Consent in Literature
Posted On May 30, 2019
So, following on from my review for What If It’s Us by Becky Abertalli and Adam Silvera I want to talk about sexual consent in literature.
CW: Frank discussion of sex, consensual or otherwise.
I’ve read a handful of books recently that have had sexual content. I want to talk about the good ones: What If It’s Us, The Kiss Quotient, When Dimple Met Rishi, The Hate U Give, and Girls of Paper and Fire (review coming shortly), to name a few. Most of these are Young Adult but The Kiss Quotient is not but they all deal with, if not the first sexual experiences, then one of the first. And what they all share is a demonstration of “enthusiastic consent”.
Enthusiastic consent means your partner wants to continue, it means your partner is making an active choice to be a participant. It isn’t “Well they said ‘yes’ twenty minutes ago and nothing since, how was I supposed to know they didn’t want to do it?”, it isn’t “They said yes every other time”, “Well, they didn’t say ‘no'”, “We were drunk”, or “They’re my partner so it’s my right.” Enthusiastic consent means “we are continuing down this path as consenting equals”.
Of course it doesn’t mean you have to stop every thirty seconds and say “do you still want to do this?” As these books all demonstrate, from the fluffy to the frank descriptions, there are plenty of ways to check your partner is on board and it doesn’t have to ruin the moment. In fact, in can enhance it – a breathy, shivering, whispered “yes” is still a yes and it’s definitely still sexy.
Often one of these characters is more experienced than another, but not always. But in all cases our protagonists are exploring themselves and each other on a level playing field. Even if one is guiding the other there is no power, no dominance. *
Why do I think this is so great?
Because all people deserve to be treated with respect as human beings. Because sexual experiences are some of the most intimate people can ever have and they shouldn’t be violated. You are trusting yourself completely to another person and that person should cradle your vulnerability like a baby bird that should never be harmed. Is that a weird analogy to make? Probably.
Books that show this beautiful balance, these caring, sharing, equal sexual experiences show you that you deserve to have respect. As I said in my other review: books can give us raised expectations of love – how perfect it will be, how simple you will find it, how everything will slot together so neatly. But these books also show that you should expect to have equal, enthusiastic, sex.
What do we do now?
The thing is, rapists, deliberate or misinformed, are probably not the type of people who will read these books. Romance, fantasy and young adult fiction? Bleugh – “that’s for girls” cries society. And while that’s unfair and untrue, it can still be used to advantage.
Because while it would be better if people could be taught not to rape people, and we certainly should be doing that. We’ve had enough of teaching girls and women how to avoid it, we need to teach people not to do it. We need to teach people to ask for enthusiastic consent. But at least, in the meantime, if you read books like these and you learn what you deserve and should expect, you will know when a person is not treating you well and/or if a violation of your body and trust has occurred.
Too often the victim is blamed, by society and by themselves – “Well, I suppose I did say ‘yes’ twenty minutes earlier and nothing since, how were they supposed to know I didn’t want to do it?” Because you weren’t asked again, and because you didn’t consent – enthusiastically and so: They. Should. Have. Stopped.
Stand up for yourselves. Ask for, and give, enthusiastic consent. Be equals in all you do. Read these books and know your value. Someone who does not ask for your consent, who does not respond to your needs – vocalised or otherwise, is trash and you need to educate or get rid.
This has been a bit rambly but I’ve spent about 3 hours writing so I’ll publish it anyway, and maybe review tomorrow.
*This is not a dig at the BDSM community. While I am not a member from what I know I believe that consent and equality are two of the most important tenets of the community – even if that’s not how you act once you get started 😉