” This means that if a man plays the game right – he’s polite to a woman on a date, he opens doors, he’s appropriately flattering, whatever – then his proper reward is sex. Continue Reading →