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Queering Consent

"Whilst the queer community certainly has by no means perfected consent, I think there’s a lot that people of all sexualities can learn from queer culture and experiences."

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This blog is contributed by Jake Gastrell, as part of Pride Week 2020.

Whilst the queer community certainly has by no means perfected consent, I think there’s a lot that people of all sexualities can learn from queer culture and experiences. 

It’s estimated that about 1% of people are on the asexual spectrum, meaning that they don’t experience sexual attraction, or that they experience it only rarely or weakly. However, lots of asexual people do experience romantic attraction, and form romantic relationships with other people. So if you’ve ever assumed that sex would eventually form part of your romantic relationship, know that it’s an assumption. Whilst many asexual people are the prime example of those who don’t desire sex (though some asexual people do choose to have sex for reasons other than sexual attraction) plenty of other people experience periods of their life, or a specific set of circumstances, in which they’re not interested in engaging in sex with their partners. So discuss the possibility of sex with your partner, and don’t presume that sex is the inevitable future of intimacy in your relationship. 

Did you know that whilst a refusal or inability to consummate a marriage is grounds for an annulment, the same isn’t true for civil partnerships? The reason: lawmakers faced a quandary when it came to determining what constitutes sex when there might not be a phallus involved (either a penis, or a penis-like object). And whilst sex involving two partners with vaginas might be the most obvious example where penetration is less central to expectations, there are plenty of reasons why people might not want to engage in penetrative sex, regardless of the genitalia involved; some people find penetrative sex painful, whilst others don’t find it arousing or simply have a preference for other sexual activities. There are plenty of non-penetrative sexual activities, and they’re not intrinsically lesser than penetrative sex. So before you assume that sex equals penetration, consider that your partner (or you) might be into something else, or might want some variety, and have a conversation to find out what’s on both your wishlists (and what’s not) on an ongoing basis. 

Trans people’s gender dysphoria, and pressure within the queer community to conform to a narrow bodily ideal, means that folks can sometimes feel intensely uncomfortable with certain parts of their bodies. That might mean they’re not interested in having certain body parts touched or seen in certain ways, or at all. They might dislike certain words being used to describe parts of their body, or want them to be referred to using terms you’re not used to. Of course, queer people aren’t the only ones who experience discomfort with their bodies or have preferences for how they’re referred to, so before you use that slang terms or dirty talk, or presume that sex means access to everywhere, ask first. And if they want the lights off, roll with it. 

Queer people often get asked ‘who’s the man and who’s the woman in bed’, the assumption being that there always has to be one more dominant partner, or perhaps in reference to who’s ‘on top’. Discussions about who wants to ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ are commonplace within queer relationships, and since preferences for many can be formed and changed in the moment, it’s a conversation most return to many times. Of course people’s gender, and by extension their personality or character traits, don’t define their sexual preferences. Even with sex involving two cis heterosexual partners, if penetration is involved it’s not a foregone conclusion who will penetrate who. Dildos, strap-ons, and fingers provide a multitude of possibilities. Similarly, preferences for certain positions, or aspects like being tied up, held down or restrained in some other way should be discussed rather than assumed on the grounds of gender or any other. Question your assumptions about your, or someone else’s, role during sex and don’t dismiss something, or accept it, based on other people’s expectations about what you should want or enjoy.  

Issues of consent don’t end in the bedroom of course. Public displays of affection like kissing or hand-holding can pose a serious risk to queer people, from the risk of street harassment from strangers, to estrangement and abuse from family. Whilst cis heterosexual relationships might not convey the same level of risk when it comes to public displays of affection, or the public status of your relationship, it’s still something you should talk to your partner about before assuming what they’re comfortable with or ready for. Similarly, the words you use to define or refer to your relationship might matter to your partner. So ask before you change that Facebook relationship status, or snog them in front of their friends.

If you would like to contribute a blog to the #WeGetConsent blog series, ona  topic relating to sex, consent, and/or relationships, please email sam.parr@warwicksu.com

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