Remodeling consent
September 28, 2014 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Two prominent kink bloggers propose that we change how we think about consent to combat rape culture and to create positive, meaningfully consensual experiences for all.

Two bloggers, known as Maymay and Unquietpirate, have published a probing and rewarding series of essays proposing that we reevaluate traditional models of consent. To wit:

"How does our relationship to consent change if we think of 'consent' as a real experience people have of feeling that what happened to them was okay, and 'violation' as more nuanced than simply committing an un-permitted action?...Of course, this understanding of consent fucking terrifies people...because it implies that consent (as they understand it) can be 'revoked' retroactively. But this is only a problem for someone whose desire to understand consent is primarily focused on how to not get in trouble for violating consent, or at the very least on how not to feel bad about themselves for violating consent, rather than on how to not violate consent...."

Further reading:
Maymay expands, pt. 1
Maymay expands, pt. 2
Maymay, on the phrase 'There can be no consent where it cannot be withdrawn.'
posted by zeusianfog (103 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite


 
From an idealized ethical point of view this works, sure. From a legal point of view, which unfortunately we cannot simply do away with until we have a radical reimagining of the way civilized society works, not so much.
posted by Behemoth at 2:30 PM on September 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


I agree, this is a perfectly fine thought experiment which has very little to do with how the world actually does or should work.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm totally for being able to withdrawal consent retroactively if it gets me out of my student loans. "Nope, I never agreed to those."
posted by bswinburn at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


Sounds like the sci-fi romcom Timer but where people go to clinics to find out if either party will ever have regrets.
posted by michaelh at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2014


I think it's a very good point that just because you consent to something doesn't mean it won't leave you feeling violated, and that it's important for sexual partners to care about avoiding making the other person feel bad or violated, and not care only whether they've obtained an explicit ok.

However, I highly object to calling this sort of feeling of violation being called 'rape'. Even the threat of someone doing something to you against your will is way, way different from letting a loved partner who you trust do something you realize you weren't really all that OK with after. The former is terrifying, the latter is awkward and can be tough to confront, but it doesn't leave one feeling nearly so unsafe.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


In such a model, if Bob and Andy have sex, and Andy says, “Yes,” “Sure,” “Okay, fine, whatever,” or even, “Ooh baby, do it to me!” but still wakes up the next morning feeling like he was raped, that means Andy was raped. Conversely, if Andy and François have a steamy make-out session in which no words are exchanged but they both go home feeling great about it, and they keep feeling great about it, that experience was consensual.

If our concern is with not violating a person, rather than not violating a rule, then “a violation” is defined by what happens when a person processes and continually re-processes their feelings about an experience.


I think that's where I start feeling iffy. Nobody likes to be caught in a post facto trap when they've entered into the interaction in good faith. Mainly because what two people consider to be violated can be dramatically different from one person to another. That's why we stick to rules of "did they ask? did the other person say yes?". Being called a rapist because of a violation arising from regret would be entirely petrifying when engaging in the rituals of courtship.
posted by Talez at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2014 [27 favorites]


Of course, this understanding of consent fucking terrifies people (mostly men and sadomasochistic “Dominants”), because it implies that consent (as they understand it) can be “revoked” retroactively. But this is only a problem for someone whose desire to understand consent is primarily focused on how to not get in trouble for violating consent, or at the very least on how not to feel bad about themselves for violating consent, rather than on how to not violate consent.

Part of this method of consent implies that all actors are acting in good faith. It would be entirely trivial for someone to act in bad faith and claim violation when their intention is pure malice.

The problem that the system as it stands allows people to dance dangerously close to the line (Barney from HIMYM is a borderline rapist for instance) but still not actually cross it. I guess it depends entirely on which you think is worse? 1000 guilty men going free or one innocent man jailed?
posted by Talez at 2:43 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Here’s the thing: it is possible to consent to having some experience and then, sometime in the future, not consent to having had that experience."

I disagree.
posted by parki at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


If you reserve the right to change your mind about your consent, then you haven't really consented. Perhaps people who would like to adopt this standard should stop saying, "Yes, I consent," and instead say, "I think maybe I consent, but I won't be sure until after you've performed the act I'm kind-of-consenting to." I'm skeptical that this will improve either the number or quality of available sexual partners, however.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


I've always thought that ethicality isn't about making sure that all of your actions, in some weird time-invariant sense, never harm anyone else, but that a course of right action (as determined by whatever metric you like) can be defined in limited circumstances and limited knowledge (in the case of sexual consent, that limited knowledge being how my partner actually feels, or may feel later, about the act that we are about to engage in). So a particular ethic in that sense is a sort of a shorthand, or a minimum good-faith effort that can be objectively evaluated from outside the actors in a given situation. What the author does by making consent retroactively revokable is just as bad as the definition in the first place, and opens up the debate to the same legalistic type of arguments, albeit framing the argument differently.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 2:51 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Here’s the thing: it is possible to consent to having some experience and then, sometime in the future, not consent to having had that experience."

Yeah. The entire idea is off the rails to me, but this is where it's crystal clear illogical thinking. It's not unusual to regret an experience, or even, in retrospect, to feel like you were pressured or duped into something, if there was some sort of power differential happening. But taking back consent? I don't think that's okay.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:52 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


That is, it's just as bad as the original definition because it shouldn't be about whether consent was or was not obtained or revoked, but whether we were excellent to each other.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 2:53 PM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


This seems like a childish model of ethics. There are dozens of experiences (yes, including some sexual ones) that I would love to revoke my consent to.

Sometimes, the regret or violation, or just right down disappointment has occurred years after the fact. Accepting the decisions you made earlier-- and their consequences-- ill or good seems fundamental to adult decision making. In the specific case of sexual consent, the issue is, of course, more nuanced. I don't think bringing in nuance should eliminate decision making.
posted by mrdaneri at 2:55 PM on September 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


This person needs to be followed by a drone with a flashing neon sign reading "I CANNOT ENTER INTO ANY CONTRACTS OR AGREEMENTS WITHOUT MY LEGAL GUARDIAN AND A NOTARY PUBLIC PRESENT."

And then a smaller drone follows behind it with another sign "NO REALLY LIKE EVEN A CASH TRANSACTION FOR A SNICKERS BAR COULD HAVE DIRE IMPLICATIONS."

The ability to have words come out of your mouth and be taken seriously, even if you might conceivably have regrets later on, is one of those basic foundational parts of a society. Without that, the concept of agreement itself is invalid and language just turns into purple monkey dishwater word salad. We might as well toss cause and effect out the window while we're at it.

Perhaps the worst part of this idea is that, once it is around, I cannot trust that someone I am talking to won't believe it in the future, thus retroactively invalidating any conversations I might have had to avoid this kind of crazypants belief system. It makes anyone who might harbor this kind of deeply distorted thinking into a timebomb.

Just the existence of this piece erodes trust between any two people who might have encountered it.
posted by adipocere at 2:56 PM on September 28, 2014 [65 favorites]


According to Andy, he and Bob did in fact have a really nice time.
posted by parki at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just the existence of this piece erodes trust between any two people who might have encountered it.

I think that if these kinds of fantasies became legal reality, there would emerge a M.A.D. social convention where nobody would revoke consent because they knew the other person would too. A regression, in other words.
posted by michaelh at 3:01 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


From an idealized ethical point of view this works, sure.

Not even from an idealized ethical point of view does this work.

If all commitments or agreements were provisional and subject to retroactive withdrawal, then there is no logical basis to call such an agreement consensual. Extend this model to medicine and find that nobody can be a doctor when malpractice lawsuits proceed because someone was unhappy with the outcome of a treatment.

As proposed, this is a horrible concept, not well thought out, and is purely fantasy power play for anyone who has ever felt regretful about a decision.
posted by chimaera at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think that I'd be more likely to agree with the ideas in the article if they'd said something close to "Permission alone is not enough to make sure that a sex partner will have a positive sex experience" instead of something close to "Rape is sex without consent, and consent is being okay with something that has already happened."
posted by 23skidoo at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


No means no, yes means yes. Informed consent cannot be retroactively withdrawn, though you can change your mind to prevent further interaction.
posted by antiwiggle at 3:05 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


It seems like the authors want the word consent to mean something fundamentally different than what it normally does. However, there are already perfectly good words to describe what they want to describe (like regret, accountability, felt sense, power differential) - words which they use for exactly this purpose in the essay. That leaves the essay as an attempt to provoke thought by juxtaposing the legal with the mess of real human lives, but those aren't particularly new or interesting thoughts.
posted by ssg at 3:12 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is some really good thinking! I'm not sure that it should be framed in terms of re-defining what "consent" means, though. I think that the problematic nature of it stems from them trying to take a word and extend or modify its meaning rather than finding new words. I think maybe they should be using new words and advocating replacing or supplementing the emphasis on "consent" with emphasis on these additional things.

