Fuck it. Let’s talk about consent.

Every few months, Julian Assange’s ongoing struggle to evade facing allegations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden makes the news and Twitter is flooded with fanboys (and the occasional fangirl) explaining how it was all consensual really and this is a huge conspiracy to get Assange ultimately extradited to the US. Today is no exception. Consent does not work the way these people think it does. So let’s talk about consent, because maybe if Mr Assange and his supporters understood it, they might not rape people in future.

Consent should be enthusiastic
Enthusiastic consent is not something I’ve just made up – google it. Basically, it means that at any point during a sexual encounter all partners should be happily and enthusiastically into it. Not “Um, this is alright”, not “Thinking of England here”, but “YES, YES, fucking YES!!” kind of enthusiastic.

Let me add that this enthusiasm should not just be based on physical arousal or the “quality” of the sex you’re having. Your partner may be incredibly turned on, really wet or hard for you, and they may still not want to have sex with you at that point in time. They might have to get up early the next morning, they might fear getting cystitis, they might find you physically hot but think you’re a creep – it doesn’t matter. Consent is a thing of the mind as well as the body. “You want me, really” is one of the most hurtful, damaging things you can say to a partner who’s trying to withdraw consent or not give it in the first place. If you find yourself saying that (other than in carefully negotiated BDSM situations where withdrawal of consent may happen through a safeword), you’re probably in the process of raping somebody.

So how do you establish enthusiastic consent? Here’s clue: getting them to sign a contract doesn’t do the trick. Understand your partner. Read their body language. Pay attention to and respect their needs, desires and boundaries. Talk to them. “Do you like what I’m doing?” “Do you want to keep going?” “What would you like to do?” It’s really not rocket science.
Which neatly leads us to one of the allegations in the Assange case: that he had sex with somebody who was asleep. I hate to break this to you but somebody who’s unconscious cannot give you any kind of consent, let alone the enthusiastic variety. And yes, this also applies to people who are drunk. Even if your drunk friend is really coming onto you, you’re better off letting them sleep it off. If once they’ve recovered from their hangover they’re still up for it, good for you; else, at least you haven’t raped anyone.

Consent may come with conditions
This should be a no-brainer, but apparently some people struggle with it in the Assange case. If I have given enthusiastic consent to sleep with you provided you use a condom, that does not mean that I have given consent to sleep with you without one. If you have consented to having penis-in-vagina sex with me, that does not mean you’ve consented to me fucking you up the arse with a strap-on.
It’s not that “not using a condom is considered rape in Sweden”. Swedish people still exist after all. Rather, not using a condom when the use of one has been negotiated as a condition for consent is considered rape by civilised people.

Finally, consent can be withdrawn at any time
Also see “talk to your partner” and “getting them to sign a contract isn’t enough” above. At any point during a sexual encounter any party involved is perfectly entitled to withdraw consent. The other party or parties involved are obliged to stop. If they do not stop, then this is rape or sexual assault (depending on what exactly you’re doing). So if, in the words of Roger Helmer, MEP, you find yourself “in the heat of the moment, […] unable to restrain [your]self” and carry on, then yes, you are probably a rapist.

Seriously, if someone withdraws consent, in the heat of the moment, go take a cold shower. Or even just go take a shower. It will afford you the privacy to use your hand. You do not need to get your rocks off enough to warrant raping somebody. You will not suffer lasting physical and mental damage from having to wank.

Now go forth and multiply. Enthusiastically consensually.

13 thoughts on “Fuck it. Let’s talk about consent.

  1. Daniel Lemire

    Listen. Assange and Strauss-Kahn are probably rapists. But the rape charges have nothing to do with rape, rather rape is used as a political weapon.
    You might think that because they are hard on Assange, Sweden authorities show that they care about rape. I don’t think that’s what is happening at all.
    Do they put all alleged rapists on interpol’s most wanted list? If not, why not?
    Are you sure Sweden would even bother to prosecute Assange? After all, he hasn’t even been charged yet. Wouldn’t they rather just ship him to the US where the American government would get its revenge?

