I decided to write this after reading a few too many novels and online stories where it seemed there is a (worringly) blurred idea of consent when it came to sex.
This article on consent is in regards to sexual activity. So if you are writing sex scenes in your story do keep in mind the concept of consent. EDIT: See the video at the end of this post 🙂
As this post discusses, Sex and Consent there may be references to rape, so for those who are triggered by such, please read at your own discretion.
What is Consent?
Consent is a statement of shared intentions, of understanding a situation and being in agreement. It is NOT just about saying yes (think coercion).
I know that sounds so dull and almost legalese, but whether it’s stories or disturbing news articles, I think it’s important to be clear about the subject.
When it comes to sex between characters who are meant to be consenting, then they both need to know and understand the full situation.
Saying yes to sexual contact only to find out it will involve something you hadn’t agreed on, DOES NOT constitute consent.
So whether it is agreeing to a kiss and suddenly being groped, or agreeing to sex and suddenly being confronted with whips and chains, it does not matter the degree – unless both parties agree fully, then you tread over the line of legal and ethical sexual activity.
Let’s say one of your characters is completely drunk or high, even if they are all over the other character, tearing off clothes, they cannot give “consent”.
This high level of intoxication means they are not in their right mind to give legal consent to a sexual act.
We see scenes in movies all the time where someone wakes up beside another person with zero memory of who they are or what transpired. This is often passed off as a funny moment in the movie.
In real life, this could actually cause legal issues as the other person could be considered “taking advantage” of the character who was so black-out drunk they don’t remember anything and thus couldn’t truly give consent.
Imagine if you were excessively drunk and someone put a contract in front of you to sign. Do you really believe that would stand up in a court of law if it came out that you were asked to sign in under those circumstances?
Scene or No Scene
Does this mean you should not write the scene?
No, if this is what you want to write then fine – however, be aware that your readers may see it differently from you.
This is not a loving scene of two characters being intimate, it is a risky scene that could potentially end with one character accusing the other of a sexual offence.
Even if you write it that everything works out fine, the overall sense of the scene to the readers may have been that it could have gone either way. And they may then view one of the characters as more of an antagonist than a protagonist.
If you want your characters to be likeable, then any sexual activity they do should be consensual otherwise you may find people start to hate your characters.
Let’s also not keep muddying the waters with scenes like this. Already we have young people (and even older adults) who are unaware of the legality and ethical issues with such things, not realising they have broken the law.
As well as people who wake up after such occurences in real life, feeling shame or vulnerable because they were taken advantage of.
There is a reason many countries have adopted legal ages for sex. Often people believe that at these ages the person is more mentally, emotionally and physically ready for such activity (that’s not always the case) and thus are able to give true consent and be of sound mind to do so.
In many countries, however, the legal age does not include the mental or emotional readiness for sex (or for raising children should an accident occur) but more they are at the legal age to WORK thus support a child that may occur from the union.
A legal age does not make something ethical and can often be created by societal cultures.
Pressure and Shame
Any form of pressure, either from a partner, family member, friend etc that makes a person feel they “ought to” engage in sexual activity before they are ready makes it less than consensual.
This is coercion. If your character is showing all the signs of not being into it or having to be “persuaded” then it’s coercion.
The old cliche line of “if you love me you’ll sleep with me” is still banded about by the sad and deseperate in order to passively force someone with emotional guilt.
Women especially are often coerced into things due to the threat that comes with rejection.
You can barely turn on the news without hearing about women who were assaulted, tortured and/or murdered for rejecting an advance.
A number of the school shootings were committed because a boy wanted someone who didn’t want him back and he felt so entitled to that girl’s affection and attention that he shot up a school.
Should your characters discuss their wants? That is up to you, it may ruin the flow of a sexually-charged scene.
Then again, if you have two characters you want to become intimate in a consensual way, the build-up of chemistry between them equally will help to create this.
You could even have it build up before anything physical happens, one character just tentatively asks if this is what the other truly wants.
To add a sense of apprehension – this seems to work well in more romance novels where we know at least one character is completely besotted with another and is almost shocked that the other character feels the same.
This can move the scene nicely rather than bog it down with a sense of “let’s discuss if we should have sex” moment.
Any form of sexual activity that is undertaken without consent is abuse. Period. It is illegal, unethical and a violation. Whether it is full intercourse to any kissing, groping or other sexual activity.
Abuse is not just when some stranger gropes or assaults someone in a bar. It can occur within a relationship.
Whether it is a married couple, a pair of teenagers or a dominant and submissive to BDSM – consent will be a strong cornerstone in the effect of the relationship.
Example: A gentle sex act between a married couple can still be seen as rape if there was no consent, such as if one of the parties was, say, unconscious or extremely drunk. Just because they are married, just because they have had sex before… none of this means that at THIS time, the sex was consensual.
In the same vein, a submissive who is whipped and then has sex with their dominant, which is extremely rough, would be not be considered abuse or rape if consent between the two parties was given with an understanding of what it would entail.
Please note though that NOT all BDSM is the same, there is portion of the community that is very controlling and abusive.
Just as there are healthy and supportive BDSM relationships. However, just because someone agrees to be a submissive in a BDSM relationship, does not mean that they are not able to be raped and abused.
Just something to think about when writing consensual sex scenes within a story.
The Tea Analogy
Just came across this Youtube video made by the British police who have made an animation using a Tea Analogy to explain consent. Since I am British and love tea… I think this works 🙂