They make a really good point when they suggest that caring about mere permission, rather than caring about results and consequences, means focusing entirely on whether or not somebody can be judged to have Done a Bad Thing, and not on whether or not everything was really good for everyone, ultimately.

So -- I think this is some really important stuff that's perhaps framed in a manner that makes it impossible to accept for many people.
posted by edheil at 3:13 PM on September 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


I gave up reading Maymay because he just. Didn't make sense to me.
He'd go from reasonable, to... not very rational or all the way there. Kind of bright, but possibly bright on a different plane, or at least, not super-keen on consensus reality?

Ooooh, chimaera I think put the finger on it better, "fantasy power play" definitely describes the impression I get.


This person needs to be followed by a drone with a flashing neon sign reading "I CANNOT ENTER INTO ANY CONTRACTS OR AGREEMENTS WITHOUT MY LEGAL GUARDIAN AND A NOTARY PUBLIC PRESENT."

Actually, according to Maymay's own website: http://maymay.net/
* I don't work for money.
* I don't sign contracts or make any kind of exchange agreements


So, yes. Consistent.
posted by Elysum at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


There's something to be said for personal responsibility of the retroactive non-consentor though, isn't there?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Third base? OK, sign here...and here...and let me check with my attorney first...."
posted by CrowGoat at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2014


It would be awesome if this kind of thinking took over progressive circles. It would make the behavior described in the Vampire Castle essay look like child's play in terms of destructive power dynamics subject to dishonest actors. Maybe someone would finally learn a lesson or two about unexpected consequences of ill considered policies.
posted by rr at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


This isn't even spherical cow thinking -- it's more "desperate vegetarians declare cows plants" thinking.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


I don't think any amount of reframing, remodeling, or "transgressing the other" rephrasing linguistic hoops will make palatable the very serious implications of retroactive withdrawal. This isn't something that needs to be polished and resubmitted a week later for an A, it's a series of concepts that have, at their very core, a pampered and unchallenged worldview that demands that the past have happened differently than asked for.

New terminology will not bypass the idea of getting a ham sandwich and yelling that you asked for chicken soup, despite you having asked for a ham sandwich.

This isn't something that needs to be added on or serve as a supplemental concept, like an extra Powerpoint slide during freshman orientation that reads, "Make sure you get retroactive consent the next day and even the week after a hookup!" Remember that nudge-nudge wink-wink skit about a couple having sex with their lawyer present negotiating each and every act and and a few people got all "Well, it's never really going to come to that!" huffy? This person has actually leapt over and past that half-fearful satire into some land where agreement itself no longer has meaning.

Feels before reals.
posted by adipocere at 3:21 PM on September 28, 2014 [25 favorites]


It's possible to have an unpleasant sexual encounter, one that you wouldn't repeat if given a do-over, and yet not succumb to the rhetoric that says this means you were raped or that you weren't able to give informed consent. It's possible to not even regret the encounter. I often fantasize about a world in which we stop idealizing sex so much that any slight step off the ecstasy spectrum means oh my god I shouldnt have done it I'll be scarred for life and my pure experience of sex has been irrevocably marred. Wouldn't it be great if we could say oh lol that was a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, you live you learn, and get on with our lives by taking ownership of our actions without assigning blame or making excuses?
posted by janey47 at 3:27 PM on September 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


"It is possible to consent to having some experience and then, sometime in the future, not consent to having had that experience."

Not to be reductivist, but I believe we already have a handle of this sensation. Isn't this the precise definition of "regret"?
posted by bicyclefish at 3:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


I have the same reaction to this as to the Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles. There's a high likelihood of the author being completely sincere, but it is indistinguishable from parody.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:54 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


...MayMay...
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:57 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


It makes sense to say that feeling violated can be retroactive. That's more than simple regret. It also makes sense to say that if you want to be a good partner, you should care about the possibility of retroactive violation. If your partner has come to feel harmed by what happened in the past, the fact that there was consent doesn't make everything OK.

This absurd redefinition of consent and talk of retrospective rape is getting in the way of what might be an interesting conversation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:59 PM on September 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


It also makes sense to say that if you want to be a good partner, you should care about the possibility of retroactive violation. If your partner has come to feel harmed by what happened in the past, the fact that there was consent doesn't make everything OK.

But there are lots of times where a sexual partner isn't a romantic partner, or someone you ever see again. You can't be responsible for the retroactive regret (or more than regret) of someone you have no interaction with ever again.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:02 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


But there are lots of times where a sexual partner isn't a romantic partner, or someone you ever see again. You can't be responsible for the retroactive regret (or more than regret) of someone you have no interaction with ever again.

You should have known a pretty blonde girl would become a born again Christian and come to be ashamed of and regret all of the youthful indiscretions she enjoyed when she was in her 20s. Right, guys? Use a little common sense here and predict the rest of a person's life and their feelings correctly!
posted by Talez at 4:18 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Among the many problems I have with this up-is-downism is that "someone consented and later wanted to retroactively withdrew that consent" is the core narrative of a lot of misogynistic claims about false rape accusations being endemic. Accepting this concept of "consent" means basically declaring defeat in much of the current fight to get sexual assault taken seriously by law enforcement et al.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:19 PM on September 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


I basically agree with edheil that (based on a fairly quick reading) there seem to be some good ideas here that could use polishing and re-wording. But then, this is a blog post, not somebody's Ph.D. thesis.
posted by uosuaq at 4:27 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Act in ways that minimize the possibility your partner(s) will regret this experience later" seems to be fairly good advice.

The authors specifically say that their framing does not work in the legal context, so I'm not sure why commenters are focusing on how it doesn't work in a legal context.
posted by jaguar at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


You're not sure why? Really? In good faith, this commenting surprises and confounds you?

Maybe try positing a guess or two.
posted by adipocere at 5:10 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


In such a model, if Bob and Andy have sex, and Andy says, “Yes,” “Sure,” “Okay, fine, whatever,” or even, “Ooh baby, do it to me!” but still wakes up the next morning feeling like he was raped, that means Andy was raped.

The issue I have with this philosophy is that is takes the serious, horrific violation of rape and redefines it into such loosey-goosey, nebelous, subjective terms to where it becomes a meaningless word. It strips the word of its power and makes it more akin to something like "beautiful" where anyone can choose to define themselves by the term and it thus loses any significance.

I've definitely had a few sexual encounters that I don't necessarily look back on as some of my proudest moments and very well may take back if I had the opportunity for a do-over. But it seems incredibly insulting and in very poor taste to suggest that my after the fact, "Ugh, what was I thinking" can be defined as rape in a way that is equally valid to someone who has experienced a serious, non-consensual, forced sexual assault.
posted by The Gooch at 5:12 PM on September 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


Talez: "Use a little common sense here and predict the rest of a person's life and their feelings correctly!"

Well, obviously we need some sort of Social Contract For Fucking, and a parade or rite for family, friends and society at large to observe the parties' agreement to the contract. We'll have a cooling off period to make sure both parties understand what it is they're getting into. Throw in a bible, just in case. If you act in a way that does not minimize your partner's regret, we'll let some guy in a black robe decide award your assets to your partner.

What could go wrong?
posted by pwnguin at 5:14 PM on September 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


It seems like he was saying that people should pay attention to each other's behavior when they're having sex and maybe stop or at least check in, if one of the partners is looking like they're not having fun any more.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:32 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think they start with a valid concern-- that someone may clearly give consent and yet feel violated-- and end up, unwittingly, de-ethicizing rape.

The problem is that they provide no way not to "rape". They suggest that someone before sex should think "I’d better make damn sure this person isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and feel like I raped them". But the follow-up essay makes it clear that there is no way to do this: "Bob’s (or anyone else’s) second-hand assessment of whether Andy had a good time doesn’t change whether Andy actually had a good time. So, it’s ridiculous for people who are not Andy to get into an argument about whether or not Andy had a good time." Bob is not allowed to have an opinion on whether Andy had a good time, which is their redefinition of rape.

But if Bob has no way of establishing consent and no way of ensuring that Andy has a good time, how can he be held ethically (not to mention legally) responsible for how Andy feels?

They seem to feel that worrying about how Bob handles this is tantamount to coddling rapists. But Bob is everyone having a sexual encounter. Sex isn't nicely divided into potential-rapists and potential-victims.

tl;dr : I don't think you can define "rape" to both be a shocking, legally prosecutable crime and an unavoidable, non-binary spectrum of sexual regret.
posted by zompist at 5:35 PM on September 28, 2014 [26 favorites]


This would seem to make damn near everyone who's ever had sex both a victim and perpetrator of rape, even in the same encounter, many times over. Doesn't sound right to me
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Retroactively revoking consent is a tentpole scare story of MRA types. It's like one of those myths about how "feminazis" would ruin society if they got what they wanted or whatever.

