Co-Creation Instead of Just Consent
One of my nicknames is “the consent fairy,” because I’ve been talking about and teaching techniques for better consent practices in my local community for half a decade now. So it might come as something of a surprise that I believe that consent is a crappy goal for relationships.
It’s not that I believe that people should interact without consent. It’s that I dislike the way we talk about consent as though it is sufficient for the creation of a good relationship.
Saying “I had consent for sex” is the same as saying “I didn’t commit a crime when interacting sexually with that person.” It’s as though if someone asked you “how did the party go” and you replied “I didn’t set the building on fire!” as though that was the goal of the event.
If you’re planning a party, what you’re actually trying to achieve is an event that the people involved enjoy. I believe physical interaction should have similar goals; an experience that’s enjoyable for all of the people involved.
This isn’t how we are taught to think about sex, though. We teach boys that the goal is for them to get laid, and that it’s natural and reasonable for them to use trickery or coercion to do that. We teach girls that if they have sex it fundamentally devalues them in a way that can never be redeemed, using metaphors like that say sex will turn them into a crumpled piece of paper or a chewed piece of gum. And then we put these two groups of people together with these divergent messages, warn them not to talk honestly to anybody from the other group, and tell them they’re going to be punished for eternity in hell if they get it wrong.
No wonder we’re so confused about how to create sexual experiences that are good for everybody involved. We’ve set up a situation that, from the beginning, tells people their goals are mutually exclusive and that sex is something you either win or lose. Even our most common cultural metaphor for sex, baseball, is competitive.
Let me be clear. If there’s a loser in your sexual experience, you are doing it wrong.
What if, instead of just being excited about someone giving us consent for the sexual interaction we want to have, we decided to set the bar higher. To go back to the party analogy, this would mean that instead of considering “we didn’t set the building on fire or smash out any of the windows” the ultimate bar for success, we would look instead for success descriptors like “everyone had a wonderful time,” “people felt seen and cared for,” “ I learned some new things,” or even “people told me they can’t wait to do this again.”
What if we insisted that our sexual experiences be a generative cocreation of mutually pleasurable interaction? Generative cocreation of pleasurable interaction doesn’t make for a pithy analogy, or even a clever acronym. It might even take several moments to even parse what I'm trying to say. (I do have something of a kink for big words, I admit.) Let me break it down a little further.
Generative means to generate, originate, produce, or reproduce (Apparently my 5th grade english teacher, who insisted one couldn’t define a word by using that same word, does not work at Merriam Webster).
Co-creation means to make a thing happen. The key here is the prefix “co”, which points out that whatever is being created should be done collaboratively, involving all of the people who are affected by the experience.
Pleasurable interaction can mean something that creates physical pleasure. It can also mean something that creates comfort, adventure, or other positive emotional or physical sensations. It can be pleasurable to receive attention, but it can also be pleasurable to provide attention to someone you care about.
The point is that sexual interaction should be about creating something in collaboration that leads to positive experience, or pleasure, for everybody involved. That’s a lot bigger goal than consent, which at the core simply means “I didn’t assault anybody in getting what I wanted.” I understand that this is more difficult and challenging than achieving simply the lower bar here...but I believe it’s worth the effort to try.