Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Few Thoughts about Consent


I was out with several friends the other night, and one of them was recounting a recent sexual escapade in which there had been, as she put it, “consent issues.” There was a collective gasp: what sort of consent issues?! “Like, we were making out, and then he pulled down my underwear and started going down on me without asking,” she said. She went on to explain, “There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have said no if he’d asked, so I don’t know if I should be that upset about it. It’s probably a generational thing – he’s quite a bit older. I guess I just wish he’d given me the chance to say yes.”

This got me thinking about consent, which is somewhat unusual for me. If I’m in a well-established sexual relationship with someone, I tend to dispense with explicit consent, at least under normal circumstances. It’s usually only if I’m with someone whose preferences I don’t know well, or whose nonverbal cues I can’t yet read, that I seek verbal consent. It seems like the polite thing to do. But it doesn’t feel like a particularly sexy thing to do, and I happen to know there are other people out there who feel the same way.

Last summer, my husband participated in a group thought experiment. The question was posed, “If you were to join a sex cult, what would you want it to be like?” Very quickly, participants divided into two completely opposing factions, based on a single issue they could not agree upon. Yup, you guessed it: consent. Group A said they would not consider joining any type of sex cult unless it had been founded on consent as the guiding principle. They wanted to be asked about everything, every time. Essentially, they wanted a culture of micro-consent. Group B, on the other hand, hated the idea of micro-consent. What was the point of joining a sex cult if it meant you were constantly having to say stupid shit like, “May I step into your personal space? Yes? Okay, how is this for you? Now, may I touch you lightly on the forearm?” For these people, negotiating consent had always been the unsexiest part of sex, and the whole appeal of (hypothetically) joining a sex cult lay in the nonverbal ease of getting laid on a regular basis. They wanted to be free. They wanted to be spontaneous. They wanted to follow their desires wherever they led, into a field of boundless possibility, secure in the knowledge that everyone they met had already said yes – unless and until they explicitly said no.

I’m not keen on cults of any stripe, but even if I were, I wouldn’t be tempted to join either of these groups. Neither one sounds like much fun. In group A, I’d be thinking about boundaries more than I’d be thinking about sex. And in group B, I’d just be saying “NO!” all the time.

Is there a middle way? Can we make consent culture a little bit sexier? What does option C look like?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Did You Miss Me?

Yesterday, I said aloud to someone, "I miss Dear Viny." It wasn't the first time I'd said it. It was probably the dozenth time. So, even though I had good reasons for shelving this blog a year ago, and even though some of those reasons are still operative, it's clearly time to give this baby another whirl.

Expect to see posts on Tuesdays, at least on most weeks.

A lot has happened in my life since my last post. Here are a few of the "While Viny Was Out of the Office" relationship-related highlights, in approximately chronological order:

* Cam (my partner of five years) moved into the same co-housing community in which Parker (my husband of twenty-four years) and I live with our 9-year-old daughter. This means we are now officially a domestic trio, and Sienna has three on-site parents. It was very exciting when we got the first piece of mail addressed to ALL of us -- from Parker's sister! One unintended but happy consequence of the move was that Cam's relationship with his wife (who still lives in their old house, with her new partner) improved dramatically, and they are back to being on friendly terms with each other -- which means that she and I are also back to being on friendly terms.

* Parker had a summer romance that began at SOAK (Oregon's regional burn) and ended, more or less, at Burning Man.

* Parker, Sienna, and I all went to Cam's family reunion in Idaho. I think Cam's extended family was a bit bemused, but everyone was lovely to us. Cam's parents in particular went out of their way to make Parker feel welcome (this was the first time they had met him). The only mishap was when Cam's cousin thought Parker was my son. Do I really look *that* much older than the man I married all those years ago? I mean, good grief: we are still the same age as each other!

* Cam and I gave a conference talk together on Sex-Positive Healthcare.

* On National Coming-Out Day, I came out as poly on Facebook. The response I got surprised me. Not only did no one unfriend me, but most of the comments were overwhelmingly positive. Several people who did not feel comfortable commenting publicly wrote me private messages of support and appreciation, and a few of these folks even confessed to feeling like they might be polyamorous themselves. On the other hand, most of my family members (siblings, cousins, etc.) were notably quiet. I'm guessing they all saw the announcement, since it was my most-liked post EVER, but maybe some of them missed it.

* Since I was already on a coming-out-in-public roll, I read from my teenage diary for Mortified -- there were three Portland shows, two of which were sold out, in a theater that seats 400, which means that more than a thousand people know that my biggest fantasy as a fourteen-year-old was that I would be trapped on a tropical island with three other girls and four guys, and not just me and one other person, "because life needs to be interesting." I concluded the performance by announcing that I now lived in an ecovillage with my two partners.

* Oh yeah. The f*cking election. Did that significantly dampen anyone else's libido? For, like, several months?? Cam and I went to Hawaii in December, which helped a little, and then to Spain and Ireland in March, which helped a lot, but man, has it ever been a slog getting back to baseline. Trumplestiltskin is such a turn-off.

* Denali, my 20-year-old, has decided they are gender nonbinary. At first I thought their trans activism (and their new pronoun, which I am still getting used to) was because so many of their friends are trans, but then they came home for Parker's birthday dressed to the gothic nines, in make-up and an evening dress, and announced, "I am a girl." So I have been thinking a lot about gender lately. For example: why is it so much easier for me to say, "My son is a girl" than it is to say, "I have two daughters"?  


* There have been all kinds of interesting relationship shifts happening in the lives of family and friends, which I will not detail here, but which will no doubt furnish material for many posts to come. Stay tuned! And, as always, if you have a topic you want me to cover, or you need some Viny-style advice, comment on this post or write me a message!

Flourishes and Relishes,
Viny