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Consent and Beyond

We are all as hysterical about sex as any religious fundamentalist, despite our superior ideologies. Yes, now we recognise the legitimacy of homosexuality and we recognise womens' right to their own bodies.

Now, as a culture, we possess the word “consent” against which we can place all sexual acts to judge their validity. “Consent” is an entirely new dimension in the development of human sexuality. Male ownership of female bodies, passed from father to husband at marriage, has not been the norm for most of human social life, though it has been the norm in our culture until the much more recent idea of marriage as a partnership. Surely there have been many permutations, all equally arbitrary but some more successful than others. Male sexual violence against women has been a trait of our culture that we have very recently recognised and begun to address.  It has been an entirely unsuccessful trait because human beings refuse to live in misery and violence and always, eventually, they stand up and defy the cultural institutions that their ancestors maintained.

The concept of “consent” is a significant and necessary step in the development of human sexuality. Sexuality is not a matter of individuals, it is not a matter of “preference”, it is not a form of self-expression. Sexuality is social, it is about how we relate to each other. Sexuality is one of the myriad ways in which we interact and experience the world as social beings. I reject the theory of individuality. The best that I can say about the idea of “individuality” is that it has been used to free us from the repression of theocracy and slavery. It is now a core ideology of Corporate America, with the holy text being the American Constitution, of the free market and of consumerism. “Individualism” has lead to urban alienation, segregating us with fences and walls into separate locked houses, separate bedrooms, separate beds. We are not individuals. We are a social species. We thrive and evolve socially. We build cities not to facilitate economic transactions, but to create diverse and complex communities. Within cities of millions of people we form tribes, tribes of bankers, tribes of artists, tribes of Christians, tribes that perhaps represent the size and interdependence of the tribes we have lived in for thousands of years, before evolution, before language, the continual successful tendency of human development.

We develop and maintain social and cultural practices that are successful and we (eventually) reject what does not work (or allow ourselves to be crushed by the consequences of our own cultural practises). This is why I believe that “consent” will survive. It is necessary. But it is new and it will evolve. While this concept slowly emerges from global culture, like a mushroom emerging from the rich filth of cow shit, we cling to and eventually release the arbitrary and destructive cultural divisions that have dysfunctionally brought us to this moment. We use the concept of consent to justify the trauma-induced boundaries and violences that we continue to perpetuate. We try to define in court whether consent was given. We deny sexuality to everyone below the age of 16, claiming they are unable to consent because they are somehow incomplete. We devise infinite ways of alienating ourselves from the fellow humans we are having sex with. We call it fucking and we do fuck. We learn how to fuck from pornography, which is readily available everywhere, with average degrading magazines available from every convenience store in the Capitalist world, portraying human bodies as objects to be fucked, orifices. Arbitrary standards of acceptability limit the depravity of these magazines while on the internet anything can be found, as depraved and dehumanising as you like. Arbitrary standards are impossible to enforce on the internet. However, in the cinema, on television, in the classroom and the library, where ideas are freely exchanged, there are no standards whatsoever; sexuality is simply not allowed to be discussed. Perhaps we have observed the change over the years in what can be discussed, but still, though we now discuss contraception, abortion, homosexuality and consent, we only accepts concepts into the discussion once they have been thoroughly defined and culturally-sanctioned. Anything that connects us with the complexity of the situation is confronting and therefore dangerous.  Ambiguity, above all else, is unacceptable.

Ambiguity is where we all live, however, and the culturally-sanctioned concepts that we slowly develop are necessary and positive, but they are too slow. We underestimate our own intelligence. We assume the mainstream media is indicative of the minds of many, whereas the mainstream media is constructed under the assumption that most people are stupid and can only understand well-defined simplistic superficial ideas. Television sitcoms play with sexuality without confronting it, dealing with pursuit, drama and innuendo but never following the couple into the bedroom. What could be more revealing than watching a couple take their clothes off, stand naked before one another, look into each others' eyes, kiss, breathe the same breath, touch and find a way of communicating, to devise together in that moment, silently, just the two of them, an entirely new language. Not a verbal language, but a physical language. Not a language of symbols and representation, but of direct communication, straight from one body of the human experience to another body of the human experience. Communication not veiled with language, not defined and understood through culture, not covered in clothes and concepts, but fully and undeniably experienced and shared. This is not experienced individually, this is a form of telepathy. Despite the widespread availability of pornography, this scene would not be allowed on television. In our hysterical fear of sexual violence we ban all public depictions of sexuality, not understanding nor seeking to understand what creates unity and what promotes separation.