I find it really, really hard to take this seriously and not read it as some crypto-troll because of that. I've heard this same concept stated over and over as something those types of guys either say people want, or say totally happened to their friend and everyone sided with that bitch!

I mean even ignoring the problems described herein with it, it's something that almost needs a snopes entry for the level of urban legend that has been created around it being A Thing.


I could write some harsh words about how i think causing someone to regret something generally shouldn't be a punishable offense, but i have serious trouble with doing it without sounding like an asshole. I just think a lot of people, including the writers, are projecting experiences in which they didn't really give enthusiastic consent onto their problems with consent.

That might sound like a "duh", but i think getting rid of "the lack of a no is a yes" culture would solve all the problems they're trying to solve with their bizarre restructuring here.

and holy shit do i have a bunch of friends who'd think i'm a terrible person for taking this position on this. i really hope this piece doesn't get brought up the next time i'm hanging out with them, i'll probably just end up having to make vague smalltalk to not get branded as some pro-rapist-lobbyist. ugh.
posted by emptythought at 5:54 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why is the property of retroactivity only given to consent, not to the action as well?

If one side has the right to a “backsie” surely both sides do: “I retroactively withdraw my consent!” “Okay, I retroactively withdraw my action.”
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


because consent can potentially be not real consent if it's not informed consent. of all the problems with this concept, that isn't one of them.
posted by emptythought at 6:02 PM on September 28, 2014


I liked the part where they sort of idly toy with the idea of ordering everybody but to be celibate in order to end rape culture, but then regretfully decide that, while that would of course be the most ethical thing, it would probably be too high a standard to ask.

I guess nobody's quite as good at elaborating florid and unworkable moral systems as a self-loathing kinkster, but taking consent so seriously you accidentally abolish it and wind up in some bizarre Puritanism dressed up in sex-positive jargon is definitely a prize-winner.

If this is an MRA troll though, it's a pretty long one - Maymay has been around for a while and seems too original in his crazy for people like /pol/ or the Red Pillers to be creative enough to think up.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:07 PM on September 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


Not only do I completely disagree with the point that the two authors make for many of the reasons other commentators have suggested, I have to say that after poking around this blog I'm a little creeped out. This Maymay figure seems at best rude and self-centered, but potentially much worse. Some examples:

* When a commentator (very) politely disagrees with the central point of the essay, Maymay bans him from the blog and tells him "I want you to die."
* An apologist explains that while "Most people flag self-reflection and personal change by talking, at least to some degree, about how they feel bad for having been wrong before," in contrast "May doesn’t do that." May just moves on and doesn't apologize for his actions, even if he regrets them.

This seems cruel to me, but it turns out I just don't appreciate May's brilliance. "This means they [May] actually change much faster than most people, but that it’s difficult for those they’re not very close to (or who’ve not been following them for a long time) to notice this." This kind of defense -- the "genius" defense for poor behavior, where it's ok not to follow the same rules as everyone else if you're special enough -- really skeeves me out.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:09 PM on September 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


Yeah, this would make me a rape victim as opposed to the reality of simply regretting some poor decisions. Calling that a withdrawal of consent absolves me of any responsibility whatsoever and, as a already noted, is basically a MRA talking point. This is the bizzaro world where I could agree that this is not a "legitimate rape."
posted by gatorae at 6:13 PM on September 28, 2014


So, I'm going to be, "charitable" here? and suppose that the authors are wildly overstating their opinions in an attempt to shift the Overton window surrounding discussions of consent.

When some asshole YKINOK issues an ill informed blanket condemnation of BDSM practices that are in fact difficult to perform ethically, you may hear someone respond to the effect that it's consensual, and therefore all your ethical concerns are null and void. That point of view is quite dangerous, and needs to be challenged, but 'til this essay I've only seen it as the less-bad side of an argument.

I think the, "consent means no regrets" posture here is meant to cast the other, "consent == ethics" side in a worse light?

I mean I basically support that, if that's what they're trying to do, although their rhetorical decisions form a fascinating trainwreck.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:31 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as crazy with stars noticed, this is fairly characteristic of MayMay, who is a "controversial" figure for good reason. He has been a figure of near constant frustration in the kink scene for a very long time, especially for kinksters who are working to correct the rampant abuse within the kink community. He takes positions that make sense ('don't abuse your power as a Dom and call it good practice' was a big early one) but he is so aggressive and hostile and self-aggrandizing, especially to women entering these dialogues with him, that he is at best self-defeating and sabotaging of the agendas he claims. I think the discussion here is not saying anything that you wouldn't encounter in an average Ask thread-- don't sexually mess around with people whose vulnerable states (mental, emotional, age, whatever) makes them unable to give solid consent even if they are legally consenting adults-- but it's presented in such a typical way that I can see it's already turning into the whirlwinds of mutual aggression that MayMay seems to specialize in creating. Sigh.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:39 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ugh, MayMay of all people has no credibility when it comes to discussing consent. Gosh, MayMay, did you ask all those people on Fetlife if they consented to have their private information made publicly searchable? Oh right, you did not.

The authors on coercian:

What my co-author and I are trying to make clear is not that being raped is just as “trivial” as being forced to go to school or getting put in jail. Rather, it’s that according to any ethic under which coercion is deemed unethical, getting put in jail or being forced to go to school must be considered consent violations in the same fundamental way as rape.

And if that doesn’t make you reconsider your ethical standing, you are the problem. What’s wrong with you?


Totally not trivializing rape!

The Yes means Yes/enthusiastic consent movement has already covered how to be sexual in a way that's not just about gaining a permission slip. See Scarleteen's excellent rundown. The last thing we need around consent discourse is a deliberate erosion of the meaning of the word "consent."
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


he is so aggressive and hostile and self-aggrandizing, especially to women entering these dialogues with him
This is something I noticed reading the linked followup essays. :(
posted by edheil at 6:55 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Kind of surprised by the comments on this one. For some reason I thought MiFi would skew more to the, "Yeah, interesting unfinished thought that needs more work," side of the scale and less to the, "This person is nuts," side. Live and learn.

I honestly think the author is making an interesting attempt at presenting a new framework for considering sexual consent and our relationship to it. It seems like the main thesis (which gets buried, sadly) is that sex, like many things that are sensate and in which the person in question is really the object and sex is the subject (much like asking someone who has never had cilantro the question, "Do you want cilantro?" swaps the real subject - cilantro - for you, because I just want to know whether to put it in the soup), cannot really give "informed" consent, because the vast majority of the information upon which they could base their decision isn't going to be available to them until after the experience in question is applied against them, and sometimes that information doesn't fall into place until long after they've had a chance to process it.

We never know our preferences well. We often don't know ourselves or our reactions well. We have a natural tendency to inflate negative memories and overlook positive ones. We have a shocking capacity for indifference to one another while pretending to be decent people. So in situation with lots of unknowns in which the majority of the consequences for misestimating our preferences and desires are going to be absorbed by our sacred person and our own psyche, we're really fucking awesome decision makers in much the same way dropping a nuclear bomb is an awesome sight. Now put two of those in a bed drunk and naked. Surely that will work out.

Is the author's piece a done thought? Nah. It's imperfect and has a long way to go to be a solid position from which to debate. But I happen to agree with the argument made that applying a legalistic construct as we do now makes little sense in an area of life in which the law is unlikely to help or protect you. I notice there were more than a couple comments where the reaction was, "That's nice, but enforceability!" I can't help but ask, enforceability where? Find me a legal jurisdiction where it's happening anywhere in any way that provides peace of mind for its citizens and justice for the alleged perpetrators, and I'll reconsider legalism as a good starting point. But till then, perhaps open-mindedness to a broader exploration ought not be out of the question.

I'm not saying we shouldn't enforce (obviously, I'm incensed that we don't). I'm saying that shutting down paths of exploration of the topic that don't take enforceability into account pretty much guarantees that nothing is going to change. It doesn't de-significate anyone's trauma or experience or reduce the special position we've given to words like "rape" when, in frank discussion, someone suggests we consider exploring the side of the mountain we haven't been climbing, if only in theory. If anything, it suggests that this person is interested in finding a solution that works.

