Over the past few years, the Dub has been fielding complaints that our annual “Consent is Wet Hot” tanks do not express how consent is also mandatory. I agreed, but recently I have been rethinking my opinions on those complaints. After reading Cat Person, a short story published by The New Yorker chronicling a short-lived relationship, and the accusations against Aziz Ansari, I realized that conversations about consent need to be broadened and become more common. Firstly: yes, consent is not optional for a sexual act of any kind. However, re-learning consent as something that’s sexy as well as mandatory can change the way we view healthy and good sex.
Sex is not like the movies, and often we need to verbally express what we want and do not want. Just because this encounter can be clumsy does not mean it is not sexy. People can be intimidated by asking their partner a question outright for fear of “ruining the moment,” but this dialogue is necessary for sex that is completely consensual. Many of my friends have told me that they were turned on by their partner asking if they could participate in certain sexual acts. When we shift the ideas of consent as mandatory to consent as sexy, we shift the culture and conversations around sex altogether. “Consent is Wet Hot” implies that sex should be controlled equally among all participants and that everyone’s pleasure is equally important. Let’s face it: things that are mandatory are rarely enjoyable. And by making consent seem like a chore, it becomes undesirable. However, when someone does not view sex as sexy, they probably are not emphatically consenting to it. When we portray consent as mandatory, it becomes a one-time goal. Say your professor makes it mandatory to go to two out of five class lectures. Are you likely to go to three? Probably not. Four or five? Highly unlikely. The word “mandatory” results in bare minimum efforts. Once the mandatory consent minimum has been reached it can be discarded.
This mandatory status can also lead people to try to coerce their partner(s) to reach their mandatory minimum and continue through the sexual encounter however they please. This pattern is extremely unhealthy, and is considered sexual assault. To avoid mixed signals, everyone needs to ask for consent at every step. Even if you thought you already did, ask again. The thinking should not be “I have to get consent” (which, make no mistake, you absolutely do), but rather, “I want to get consent.” Consent should go above and beyond. Consent should be enthusiastic, freely, and happily given. Yes, consent is mandatory, but it also should be extremely sexy and fun.