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Consent as an Ethical Floor

I immediately connected with this concept the first time I heard Christine Emba explaining it on a podcast while discussing their book, Rethinking Sex.

Consent is the bare minimum requirement of sex. It's the ethical floor, not the ceiling.

When we focus only on ticking this box of sexual consent, we keep the bar of what is considered good sex and what we can expect from good sexual partners, on the floor. In dating or casual sex, this can look like being amazed when a partner checks in or asks about your pleasure or gets you a glass of water. This should be and is the bare minimum.

When we view consent as the ethical ceiling of a sexual experience, we're also more likely to tolerate bad sex and shitty behaviour because we have this low point of reference, thinking that “well, it could’ve been worse” or “at least it wasn’t nonconsensual”. We continue to let a whole lot of shit slide and can expect the bare minimum from sexual partners because that’s what we’ve been exposed to, and we’re really only just starting to get comfortable digging into the topic of consent as a society.

I see this most clearly in sessions with casual sex situations where most of us, mainly women, even expect the experience to be shit. We let the communication slide and we let the orgasm gap keep widening because these are our learnt expectations - this is the ceiling. However, I do also see this across other relationships and on the other side of the spectrum where long-term partners are just enduring sex out of a sense of obligation, but “at least it’s consensual”. Supposedly.

This shift in ethical ceiling versus floor isn’t just a call for us to raise our expectations of sexual partners and do the work of embodying and asserting them. It’s also on all of us to show up better as sexual partners and reflect on how we can be doing better.

So much can get lost in the consent and sexual violence rhetoric when we solely focus on the legal requirement and question: "do/did you consent?". The fear-mongering approach to consent and sex has never worked and it can portray sex as this inherently dangerous, risky behaviour when in reality, the risk lies in one's carelessness - whether for ourselves or towards others. What does work is teaching folks what good, healthy and expansive sex means and can look like so they are provided a baseline to build from.

Beyond consent, there is still so much more to co-creating a sexual experience that is liberating, nourishing and filling. By focusing on consent, we totally miss that mutual pleasure is the point and if we're invested in co-creating the most pleasurable experience for everyone involved, it's an inherent requirement that we're communicating our needs, desires and wants, we're checking in with each other, we're making accommodations and adjustments, and we're supporting everyone involved to feel present, relaxed and sexy as hell. That's the kind of sex education I wish I had.

Your definition of good sex should go beyond 'safe', 'wanting it' and 'consensual'. You're allowed to want and demand more.

Here are other measures that I would consider being just as important as "do you consent?"

  • Do you feel safe, heard and understood? How do you know?

  • How are you feeling in your body? Are you listening to it?

  • Do you feel present?

  • Do you feel connected to your desires?

  • What do you need from yourself or your partners?

  • How do you want to touch and be touched?

  • How can we make this a collaborative and exciting experience for everyone involved?

  • Do you feel like you can ask for what you want? Like you can say no? Do you feel that your yes' or no's would be honoured without negative repercussions, for example, blame or an argument?


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