Anyway, I didn't come back to comment on that. Just a reaction to what I saw when I did come back which was really different than what I thought I'd see. Here's what I did come back to say about it:

The post left me in an odd place. When thinking about it, I couldn't help but remember that a key reason there's not a solid foundation propelling the legal, social and moral administration / limitations against various unwelcome sex acts perpetrated on women and children is because for most of history women and children were property, not people. In some places, they still are. In the western world, there was, relative to the time from pre-history until we changed our minds, a really abrupt shift where suddenly women and children were people with rights and liberties which needed to be protected. Thus, the laws which would have protected a male citizen, especially those which were intended to provide him security of his person, rather suddenly extended to two whole other classes of citizen who, in only the prior generation, could be bought, sold and traded, perhaps not as trade goods like slaves, but - let's be honest - close enough.

As non-adult, non-males switched from being property to full persons, the protections afforded them suddenly shifted from protections of a civil property rights nature (e.g., the owner suing because someone was liable for damaging his property) to criminalization (e.g., enjoining the State to charge and prosecute someone who forced sex upon your person as rape).

In my mind, an important leap of logic that we continue to make with little consideration is to assume that these protections ought to have been extended to others without first considering whether it's more appropriate to view them as protections afforded only to male citizens as a male privilege owing to a belief that male gender primacy and the sanctity of that man's body was a fact worth defending in law. It never seems to come up in the debate that the thinking and era that elevated a ridiculous view of male sexuality that gave us the masturbatory homonculus and sodomy laws also gave us the criminalization construct we use for the protection of our sexual selves. These aren't among our proudest accomplishments, to be sure. At best I think most of us would say that this is what we have and are trying to make work, but it's not what we truly want.

Again, this change was all a pretty sudden, recent shift - I was almost 20 when my great grandmother died, and she certainly remembered it well enough. So it's not so far away that no one alive today has ever heard a first-hand account of that part of history. Certainly I did, and nothing sticks with a gay kid as much as his 90-year-old great grandmother telling him, "Oh honey, why would you think I don't understand sexual revolutions? I was in the real sexual revolution in the 20s, and I sowed my oats! I just wasn't as loud as you."

The author seems to be pointing towards a framework to consider this problem which lives in a context on civility and is separate and distinct from the prevailing framework which resides in the the realm of polity. It's a shift from a criminal standard of absolutes of the form, "You must not," or "You may not," to one of, "You ought to consider carefully the holographic nature of the thing you're about to do and take into account possible present and future consequences for all parties involved." That's a tall order, but it's definitely not unheard of, even in law.

There's lots and lots of law which demands one consider the holographic nature of the thing one is about to do. One type of law that does this is product liability law, and it's being enforced all the time. Whether or not you sign a sales contract or voice consent, you're always entering into some kind of fairly well-tested covenant with a merchant and with the item's manufacturer every time you buy something. There's little implication of any party even being able to provide rigorous, informed consent: the evidence of that is printed all over the label for Drano whose makers have been sued successfully plenty of times by people who did supremely stupid things with Drano even after being warned. Such law provides for mutual, imbalanced culpability, post-transactional regret (think: state return laws for cars), implied warranties of merchantability (i.e., this did not do what it said on the package), treatment for unforeseen situations that arise both in good faith (i.e., things were all on the up-and-up, and then it went awry through no one's intentional acts) and in bad faith transactions (i.e., things were not on the up-and-up, or someone defected to being a bad actor in-process), and resolution of party-to-party harm (e.g., unexpected choking hazards with children's toys). Plus, the courts are not the primary venue in which product liability is enforced. It's a moral one: damage to reputation. The whole thing is imperfect, but it's still working really well every single day in hundreds of ways for you and me.

The flip side of that is, a view of sex like this re-converts sex into largely a person-to-person(s) transaction. It largely invalidates the ineffable qualities of sex. Maybe that's a good thing, because secular law isn't meant to sanctify things anyway. But it's kind of weird to me, since I don't remember personally the world in which transactionality of sex was a daily fact of living almost all the time for almost everyone. But for most of history, it was, and we're here now which proves that its main function did manage to still work. It's certainly an opportunity to be squeamish.

I didn't want to write a ton on this, but it's an important subject to me which is fraught with all sorts of complexity where, while we argue about it, real people are getting harmed everyday without good ways to decrease the incidence, to mitigate the acts that do occur and to heal from the aftermath. Given that sex was (and still is often) transactional, frequently even a pay-for-service activity, it's not unreasonable to look at how the frameworks for other transactional person-to-person activities are viewed and managed. It's not a model, but it's a place to look and discuss, for sure.

With regard to the author, whatever his other views and behaviors, his inability to prop up with sufficient intellectual force even this argument, or his failure to see similarity of this train of thought to other arguments used justify and bolster clearly abominable behaviors, I think this attempt to spark a new conversation exploring the problem is not without merit. Whether you call it "consent," "severe post-act regret," or, "a ham sandwich," is really irrelevant. Our goal (or at least anyone whose opinion I give a crap about) is not achieving exceptional, poignant dictionary definitions and rigid, unassailable causality diagrams to describe all objectionable events in which body parts collide. Our goal must be to have a more civil society where sex is a positive experience for everyone, where harming each other sexually is rare, and that when harm occurs, we have effective, just, humane ways to unwind the harm, societally remediate the causes and further prevent its future occurrence. We ought to at least consider where else we can look for answers, because where we're looking now doesn't seem to be turning out, and really terrible things keep happening to people while we double down on failed strategies.
posted by kochbeck at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


Among the many problems I have with this up-is-downism is that "someone consented and later wanted to retroactively withdrew that consent" is the core narrative of a lot of misogynistic claims about false rape accusations being endemic.

When they find this essay TheRedPillers are going to have a goddamned field day.
posted by schroedinger at 7:40 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ugh, MayMay of all people has no credibility when it comes to discussing consent. Gosh, MayMay, did you ask all those people on Fetlife if they consented to have their private information made publicly searchable? Oh right, you did not.

Wow, that's ... that is kind of astonishing and terrifying. This has been taken down, right?
posted by kafziel at 9:32 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apparently he's just a big fan of telling people to go kill themselves, as this imgur gallery shows. Highlights include

"Yes, I hate you. Kill yourself or at least leave me alone if you're unwilling to suck on a barrel of a gun, okay?"
and
"I also don't think you're asking in good faith, so I'm'a block you, and hope you kill yourself. :) It's easy, bodies are fragile."

Classy dude. Also abused his then-girlfriend, so all around just a stand up guy. This is getting pretty ad hominem but this kind of behavior is really beyond the pale and makes it very hard to take him seriously.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:41 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I just, uh, wanted to do a spit take when I read this:

Ugh, MayMay of all people has no credibility when it comes to discussing consent. Gosh, MayMay, did you ask all those people on Fetlife if they consented to have their private information made publicly searchable? Oh right, you did not.

Upon preview:
Glad someone else noticed that, kafziel. I've just been sort of... sitting here staring at it a few minutes.
posted by mordax at 9:42 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I went to share this on Facebook (my personal thoughts were a lot like kochbeck's), a friend of mine who has been a target of MayMay's abuse warned me that they have a history of doxxing people they don't like, and being abusive in the overall kink community, and recommended that if I was going to share it I should put a DoNotLink on the address. I'm hoping this Mefi post doesn't draw trouble.
posted by divabat at 9:46 PM on September 28, 2014


Yes, I've noticed that he's popped up in comment sections from time to time when people have made negative comments, so I'm actually a little surprised he hasn't made an appearance here yet. I suppose the night is still young on the West Coast.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:54 PM on September 28, 2014


MetaFilter: purple monkey dishwater word salad
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 10:04 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Does have some good points -- like what about situations where there was deception and you agreed to sex with an understanding that wasn't true (for example, that the guy was going to call you tomorrow?) This concept of revoked consent pretty much requires giving up using the legal system to sort anything out concerning rape cases*, but perhaps if it were (somehow) put to use could create a better culture overall -- the more I think of it, the more it seems like it would work if there were mass cooperation on it.

*Violent cases would probably be prosecuted under other laws about violence or kidnapping or breaking and entering.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 10:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Kind of surprised by the comments on this one.

So was I. Pleasantly surprised, though.
posted by jingzuo at 11:21 PM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm afraid risk cannot be removed from sex. Sex amplifies and creates vulnerabilities, full stop. Do it carefully and with people you like and trust.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:32 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the basic problem with this (or maybe just one of the many basic problems) is that it also basically demands a redefinition of rape, or at least a cleaving of subject and object. I mean this in the ethical sense, not the legal one, though as many other people have pointed out, any kind of legal application of this kind of principle is just impossible.

What I mean about cleaving subject and object is that, with a definition like this, the following statements would have to be permissible: "Andy and Bob had a sexual encounter. Andy was raped. Bob did not rape Andy."

