Sexual Consent Forms? Say It Ain’t So!

Sexual Consent Forms? Say It Ain’t So!

Sexual Consent Forms? Say it Ain’t So.
 
I am still thinking that this must be a joke.
 
I just finished giving a talk on consent and sexuality in my college class. The talk was part of a course that addresses questions of how we create ourselves through our relations with others. Of course, sex is one of the most powerful ways that we relate to others. And to the extent that sex involves relating to other people, well, sex necessarily raises moral issues.
 
Of course, today, we tend to think of sex in terms of only one moral issue – consent. We tend to think that whatever happens between two consenting adults is morally acceptable. If this is true, then the main moral issue that governs sexual relations is consent: make sure each party freely consents to the sexual act before you partake.
 
Consent, of course, is essential. Without it, we enter the realm of sexual assault and rape.
 
Yes, consent is basic. But it’s also the lowest common denominator. It’s low hanging moral fruit. The fact is that consent sets the moral bar too low. And I don’t mean this as a restricting “thou shalt not!” Instead, I am saying that that if consent is all there is to sexual morality, then sex becomes a mere mechanical act.
 
Consent alone dehumanizes people. It reduces sex to a social contract. Sex becomes a series of questions and answers: Can I kiss you? Circle one: Yes/No. Can you touch her here? [Yes/No]. How about here? [Yes/No]. Can I penetrate you here? [Yes/No].

 

Can you imagine engaging in such a process? It would take the humanity out of sexual relations. It would even take the sexiness out of sexuality. If this issue interests you, you can learn more about it by watching the lecture that I gave to my class.
 
Now, when I decided to write this article, I thought I would be cheeky and create a pretend sexual consent contract. I intended to mock the idea that consent (alone) reduces sex to a social contract. And so, I thought I would google a contract and then fashion a mock sexual consent form around it. And then I thought, someone must have already created a sexual consent contract in an ironic attempt to mock the idea of sex as social contract. So I googled “sexual social contract”.
 
And what did I find? I did not find mock sexual social contracts. I found real ones. Click here for an example of a real sexual consent form. Click here for a discussion of how people are expected to actually use this sexual consent form. For me, this is evidence of just how far we have come in the process of reducing sexual relations to a commodity. Can you imagine completing such a contract with a social partner? Can you imagine setting up all the contingencies in advance? Can you imagine stating all your intentions up front? Can you imagine forgoing the suspense, uncertainty and exploratory nature of sexualized relations that must necessarily occur when we reduce sex to a social contract?
 
If you can imagine such a thing, I encourage you to ask yourself why you think that this would be a good thing? No doubt, many would say that a contract would reduce the possibility of sexual exploitation. That is certainly a noble and reasonable desire.
 
But note what is lost: Social contracts regulate self-interested activity between two independent people. When I buy a fence, I have my interest in the fence, and you have your interest to make money. We negotiate to make sure that each independent person gets what they want, and that neither person feels intruded upon. We use contracts with people who we do not know enough to trust. Contracts regulate anonymous relationships.
 
Sex isn’t and shouldn’t be an exchange self-interested sensory pleasures that occurs between two independent people. If you want to avoid exploitative sex, then seek to have sex with someone you know, love and care about. Sex should be a celebration of an intimate connection between people — not an exchange of bodily services.
 
We need a new sexual morality as an antidote to our disconnected age.

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