Consent: What does it look & sound like and why does it matter?

I read a few pieces over the past week that stuck the word consent in my mind:

Buying Myself Back” by Emily Ratajkowski

The model describes her images being sold without her consent. Does releasing one naked picture of yourself give permission to everyone else to sell any / every picture of you?

The Big Questions Book of Sex and Consent” by Donna Freitas

Based on discussions with college students, this book presents big questions about consent and why it isn’t just about avoiding rape allegations or having sex freely. It asks readers why consent is at the very heart of your relational ethics.

Blood Moon” by Lucy Cuthew

The situations here are super relevant: sexting, revenge porn, slut-shaming, social media, and all the horrible “risks” that come with having sex today, especially for young people.

Each of them pose different questions about consent, and all of them show that it is so much more layered than “yes” or “no.” Saying “yes” one time doesn’t mean you agree to have sex with that partner every time; even married couples are allowed to say no to sex, RIGHT?

Freitas also cuts to the fact that consensual sex isn’t always good sex, and unattached sex can be great sex. That complicates the messaging, doesn’t it? But as fun as hookups can be, they are also damaging in some ways or leave people desiring for more. She also points out that consent is NOT about free sex = good, frigid = bad. That’s a reductive way of looking at it that doesn’t leave anyone feeling more liberated.

The three pieces together also made me think about sex work vs. intimacy. Some people believe that since Ratajkowski did pose nude and her job is catering to the male gaze, that she has no right to claim privacy. In other words, she deserves her pictures being taken and sold by anyone. It also remind me of a Twitter thread I saw about an OnlyFans creator whose pictures were taken by her boyfriend — in the replies, many male commenters said they felt bad about her boyfriend. The OP explained the two of them were winning together.

Does being in a relationship mean only your partner gets access to pictures of you? What if your partner IS the one who shared pictures that were only meant for them? I don’t believe the ownership of images is a model problem — it is ultimately a question of trust and the power we hold when we are in an intimate relationship. And if we are being 100% honest with ourselves (and not concerned with being woke), does giving everyone access to look at our partner even feel GOOD?

Personally, I believe that society is not as liberated as sex-positivity makes it out to be. And having free sex is not empowering, at least from my perspective as a woman. My honest, true opinion is that women deserve to enjoy sex, BUT sex positivity still benefits men more than it benefits women. Feminism that pleases the patriarchy, that centers traditional feminity, is not that empowering or inclusive, though I understand it as a backlash against butch feminism.

I’m going to be pondering these big questions for a long time. My wish is that women would make space for each other for the full range of femininity, ways of being a woman, that there are, instead of settling for the binaries that patriarchy imposes on us. Men don’t have the limits of being either a slut or frigid; they get to be any kind of sexual being. (They even get praised for being HIMBOS.) So let’s give ourselves the same space to have sex or not have sex, and to chip away at the binaries. Your body is yours alone and it is a great privilege to be able to keep it to yourself or share it with another; an even greater privilege to be able to change your mind about it. And it is a privilege that many are trying to take away from us. Honor consent.