Divorcing the question of whether a rape was committed from the question of whether a person committed a rape seems inherently more problematic than the existing problems and difficulties with various shades of consent. But there's no need to overload the word consent! Find a new word! Find a better way of talking about this!

This piece is a kind of linguistic piracy: it seeks to redefine a word, to capture it, but still keep all of the connections that the word has to everything else. It's clever, I suppose: if you can find the right word to redefine, and make a convincing-sounding argument for why the word should be redefined, you can manage to completely shift a discourse in a direction you find more palatable, with a minimum of effort. I just don't think it's very valid, ethically or logically, and I am not entirely sure it's done in good faith.
posted by tkfu at 11:53 PM on September 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


tl;dr: Maybe, in a way, anything can be whatever and then if you think about it, stuff is pretty much y'know.

This is the logical outcome of a line of thinking that is solipsistic at best.
posted by koavf at 12:24 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


What if both participants revoke consent?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:31 AM on September 29, 2014


I feel like observing the spirit rather than the letter of the "law" (not talking about legal definitions now) of consent is a very good idea, but a "Schrödinger's consent" sort of thing seems to me much more likely to benefit unethical actors by positioning consent as such a nebulous, mutable, or capricious thing that almost no one could avoid ever violating it, and therefore virtually everyone is a violator! Everyone is a rapist! Why point out my sins when everyone is sinning?!

In fact, with a completely pliable characterization of the concept, I don't see why there would be any reason to even restrict the felt violation to the one giving (or not, later) consent: observe how even as the instigator, the one requesting consent, one's consent could be violated under this paradigm:

Andy has long had an unrequited crush on Bob

Bob has had a bad time recently, and his confidence is shaken. He is sad, vulnerable.

Bob says to Andy, "hey, I'm feeling sort of low and I would like to have sex with you to maybe cheer me up. Would like to have the sex with me?"

Andy says, "I would! So much! Yay!"

Later Bob regrets asking Andy to have sex with him, and wishes Andy had said, "I'd love to, so much! But maybe it would be better to wait until you are not feeling so sad and vulnerable, because it just feels like I would be taking advantage of you if we did it now."

This would have been the de facto most ethical response from Andy, but if we are expanding consent to also encompass any regret felt after the fact, wouldn't Andy's consent above also be a form of rape? In real terms why would violation only be framed by the one giving consent changing their mind? Why not also the one asking?

(on preview -- ha! LongerJoseph Gurl. Sort of. :) )
posted by taz at 12:44 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


You need a super-ego to keep your id and ego in check, but if the super-ego dominates, you are neurotic.

A metaphor, ladies, gentlemen, et al. Just a metaphor.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:47 AM on September 29, 2014


Oh wait... Now I retrospectively consent again...
posted by Segundus at 1:45 AM on September 29, 2014


Well, it certainly is an interesting philosophical proposition. What if consent was fully revocable? It would completely reshape society. Our legal system as constituted couldn't support it. There probably isn't a human society anywhere that works that way, although an anthropologist's opinion would be interesting.

I wouldn't for a second propose bolting it on to our societies, but it's certainly intriguing. Maybe there's a young adult dystopian science fiction movie in it, it seems to be the season for them.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:46 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


for most of history women and children were property, not people.
I don't think I'm wrong in saying that for most of history, men were probably property too. Might you be comparing women's and children's plight against the small minority of the rich and powerful? Looking at India's 'untouchables', they are families rather than just women and children.
posted by guy72277 at 1:51 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is getting pretty ad hominem but this kind of behavior is really beyond the pale and makes it very hard to take him seriously.

It's far from ad hominem to talk about a given person's lack of respect for consent when the subject is consent. That just shows that their arguments for their non-standard interpretation of consent and how one should enact it, are perhaps not made with everybody's best interests in mind.

Kind of surprised by the comments on this one.

I sort of was prepared to take the essay seriously at first, but the vibes I got off it were a bit strange: there was a kernel of a good idea there, but it's nothing other people haven't made before without the aggro and drama this guy brings to it.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:06 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think some of the assumptions of this line of thought are flawed; one being, that the person one is now is the same as the person one used to be. Basically the argument is time-agnostic and presupposes an eternal, unchanging subject.

Sometimes regret comes from changing, becoming a different person. Some of the things I consented to ten years ago I wouldn't consent to today, but that's because I'm a different person than I was then. How can I revoke the consent of that other, former me? If he knew about it he'd be furious.
posted by jet_manifesto at 2:57 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I read the article and, now being stupider for having read it, retroactively withdraw my consent to reading the article.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:20 AM on September 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


What part of "yes" don't you understand?
posted by drlith at 5:04 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I often fantasize about a world in which we stop idealizing sex so much that any slight step off the ecstasy spectrum means oh my god I shouldnt have done it I'll be scarred for life and my pure experience of sex has been irrevocably marred. Wouldn't it be great if we could say oh lol that was a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, you live you learn, and get on with our lives by taking ownership of our actions without assigning blame or making excuses?

I'd rather fantasize about a world in which entire classes of people aren't routinely forced to suck it up and live with the consequences of bad and less-than-consensual sex. That, to me, is the key structural element underlying our problems with consent, not this goofy thought experiment about retroactive feelings (which borders uncomfortably close for me to the trope of dismissing date rape allegations as "she said yes but regretted it in the morning").
posted by Dip Flash at 5:28 AM on September 29, 2014


I'm kind of glad someone else mentioned first that maymay is probably not the ideal spokesman for pretty much anything at all, let alone consent, because he can often seem to hold it together for the length of an essay, but to put it charitably he appears to be worryingly insane.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:08 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I agree that the lead into this post about Bob and Andy is hyperbolic, but to be fair, many of the comments on this thread seem to have missed the point of the OP: that viewing sex through a lens of combined contract law ("I agree/do not agree to the following proposed acts. . .") and criminal law (acts performed without consent will be prosecuted) is not getting us good places. Empirically speaking, we know that most rapes go unreported, and of those reported, most go unprosecuted, and of those prosecuted, many do not result in a conviction because some action of the victim is deemed to have implied blanket consent. So the authors' main point is to say we should forget about the legalistic consent framework, and consider an alternative framework that is not legally enforceable.

Issues with author maymay aside, the idea that social approaches to sexuality ought to be framed to maximize the happiness of those engaged in it, rather than on the question of whether anyone was nonconsensually brutalized in a manner that can be prosecuted at law, is one I'd think uncontroversial. Ethically, it's your basic Kantian imperative: treat your sexual partner as an end in themself (focus on their pleasure), not as a means to your end (using them as long as you can get away with it). The question is how to get there from here. And I like to participate in discussions about that.

But a lot of thread comments boil down to "this would never work at law" (the authors agree but say the law is helping very little), or "imagine all the long contracts you'd need to be constantly signing" (again, the authors say forget the contract framework), or "this would mean any of us could be framed as violators" (exactly the authors' point: that under the current very poor circumstances, a large percentage of us eventually do harm others, but we shy away from addressing that, because of our sexual framework posits evil rapists and honorable nonrapists, and none of us want to view ourselves as evil). I just wish I saw more comments engaging with the core idea of the post, hyperbole aside.
posted by DrMew at 9:11 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


DrMew: I just wish I saw more comments engaging with the core idea of the post, hyperbole aside.

You speak as if the act of engaging with the idea that consent is negotiable is a neutral act that can't cause any harm. Watering down the definition has very real consequences. If all we were doing was engaging in pure spherical cow theorizing, I'm sure this would be a different conversation, but Maymay's insistence on using the word "consent" that has a very real meaning as a legal construct (even as he protests too much by saying he isn't trying to make a legal argument) is problematic enough that I don't see a positive risk/reward calculation in taking it seriously.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:20 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of comments here point out that if we adopted this definition of consent, society as we know it would break down. I think it doesn't really become clear until you read "Maymay expands, part 2" that Maymay agrees with this assessment and considers it a feature, not a bug.

(Society as we know it sucks in a lot of ways, no question, but it's hard for me to see a feasible pathway from where we are now to where Maymay would like it to be.)
posted by fermion at 10:15 AM on September 29, 2014


When I went to share this on Facebook (my personal thoughts were a lot like kochbeck's), a friend of mine who has been a target of MayMay's abuse warned me that they have a history of doxxing people they don't like, and being abusive in the overall kink community, and recommended that if I was going to share it I should put a DoNotLink on the address. I'm hoping this Mefi post doesn't draw trouble.

maymay is part of the reason i deleted my fetlife account. it's because of that exact behaviour.
posted by xcasex at 10:19 AM on September 29, 2014


> ...rather than on the question of whether anyone was nonconsensually brutalized in a
> manner that can be prosecuted at law, is one I'd think uncontroversial.