  2. Milena Popova

    I do love the way that the minute you point out that actually, it wasn’t consensual by any stretch of the imagination, the argument turns to how it’s all a giant conspiracy really and not about rape at all.
    Let’s get a couple of things clear. The US have not asked for Assange’s extradition. If they wanted him, it would be easier to get him from the UK than Sweden. This country extradites people to the US on copyright infringement allegations. Even if the UK packed him off the Sweden and the US then requested extradition from there, under EU law the UK would also have to agree to that extradition.
    And yes, I do wish the police pursued the 200 people who rape every day in this country with the same vigour as they pursue Assange. But that’s not the point. The point is that by the account he himself and his lawyer have given of events, he is probably a rapist and should stand trial for that.
    Much though the idea behind Wikileaks was a good one and I continue to support the principle if not the current implementation, that does not give Assange or anyone else a carte blanche to rape people. End of story.

  3. aniki21

    Oh wow, thank you! I’ve been trying to explain this consent thing to people without getting uncontrollably angry for ages. Now I can give them this link and tell them to shut up until they’ve read it.

  4. jamesworrad

    Thanks for this post. I was beginning to feel like a lone nutter amidst all the Assange-worship.
    It seems everyone on the left (of which I still count myself a part) abhors a possible rapist until he shames the US govt. Then he’s okay.
    Somehow, I just can’t get with that program.

  5. Milena Popova

    You’re welcome. It’s not like I didn’t get uncontrollably angry and crude, but if that gets the message across to even one person then I’m okay with that.

  6. Milena Popova

    Yeah, I’ve lost respect for a lot of people over this. In some ways though I’d rather know if someone thinks it’s not *rape* rape or it doesn’t matter. That way I know to avoid them.

  7. Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson

    Sweden has yet to formally charge Assange because in Swedish jurisprudence, the formal charge initiates the trial, and before that can happen, they have to hold formal police interviews with everyone — including the suspect.
    In other words, since Assange fails to appear (on Sweden’s terms btw) for a formal interview, the Swedish prosecutor is hampered in actually bringing formal charges.

  8. aniki21

    I usually got so angry that all I could manage was a wordless howl of rage, so this is a big step up from how I expressed my feelings on the subject.

  9. Sophie

    Brilliant post!
    People seem to totally forget how these two women might cope in all this? The have been dragged into the mud pool and scrutinised by Assange fans accused of all kind of weird shit. We all know how Assange is fairing though, getting celebrity friends, being in “mansion arrest”, polishing his “image” as a freedom fighter, putting his story out there earning money of it and putting on his “I am such a poor little victim” t-shirt for everyone to see.
    Meanwhile, Bradley Manning is rotting in an American prison for almost 2 years with documented case of torture, waiting for war trial and possibly death penalty.
    One of the most funny things is that one of the women is accused of having CIA ties and this is considered to be the “proof” of a honey trap. Yeah, because a man on the hunt for secret document would of course not try and pick up people with access to the organisation secrets to use on his web page.
    Also it amuses me that people seem to think that some people do not have to follow laws and rules in other countries.
    Yes, Sweden got specific rape laws, but that is not the point. If you travel to what-ever-land and you enter what-ever-lands borders you have to act appropriately within the laws and rules set up by what-ever-lands juridical system. This is YOUR responsibility. To think you can act outside this is just retarded.
    The accusations Assange made about the Swedish legal system is just outrageous and his ridiculous claims also got shot down by the British legal system over and over again.
    This man has cost too much taxpayer money in Sweden and the UK.
    I do believe the man is a full fledged narcissist and megalomaniac.

  10. Bill Stewart

    Unfortunately, Assange’s fears that the Swedes will turn him over to the US are reasonable. The way to get justice would be for Sweden to grant Assange political asylum, and then give him a fair trial, and probably jail, since he’s probably guilty.

  11. Milena Popova

    I think that’s a great idea because he probably wouldn’t go for it which once and for all would prove the Americans aren’t what he’s actually scared of.

  12. DC

    Sweden can’t give him political asylum because no country has taken any steps to have him arrested on charges which could be considered political. The only countries which are seeking to arrest Assange are Sweden, for rape and sexual assault, and the UK, for jumping bail.
    Also, as far as I understand it, the relevant international law expressly prohibits political asylum being granted to someone who is wanted on criminal charges.

  13. Anonymous

    Fuck it. Lets talk about actual penis in vagina rape, once the author has experienced that, then she can might shut the fuck up about having sex without a condom being rape……..


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