When a human being sits upon another human being, when they are both naked, whether or not they are excited or scared, when they pause and look into each others' eyes, “consent” becomes confusingly ambiguous and centrally important. To say adolescents cannot give consent, to say “no means no” or “she said yes”, to project any mental concept onto the intensity and immediacy of that moment, is to deny that moment for you both. That moment should be shared and fully experienced and when this happens it can only transform our lives, our relationships and our approach to the world. When we sit on someone and we desire them we take full responsibility for every aspect of their being. We cannot separate our desire from theirs, we cannot separate our consent from theirs, we cannot make decisions based on irrelevant laws that we did not agree upon. We have to be there, we have to accept their frailty as much as our excitement, we have to accept that the ideas in our head that torment us with desire, guilt, fear and loneliness cannot be projected onto this sacred moment. We are here now, we are safe and warm in bed, we are naked, it is dark, we are together. We are human, fully and mutually, away from the prying eyes of culture, law and discourse. We cannot fuck someone, because we are merely stabbing ourself with the repetitive pain of past trauma.

Why do we define the sexuality of children from the sexuality of adults? We draw the arbitrary line at 16, while we know that adolescence draws the line at 13 or 14. What draws the line of adult sexuality if not puberty? I suggest trauma. Adults are damaged. Adults are damaged in various ways and in various degrees, but when it comes to sexuality it is almost universal. We know this and we know children are born innocent of this trauma. We want to protect them and yet we must be failing if we all enter adulthood traumatised by abuse or shame or silence or religion or pornography. How can it be almost universally agreed upon that adults should not have sex with children and yet entirely taboo to try to understand and confront why that might be? There is a fluid diversity of complexity between adulthood and childhood, between mutual consent and rape, “non-sexual” and “sexual” communication. Our definitions must enable us and not limit us. They must enable us to discuss and understand in thoughtful moments what we know to be true in passionate moments, when thought is not possible. We must recognise each other and accept each other, fully embrace each other, protect each other and therefore allow ourselves to become vulnerable. We must listen to each other when we say “yes” or “no”, we must notice when a look, a kiss or a frightened muscle tension is the only communication.

When we take responsibility for our own behaviour we take responsibility for each others' well-being. What may not be defined as “rape” may still leave our lover weak and vulnerable and we are responsible for them. We are linked to them in real ways that can be observed and experienced when we are connected to our own body and the bodies of our fellow humans. If we want to break ties with someone we have shared sexuality with for only a moment, we must communicate and understand what that means for each of us and for both of us. Mutual understanding is essential and mutual understanding is what sexuality is seeking to achieve. If the sex is merely functional, then mutual understanding must be a pre-requisite.

When we are fully human, when we are fully honest with each other, naked together and free from generations of trauma, sexuality is a fluid and normal part of life. It is intimate and it is ecstatic, but it is on a continuum. There is hugging, there is wrestling, there is playing and there is laughing. There is working together, there is eating together, there is childbirth and breastfeeding, there is conversation, quiet and intimate or public. There is kissing and touching that may or may not lead to orgasm. I feel safe because I am safe. How could I possibly want to hurt you? Every shared moment is as vitally delicate as making love and every interaction is an act of love. I feel desire welling up inside me when I talk to you and I know we will never have sex so I draw you into the love that my desire allows through this conversation that delights us both. We are both so precious and delicate and nothing is more important to me in my life, not money, not power, not real estate. Only the human beings I experience this world with are this precious to me, and every moment with them is sacred and delicious and I will protect you and honour you.

We become like animals, sex as easy and fundamental as food. We sleep in piles, snuggling up together like a litter of piglets. But we're too aware of ourselves and we're too aware of each other and we not only have love and desire and passion and this violence that we are exorcising from our bodies like trauma and eradicating from our culture like a toxic ideology, we have this thing we call “consent” that is so much more complex and ambiguous than we pretend, but that still we fundamentally understand. But first we have to face reality. First we engage with our own body as a conduit for the experience of being alive and present in the material world. We are present in the physical world through nothing other than our physical body and thus this is our only source of information. We use this body to navigate through the world in which we find ourselves. We discover the dimension that we could call “our environment” and we learn to interact with it, to communicate with it, to live in peace with it. We discover other beings just like us and we instantly realise that nothing is more compelling or more significant in our world than these other beings. They also experience this shared world through the conduits of their bodies and so we share our bodies and therefore enrich our lives. When we become confused in the cultural haze, we use “consent” as a guiding light, but beyond that there is the infinity that we experience outside of our bodies. Profoundly and unexpectedly, we discover that even in this infinity we are not alone, even in the dark warm silence of our bed we are together.

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