Uncontroversial only if the project also involves completely removing the notion of consent from both contract and criminal law. As long as it continues to be a concept in those realms as well as in the realm of interpersonal ethics there must be some possiblity that those who are trying to obey the law and avoid prosecution will be able do so.

If you sincerely believe your sexual partner consents now, and he/she in fact does consent now, but that might become untrue because of an event that happens in the future that somehow reaches back through time and retroactively changes its truth status, then both the possibility of obeying the law and the possibility of sincerely considering your partner's wishes and abiding by them are gone and nobody with a grain of sense will ever agree to have sex with anybody ever. (Except, of course, for those who are OK with suddenly becoming rapists one day out of the clear blue sky.)
posted by jfuller at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just wish I saw more comments engaging with the core idea of the post, hyperbole aside.

The thing is, the whole concept of "consent" is a pretty legalistic one, and saying "here's a concept of consent that isn't compatible with law enforcement" is more or less saying "here's not a concept of consent." At the end of the day, regardless of how we act toward one another, no matter how much we try to embrace the full complexity of the spectrum, we absolutely have to have some kind of bright dividing line between "acceptable, even if imperfect" and "unacceptable, even if not purely evil." Otherwise you simply give up your ability to prosecute a crime, and that does kind of matter.

To put it another way: Discussing the complexity of consent and regret is all well and good when it comes to navigating our personal experiences, but it does jack shit for the core purpose that the very notion of consent serves, which is to provide a framework for cleaving actions between "acceptable" and "not."
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:46 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I read the articles, the quick assesments I made on the authors - including the name of the website "Maybe Maimed But Never Harmed" and the tagline "Kill all humans." - told me right away to come at it with an extremely open mind. I assumed because it was on Metafilter that it was "safe".

In that spirit, I continued to move through the words and found myself trying to think of a relatively safe situation where contracts would not exist in a sexual encounter, whether monetarily or verbally or explicit with signatures. I found it easy to translate the concepts into a long term committed relationship where loyalty of partners was not in question.

For some, personal feelings are extremely difficult to articulate verbally, even articulating to oneself one's own feelings can be challenging. In the heat of passion keeping physical feelings, emotional feelings, intellectual feelings, etc., etc.,...of one's own self and of your partner's own self is a real exercise in humanity. For some it is easier to just stick to the physical level, e.g., does it feel good to my body and does it seem like it doesn't feel bad to my partner's body.

The reference to somatic experiences makes me feel like this is their jumping off point to sorting out some of their feelings about sex. Typically, getting in touch with and then deciphering your somatic responses would include things like paying attention to your heart rate, your breath rate, your temperature,... at different times and experiences and then comparing them so you can better define what your body defines as okay for you. The idea being that if you know your somatic responses when you feel safe/at rest and you know your somatic expereinces when a trigger comes up for you, it might be a good measure of what is okay. Through practice one may get better at noticing trigger moments and find relief by being aware of somatic repsonses. If through practice, someone is able to take themselves from anxious levels of somatic responses to safe level of somatic responses, it may help them feel like they have gained control. If through practice, someone notice their anxious levels and their attempts to regain safe levels goes unfulfilled, then that person can be fairly certain that this is not okay for them and their body. My guess is that the authors are hoping that becoming aware of one's own somatic responses may help them notice anxiety in thier partner that may otherwise be misconstrued as passion.

Obviously, sex is full of rapid heart rates and heavy breathing and sweating. So many many many benchmark levels would need to be found to incorporate this practice into sex. But they seem bored with the simple layers of physical sex and are possibly looking for some deeper layers of physicality (dare I say, intimacy). So maybe, once they have their benchmark levels recorded and they feel confident with those numbers, their sex might include trying new things and then measuring each other's numbers after. That would quantify some feelings and eliminate the angst of having to disuss sexual feelings in a verbal way. So the contract might be: if my heart rate gets to a certain number...or if I am thinking about the sex we had later and my somatic responses are at my anxiety levels, I am not comfortable trying such and such again. I can see where you might learn a lot about yourself and your partner with this type of excersice.
posted by Emor at 11:40 AM on September 29, 2014


From an anonymous commenter:
I just want to agree/highlight two major points here.

1) This is Maymay. In the kink scene, he's a well-known figure for many reasons, almost all of them very negative. His bad reputation is deserved (IMO) thanks to his personal attacks, threats, treatment of other people IRL, reported abuse, you name it. I'm requesting that this be posted anonymously partly because I'm worried he'll track me down.

2) The kink scene has huge consent issues that have been coming to light increasingly over the past couple years. People who are on the sweep-it-under-the-rug side LOVE to argue that the real problem is women/subs revoking their consent retroactively. They have big stories they love to tell about "sub frenzy" and how this brand-new teenage girl was totally begging for it and definitely wanted it and kept saying "more, more, harder" and, uh, just totally changed her mind and ran home crying in the morning and then the poor innocent dom was cast out forever. This is the basic narrative they tell about nonconsent.

I've been in the scene for years and I've literally never seen anything like that happen. I have seen a lot of horrible shit go down, but I've never seen a sub consent to something, have a good scene, and then call it rape (or a violation) in the morning. And I am a young woman associating mainly with young women -- the demographic where this supposedly happens nonstop.

So for Maymay to be framing it as if that were an actual thing -- let alone a widespread, prevalent issue, a big contributor to the scene's consent problem -- is extremely not neutral. And it's impossible for that to be some strange coincidence. I think he knows exactly what he's doing with this.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


[I]sex, like many things that are sensate and in which the person in question is really the object and sex is the subject (much like asking someone who has never had cilantro the question, "Do you want cilantro?" swaps the real subject - cilantro - for you, because I just want to know whether to put it in the soup), cannot really give "informed" consent, because the vast majority of the information upon which they could base their decision isn't going to be available to them until after the experience in question is applied against them, and sometimes that information doesn't fall into place until long after they've had a chance to process it.

I think this is the most salvageable element of the linked article, but it still doesn't entirely work or make sense, even as the beginning of an "incomplete thought." First, I'm not sure the analysis holds entirely. Asking someone if they'd like to try something new to them can be read just as easily as a transfer of initiative to that person, an acknowledgement of their vulnerability that asks that person to experience vulnerability as an open potential in order to enable a shared experience. "I like cilantro, and I think you might like it: would you like to try some?" is only an objectifying question if we assume that any response or any following experience can only be negative for the pother party qua individuality. Even the (noncoercive, of course) negative experience can be a shared one in a situation of trust and intimacy. It is not "what I want to do with cilantro, with you as object;" it is "what I want to share with you, with cilantro as a mediatory figure in a shared sensorium." The cilantro or the sex act is the terrain on which subjectivities encounter one another, not the effacing subject imposed on the other-as-object.

More troublingly, the underlying logic requires us to always think the notion that there's an initiator or "experimenter" whose desire makes the other person into an object by default. In other words, we have to agree that power in the context of sexuality is always binaristic: a passive partner and an active one. But of course the standard of "enthusiastic consent" is in part about removing that binarism; more broadly, efforts to address sexual violence are invariably entangled with efforts to undo a culture in which the passive-active distinction founds and extends hierarchical sex and gender roles. In that respect, Maymay merely extends the temporal dimension in which that hierarchical valuation functions, albeit in a way that treats revocation of consent as a compensation for the "fact" of irrevocable objectification. At best, it might be that within the thought around, say, BDSM, the fact that both (or more) partners can switch between actor/acted-upon positions across many consecutive or different "moments" or "slices of time" prevents this take on sexuality from enforcing an existing, larger hierarchy.

But the claim that the other is made passive, made eternally vulnerable to violation, but what Maymay characterizes as a "slice of time" is a rather disturbing idea at its core. There is some applicability from a sex-negative feminist context like the one kochbeck offers above, but even that has its nuances and is not a universally held or necessarily "right" or "good" line of argument. I am not sure that we can argue that out here, but I do think kochbeck's analysis skips some steps by failing to acknowledge that the idea, and arguably the effect of successful feminist campaigns has been to disjoin "women" from the "womenanchildren" category. we can disagree about the limited success of that attempt; that is, we can agree, probably, that the job is incomplete. We might disagree as to whether it is sufficiently complete that women or other historically "objectified" or "passive" adults can give true consent or act as relative equals within the context of mutually consensual/desired sex.
posted by kewb at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"because consent can potentially be not real consent if it's not informed consent. of all the problems with this concept, that isn't one of them."

The concept is incoherent as stated. If one party can withdraw consent, so can the other party. If one party withdraws consent, then it is reasonable to think that at least some of the people comprising the second party would not have chosen to continue, ergo withdrawing their consent in the face of the first party withdrawing their consent. In that situation, neither party has given informed consent. Further, in the face that this consent may be withdrawn at any moment after the encounter, one can never truly give informed consent.

