Consent is easy to define as a notion, but is sometimes difficult to understand and respect in practice. Consent can mean verbal permission, but can also encompass more than simply yes or no. In Yes Means Yes, Rachel Kramer Bussel argues for a higher standard of consent. Specifically, she contends that it does not suffice to only know whether or not your partner wants to engage in sexual intercourse, but consent must include an understanding of why and what kind of sex.
Having a serious discussion about consent is important. In a society that, according to Bell Hooks, condones and celebrates rape, setting boundaries helps to safeguard individual autonomy. These boundaries, however, become nebulous when different communities define consent in different ways. Recently, Antioch College adopted a rule that defines consent in a highly explicit way. Although consent defined as a formality may sometimes serve to set clearer guidelines and prevent unwanted sexual encounters, I would make the case that it is generally harmful.
First and foremost, arguing for a more explicit version of consent reduces consent to verbal permission. This approach fails to account for the subtle nuances for which Kramer Bussel argues. As opposed to advocating for such a strict policy as this one, Antioch should have adopted a policy that compels students to openly share their sexual expectations during sexual encounters. Secondly, a policy of soliciting explicit consent sterilizes the sexual process, an experience that ought to be organic and enjoyable.
Hooks, Bell. “Seduced By Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. N. pag. Print.
Rachel Kramer Bussel. “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” From Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Seal Press: New York, 2008.