Straight Edged Consent

We’re at the point now where our feeds unfortunately full of reports of sexual violence of many varieties. It’s so often at this point that I’m sure many of your reactions have gone from full on shock to more of a “wow, who’s next?” and while I understand and somewhat share that sentiment, it’s mostly caused me to think of how I work to keep consent a priority in my relationship.

In addition to many other things, I’m straight edge. For those of you who may not know what that means, straight edge is most easily summarized as someone who does not drink alcohol/beer or smoke anything. In really strict forms of this lifestyle you also avoid casual sex but that’s a separate thing.

My partner, who I’ve been with for over 3 years at this point and share a home with, drinks alcohol regularly. I have absolutely no problem with this but her drinking does occasionally intersect with our sexual life which brings me back to consent.

The interplay between my soberness and her not-so-soberness is layered; I sometimes feel like a buzzkill when she’s clearly having a drunken good time and I just feel awkward. I often crave the looseness that my friends enjoy when they’re a few beers in at the bar and the open affection my partner often shows under these circumstances is something that I sometimes can’t muster easily. But, this can also lead to a somewhat awkward situation with a necessary solution.

In my relationship, we work to make consent a priority. This can take the form of reading the room in the moment or this can mean a simple question of “hey, you into this?” Our relationship is strengthened by keeping our ears open and making sure that the other person is fully invested in whatever we happen to be doing.

When my partner and I come home from a night with friends, I often turn down her advances due to her level of inebriation. I’m not looking for a cookie for this. I’m hoping to illuminate the fact that just because you’re in a committed and happy relationship does not give you a pass on consent. Yes, my partner loves me and even though she may want to take the night one direction sometimes I think it’s best to take it another direction.

There’s no meter for drunkenness and there’s no hard and fast rule for when I’m going to say no or yes; but I do my best to keep my partner aware of how I’m feeling in any given moment. Her inebriation does not inhibit her judgement in this area and it doesn’t make her a different person, we just put the highest priority on the word “no” and to understand each other’s signals no matter what frame of mind we’re in.

The sort of intimate knowledge of each other’s signals is also something that comes from years of practice, experience, and shared compassion that you do not find in a “random hookup” situation. I may not need to say “no” to my partner for them to understand that I do not want to have sex, but that does not mean “no” should be the only way to end an encounter that is moving in the direction of sex. I spoke with a friend in the field of sexual violence prevention and they shared the following idea (paraphrased):

“No does definitely mean no, but that leaves a lot of room for people to make the excuse: ‘but they didn’t SAY no.’ If we instead focus on the idea that ‘yes means yes’, we are able to shift our focus to enthusiastic consent which is what you should ALWAYS strive for.

Alcohol also plays a problematic role in the world of random sexual encounters: you simply cannot know someone enough from one or two nights of enjoying each other’s company to be fully aware of their signals and their desires. Consent should be something we all work positively into our sexual lives with questions like ‘do you want to keep going’ or ‘is this okay’. Anything less than a positive answer should be a signal to stop. Waiting until you’re sober is not a bad thing.”

I think a lot of this article should be common sense, but based on recent events I think it’s clear that many men seem to miss this whole thing. Yes, no means no. Sometimes no may not be said out loud and before you find yourself having to ask the question “is this a good thing to do,” end the situation you are in and DON’T GO FORWARD. If you have to ask that question, it’s NOT a good thing to do and you should NOT keep things going. Consent should be everyone’s priority all the time.

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