If neither party can ever give informed consent, all sex is rape. The authors attempt to tackle this within the essay, but err in dismissing it as overly focused on legalism rather than an inherent property of the words as used. The conclusions reached are as incoherent as saying that because most people want to avoid rape, they should fuck turtles instead of people.
posted by klangklangston at 1:44 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


A much better way to explore this is by thinking about consent in situations that already exist where neither party can give full, informed consent, rather than retroactively enervating the idea of consent itself. There are situations where both parties may be too inebriated to give meaningful consent, and there are certainly situations where developmental disability precludes both parties from giving what we would think of as informed consent. In situations like that, where do the ethics devolve to? Is it right to exclude people with developmental disabilities from all sexual contact even if they desire it? (Similarly, there are situations where two underage parties engage in sexual activity where they are meaningfully consenting but legally unable to give informed consent.)

Those situations for me are more interesting to consider the ethics of consent around than some kind of dubious no-consent-possible trollolololololol.
posted by klangklangston at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Nobody likes to be caught in a post facto trap when they've entered into the interaction in good faith

The point, I think, is that if you're not doing everything you can to make sure the other person won't regret their actions later - which maybe includes not having sex with people who you think may be in an unusual state of mind, or what have you - then you're not acting in good faith. If you think the important part of the interaction is whether you get your rocks off rather than whether the other person feels good about themselves the next day, you may not be acting in good faith.
posted by corb at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Again, nobody is disputing the "consider how your partner will feel now, in five minutes, and in five days" aspect. The problem is that the whole piece, from the title and straight through the last paragraph, is trying to change how we define consent, which is very problematic. We can have the discussion about how to participate in ways that further the sense of mutual understanding and decrease the probability of regret without accepting the premise that we need to reevaluate the concept of consent so as to make it meaningless.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:01 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


taz: I feel like observing the spirit rather than the letter of the "law" (not talking about legal definitions now) of consent is a very good idea, but a "Schrödinger's consent" sort of thing seems to me much more likely to benefit unethical actors by positioning consent as such a nebulous, mutable, or capricious thing that almost no one could avoid ever violating it, and therefore virtually everyone is a violator! Everyone is a rapist! Why point out my sins when everyone is sinning?!

This is something i felt, and was thinking, but had trouble putting into words initially.

Pretty much, it doesn't surprise me that someone who has a history of being violent(both physically, and with online behavior and language) and an abuser would try and sell this viewpoint as something enlightened and advanced. It minimizes their own shittiness while amplifying and bringing attention to everyone else's.

Basically, it gives them great cover.

Anonymous: The kink scene has huge consent issues that have been coming to light increasingly over the past couple years. People who are on the sweep-it-under-the-rug side LOVE to argue that the real problem is women/subs revoking their consent retroactively. They have big stories they love to tell about "sub frenzy" and how this brand-new teenage girl was totally begging for it and definitely wanted it and kept saying "more, more, harder" and, uh, just totally changed her mind and ran home crying in the morning and then the poor innocent dom was cast out forever. This is the basic narrative they tell about nonconsent.

This is sort of a "the mask falls off, revealing the face beneath" moment for me.

At first, i was quite confused as to why maymay, someone who seems to come from that same crop, would be encouraging this to be the norm until i realized the decoupling is key.

If someone can revoke consent retroactively, but the other person was involved with consent, and you're decoupling one persons retroactive non-consent from the other persons previous intentions or actions... then it being possible for someone to be raped without the other person being a rapist is EXACTLY what you'd want.

He's trying to create a world here in which "oh that sucks, i'm so sorry you had a bad experience" is the response without much blame being thrown on the perpetrator.

Pretty much, he's trying to play a much more advanced game than the simple "oh this is a thing that happens a LOT, people claim this and it's bullshit" folks are. Not that it'll work or anything, but even as a thought experiment it's trying at something a lot more insidious and evil.

ugh.
posted by emptythought at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have no experience as a kinkster with which to contextualize this essay, so I spoke to a friend of mine who is, and his take was that, although a huge chunk of this essay is highly problematic and/or delusional, it is revolving around some interesting, useful ideas, especially as far as the kink community is concerned.

The way I see it, after talking to them, is that there are a handful of different scenarios revolving around "people winding up being less-than-perfectly okay with a sexual encounter", some of which this essay tries to enumerate. I do not think that consent is always the correct word to describe this not-entirely-okay-ness, but from what they said there is a certain gray area which is difficult to navigate especially within dom/sub dynamics, and which has led them and people they know to problems and shitty experiences.

From order of least to most problematic, I think I'd articulate the various potential circumstances like this:

  1. No problems whatsoever. Things were done, things were enjoyed, everything was agreed upon and enjoyed by all parties.

  2. Retrospective discomfort. This is not necessarily somebody deciding "nope never again" after something has happened; it might be that a person enjoys an activity but realizing, after the fact, that some aspect of their experience was uncomfortable, and that they want to modify the way they go about things in the future.

  3. Uncertainty during an activity. While sexual conduct progresses, it progresses with the knowledge (by either one or both parties) that somebody is not sure whether they're going to enjoy what's going on, and that they may feel uncomfortable as things progress or afterwards. This can turn into a major problem if the uncertain party doesn't express their uncertainty beforehand, and things turn out not-to-their-liking while an activity progresses.

  4. Something goes wrong in the heat of the moment. According to my friend, some particular actions taken mid-sex might seem like they belong to an acceptable range of behaviors, but wind up being highly unpleasant, often for very personal reasons, and sometimes without the person for whom things go wrong even realizing there might be a problem before hand. This strikes me as a situation where "say safe word, communicate problem immediately" seems ideal, but my friend, who has more experience within this community, says that depending on the situation, this is sometimes not so easy to do.

    In this case, consent would not have been granted had the parties known something was up, and in retrospect it can be said that something wrong happened — but implicit consent was granted beforehand, and it was not the intent of the person who violated the other party's comfort zone to do so. Regardless, this often ends up with one person feeling very uncomfortable, hurt, or violated.

  5. Consent for an activity is not ascertained before something is done. Here you're pretty solidly in "one person is doing a bad thing" territory, and although there is sometimes ambiguity about that person's intent, that intent matters less than the actual actions undertaken. Depending on the severity of the action taken, this might be entirely unintentional on their part, or it might be an act which the first person took for granted was okay, or it might be them being deliberately awful. Not that it entirely matters which that was.

  6. Consent was explicitly denied beforehand. At this point one party is pretty clearly in the wrong.
What my friend and I wound up talking about the most was that, especially where more specialized forms of sex are concerned, problems arise very high up on this spectrum, and they often occur even when the person who's causing discomfort believes themselves to be acting in good faith. Without going into too much detail of our conversation, Friend told me about a few instances of #2 that led to really nasty circumstances — one person trying to further articulate their needs within a realm of activity, to which the response is defensiveness and hostility. They also talked about #4 as a particular HUGE problem area, in that it's easy to read bad faith into somebody's only realizing that things are going wrong in the instant that wrongdoing occurs.

I'm writing this down as much to try and make sense of it myself as I am to share it with others; although I don't have a whole lot of experience with scenarios where issues of consent get remotely murky, it makes a lot of sense to me that sex is a process of constant discovery in which something that somebody thinks they'll enjoy or be okay with only winds up being less-than-okay as it occurs or even days or weeks after the fact. Which is something this essay gets at, although its terminology is highly problematic and leads to some outrageous (and, IMHO, idiotic) conclusions. Nonetheless, it makes for interesting food-for-thought, since sometimes consent is seen as much more of a yes-and-no gatehouse-type thing than it really ought to be.

(My apologies in advance if anything I've written in my attempt to articulate this comes across as tone-deaf, ignorant, or crude. This really isn't something I know all that much about, and I'm hoping it's okay if I try to feel some of these ideas out as I go along.)
posted by rorgy at 7:53 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


rorgy: THANK YOU, that really helped to see someone else be able to articulate it like that. I've run into #2 a fair few times as the uncertain/uncomfortable partner and how the other person responds is really telling. Are they compassionate, or do they lash out at you? Now that I think about it, it makes a useful warning sign...
posted by divabat at 8:57 PM on September 29, 2014


Regarding 2/3: I think the closest I've come to this is having a partner do something with me that they didn't want to do but thought that I wanted. I didn't ask for it, but was happy to go with the flow when they initiated it, and only found out afterward that they were uncomfortable. It was one of those "All guys want this, right?" things where poor communication and assumptions led to something I don't think either of us would have gone through with if we'd talked about it beforehand.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Man, this whole hilarious essay about redefining consent seems to be burying the lede. The real story is that there's a monstrous douche in the kink scene who's doxxing people and generally making borderline death threats, and people are scared to even talk about him for fear of retaliation.
posted by mullingitover at 2:40 PM on September 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


To explain why it's just a really obtuse redefinition: Consent is an event (like, for example, getting on the bus)--it can be reversed with another event, revoking consent (e.g. "stop the bus, I'd like to get off"). However, once you're no longer in the act, there's nothing to revoke consent for: the act is no longer in progress (you can't get off the bus any more, you're no longer on the bus). The author is trying to muddle regret with consent, but it doesn't work. He does make a great pre-emptive ad hominem attack on anyone who'd try to question the validity of this argument,
"Of course, this understanding of consent fucking terrifies people (mostly men and sadomasochistic “Dominants”).
Because of course only these people would take issue with the hamfisted thinking happening here.

I also wonder, if consent was so redefined, what fraction of 'consent reversals' would happen friends or family found out you had sex with that person. I'm guessing the denominator in that fraction is something greater than one but less than two. Then there's the fact that if consent is revokable, naturally both parties would exercise this once one party does, so basically every rape would be a double rape. *head explodes*
posted by mullingitover at 2:58 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


has a history of being violent(both physically, and with online behavior and language) and an abuser

To the best of my knowledge, they are an online troll, and doxxer, but they have not been a physical abuser, now, that is to the best of my knowledge because no one has posted anything about it online, despite requests, and ample motivation.
It's even addressed by their partner - Post from their partner requesting any confirmation of abuse.
The stalking incident if you read it, is that a friend of Maymay attended a open event. So, awkward, but, given that IS the smoking gun, again, not much evidence that they cross the line between online and real world harrassment. The online harrassment sucks, of course, and is bad in and of itself.

I am actually, inclined to believe the above post on this point. But only until I see better evidence to the contrary. I'm just well inclined to believe they're enough of a shit stirrer for that to explain the existence of persistent rumours about abuse without their being a strong basis behind them.



Anyway, that's not to say that I don't find them kind of weird.
E.g. When they find this essay TheRedPillers are going to have a goddamned field day.
posted by schroedinger


That really struck me as kind of hilarious because, thing is, is that I think he's drawn from a similar psychological profile to a lot of redpillers (white male geek).
I mean, the entitlement of white males... gets a lot done in the world. Entitlement actually means you kick up a bigger stink if it gets taken away.
In this case, it seems like as a sub, he's identified WITH women and the oppressed against the predators.
And yet, still kind of going about it in a kind of Redpill way?
A LOT of anger about it, and if you're not with me, you're against me (check out their website for various quotes that if you're not using Predator Alert Tools, it's because you're probably a predator), whiny-ness about that position of sub males that comes across as 'I deserve to have more female doms around' (URGH), online harrassment, doxxing, and of course, leaps of logic especially around human relations in a way that ping me as slightly unwell, and continually finding excuses to be the most oppressed (Facebook is Oppressive by suggesting people say Happy Birthday to them, etc).
So, yeah. He's kind of like a redpill mirror image. Redpill with a goatee.



I mean, I'm PRETTY sure this is slightly better, and I have to give them some kudos for trying to work their way around things (I think they would be even more unwell if they were not involved in this scene, and trying to think about consent issues) but, it's still a pretty weird dynamic, and, yeah, they are in no way a good spokesperson, but actually, that's not about them, that's about how much attention everyone else gives them.
(I'd suggest - less. And hope they get happier. And possibly some DBT therapy).
posted by Elysum at 3:25 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


However, once you're no longer in the act, there's nothing to revoke consent for: the act is no longer in progress

When I think of this, I think actually of how much our definitions of rape themselves are changing - and I think particularly of the information that had people known, they would not have consented to the activity.

For example:

1) Sally and Bobby agree to have sex. Bobby asks if it's okay not to wear a condom, and says he is 'clean.' Sally consents to sex without a condom on this basis. Sally later finds out that Bobby lied to her, and in fact has multiple STDs. Is this a form of rape?

2) Barbara and Solomon are married and have been married for forty years. Early in Barbara and Solomon's relationship, Barbara would sometimes say no to sex, and Solomon would continue to have sex with her. However, marital rape was not illegal at the time of these incidents. Because they were so unpleasant, Barbara has never said no to Solomon again - thus ensuring no incidents took place after the laws making marital rape illegal in her state. Has Barbara been raped?

3) Sandra and Robert go out on a very expensive date. She doesn't want to have sex, but Robert reminds her that he bought her a very expensive dinner, and says she owes him. She doesn't have much experience, and thinks he is right, so agrees to sex that she does not want and feels unhappy and bad afterwards. Later she learns that he is not right and she owes him nothing. Was this rape?
posted by corb at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


1) is kinda skeezy but not what I'd call rape. Sweden has something called 'rape by deception' that's not in the same class as full-on violent sexual assault, but still a crime. That seems reasonable to apply in this case.

2) is obviously a case of rape, full stop.

Let's make 3) even better: Robert got drunk at dinner, but Sandra didn't. Robert talked Sandra into having sex while he was drunk and unable to consent to the act. Was Robert raped?
posted by mullingitover at 1:26 PM on October 1, 2014


Corb:
I consider the bar informed consent.
deliberate deception does not allow consent. Knowingly infecting someone with an STD is sexual assault. Severity ranges as does physical assault - a slap is still assault.

1. Sexual assault
2. It was still rape even when it was legal. It's now an abusive relationship.
3. Manipulative dickhead

3b. Depends, drunkenness is not a hard line, it's usually clearer for guys as they often can't get it up when wasted, but if they were blackout drunk, then yes, charge nondrunk with assault or rape. If the other person reasonably felt pressured or that the other person was initiating and capable of consent, it'd be dismissed. If a reasonable person wouldn't think that, follow through.

Court of Elysum only.
posted by Elysum at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2014


1) The problem here is that deception invalidates the moment of consent at the time; Sally is consenting to a set of conditions that Bobby knows are not actual conditions. You cannot consent to a lie.

2) "Legal" is not the same thing as "ethical," and even today it is possible to hold beliefs or opinions -- even to pass laws -- that can be clearly seen as unethical. It may be that we extend consent backwards in ways that are superficially ahistorical, but this is not the same thing as pure atemporality. Even so, they are ahistorical only superficially, because surely Barbara's perspective would have to count under, say, the liberal tradition dating back to John Locke or even to concepts of will and choice dating back further still. This is not a problem of hypotheticals intruding on the present or of sexual/experiential qualia, but a problem of ethics that could be argued even in its proper historical context. If what Solomon does consistently and predictably hurts Barbara emotionally, physically, or both -- which coerced sex pretty much always does, almost by definition --

3) Again, in your example Robert provides Sandra with false information, meaning that her decision to consent was impaired or undermined at the moment consent was asked and given by circumstances prior to the grant of consent. This, too, does not depend on perfectly anticipating unknown futures.

None of your examples really get at Maymay's idea, which is that our models of consent are flawed because they cannot account for purely hypothetical, contingent experiential qualities. That strikes me as something quite distinct from fraudulent claims, deliberate creation of duress, or historical norms whose ethical provenance was dubious even during their heyday. All of your examples involve on person's willful, deliberate, and premeditated disregard for the other person's desires, beliefs, and/or inherent dignity; the other person becomes only a means to an end, an object for the intiatior's sexual pleasure. That is the common thread that turns them into forms of deceptive or forceful sexual assault.

The linked article suggests that consent could be revoked even in the absence of that sort of disregard. Sexual consent does involve considering a lot of tricky, sometimes subtle issues of power dynamics, as well as a limited ability to project consequences or feelings. Really, what it demands is empathy plus thoughtfulness. But we are limited in our ability to project the future, either by thoughtfulness or empathy. To ignore those real limitations would be to ignore inescapable realities; either you would have to advocate universal celibacy, which is clearly not Maymay's goal, or you'd be able to dismiss or diminish the whole notion of sexual consent...which begins to look more and more like Maymay's goal as others bring in the context of Maymay's other statements and actions.
posted by kewb at 3:49 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


"3) Again, in your example Robert provides Sandra with false information, meaning that her decision to consent was impaired or undermined at the moment consent was asked and given by circumstances prior to the grant of consent. This, too, does not depend on perfectly anticipating unknown futures."

I tend to think that rape is too fraught of an issue to debate this part of consent dispassionately, but there's a lot of gray area about when deception or misrepresentation becomes fraud (caveat emptor and caveat venditor). Discussions of the difference between puffery (legal) and false advertising (illegal) are apt.
posted by klangklangston at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


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