Consent: Touching, Hugging & Progress On The Playa

By Terry Gotham

No discussion of harm reduction can stay on drugs forever. While we’ll continue our cavalcade of questionable substances next week, I wanted to take a quick break to chat about something that goes hand in hand with intoxication: Consent.

As we saw in the Burning Man crime reports, Black Rock City has made stunning progress on this front. More so, I believe, than any other festival or large scale music event in the world. Going from 13 to zero sexual assault arrests in 2 years should be congratulated, especially with what happened in 2012. While it’s possible that sexual assaults occurred that were not reported, that would have been true in the years with high arrest numbers as well.  To that end, it’s important to recognize when efforts are being made & good things are happening, and this is a good thing.

Consent violations, big or small, are some of the most unacceptable & problematic experiences that occur in adult environments, especially when assumed participation in radical self-reliance, potent internal & social pressures and controlled substances are present. There are a couple of different kinds of consent, so I figured just in case anyone needed a refresher, I’d go over them really quickly.

Express consent is probably what you’re thinking of when someone uses the word “consent.” It’s usually given in some confirming way, whether it’s verbal/written, or non-verbal, through hand gestures or head nods. This is not something that can be given while rolling face, tripping or drunk off your ass. This is a type of consent that’s also “ongoing.” To explain, just because someone consented to getting to 2nd base, that doesn’t mean they give consent to go any further. There’s a related, modern type  of consent that’s being used that I support heavily, called Affirmative consent. This is also known as getting an “Enthusiastic Yes” as opposed to just waiting for a no.  Consistent checking can create a comfortable & consensual crib, yo.

Implied consent is just what it sounds like. Even Wikipedia describes it as

“a controversial form of consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather inferred from a person’s actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation”

As you can imagine, this shit does not hold up at universities or in court. So, just because you think it’s been given, don’t assume. Make sure, as the absence of no doesn’t necessarily mean yes. In more clinical or formal settings, Informed Consent is used. For example, if you join a medical study, you usually sign an Informed Consent form, which details the nature of the study and any risks/rewards of participating. Informed Consent is required in environments where Express consent would not be enough. Additionally, a conversation about the study should be had before the form is given to you. Don’t just sign something if you haven’t read it. I know, none of us read the iTunes terms of service either, but this one’s important, especially if you’re in a medical or legal environment.

Finally, Unanimous consent is something you may find a little more often in groups of people who take drugs, or in other cases, poly relationship systems. There are times where consent isn’t a negotiated one-on-one thing. If you & your campmates want to get blasted on Tuesday night, sometimes it won’t happen unless everyone decides to do it. That’s a good way to think of Unanimous consent. Additionally, in sexual activities that have more than 2 people in them, or relationships that aren’t simply monogamous, sometimes unanimous consent is required before something can happen. This is a much more complex form of consent, as any one person can break it down and bring the negotiating process to a halt. There is a lot of empathy and understanding required here, because attempting to seek a “compromise” can be seen as pressuring and inherently inappropriate. Making  sure the least comfortable person feels they’re being heard is a great place to start. There’s some more information about consent violation, especially in the kink world here. For a giant resource center focused on Sexual consent violation, head here.

There’s a lot more here, so definitely hit up the 11th Principle. They’ve worked hard to make consent a visible part of the Burn. Say hi, like their page & tell them Terry Gotham and sent you.

25 comments on “Consent: Touching, Hugging & Progress On The Playa

  1. Does anyone have statistics on reported sexual assaults at Burning Man (reports to Rangers and/or leo)? I’ve been unable to find any beyond anecdotal accounts.

  2. At lest in CA, this could be fun for LE. When you buy her a real Rollex, or a really nice dinner, and she agrees to have sex, how is that not prostitution? Entrapment officer could be a new job description!

  3. Seeing these comments from some guys who are bemoaning some perceived loss of sex by seeking improved consent… Makes me laugh. People: Blunt and enthusiastic sex is definitely possible and hot. If you have to dance around sex, too afraid to say it and relying on sneaking in under the radar or something, you’re doing it wrong. Try being blunt and up front, it can be great. Stop whining!

    • >Blunt and enthusiastic sex is definitely possible

      It’s possible, but entirely impractical. Even if you can convince every man to get ‘blunt and enthusiastic’ consent prior to sex (and continuously during sex), these men will never be able to prove it in the case of false accusations.

      It’s the man who must prove he received affirmative consent, and if he did (and she says he did not), how is he supposed to prove he did?

    • That’s one type of sex, but is a limited scenario.

      I see a new and problematic factor in natural selection. Assertive women will get laid more, or just as much. But women like my old GF, who always want an “out” as they play the seduction game (think Samantha from Sex in the City), will have problems. This new “law” will have more far-reaching consequences to society than any gay marriage laws ever could.

      And as prisons empty with drug users, I suppose they will fill with the “bad boys” most women find far more attractive than “nice guys.” The effect will be less of them on the street, but more women looking for that now-illegal experience.

      But as long as men dominate the legislative process, perhaps we will get a fraud law, or a revamp of the marriage vows, so that marriage without consent to sex will become fraudulent.

      This is only the beginning.

  4. Seeing these comments from some guys who are bemoaning some perceived loss of sex by seeking improved consent… Makes me laugh. People: Blunt and enthusiastic sex is definitely possible and hot. If you have to dance around sex, too afraid to say it and relying on sneaking in under the radar or something, you’re doing it wrong. Try being blunt and up front, it can be great. Stop whining.

    • They’ll probably have to amend all Bond films with a disclaimer that all affirmative consent to sex was given by the female characters offscreen.

      Yes, seduction is now rape by coercion. We also have rape by fraud (on the books in California), so if a man lies or implies anything that leads a woman into having sex with him, that’s rape by fraud. So no more fake Rolexes, gents.

      Not only does a man need to ask for verbal consent to sex, he needs to do it every step of the way, “Can I hold your hand?” , “Can I kiss you?” , “Can i touch your left breast?” “Can I remove your bra?”. After 20-50 consent requests, when they finally get to her panties, neither of them are going to be interested in sex anymore.

      The unintended consequences of these insane laws is that the only men willing to have sex with women will be the ones who don’t give a shit about what they consent to or not. So go right ahead, ladies. When you make yourselves illegal, you will only have outlaws to choose from.

        • Alpha fux, beta bux. She won’t settle down with the thugs who fuck her brains out and throw her into walls, but she will take their DNA and get her beta provider to raise the thugspawn as his own. Happens so often that in places like France paternity testing is illegal.

          “This is due to the official desire to “preserve the peace” within French families, with the French government citing psychologists who state that fatherhood is determined by society, rather than biology. French men often circumvent these laws by sending samples of DNA to foreign laboratories, but risk prosecution if caught. The maximum penalty for carrying out secret paternity testing is one year in prison and a €15,000 fine.”

  5. Almost all sex happens with implied, non-verbal consent. An “Enthusiastic Yes” is almost unheard of and impossible to prove as is required under the ‘Yes means Yes’ policy in effect on many campuses. Also, affirmative consent must be continuous, so not only does the man need to prove the first “Yes, you may now insert your penis into my vagina!’, he also needs to somehow prove this “Yes” was continuous. Short of recording the sex on video (where admissible in court), or having witnesses in the room, the accusation of rape under ‘Yes means Yes’ is almost impossible to defend against.

    ‘Yes means Yes’ on campuses is a pilot project that will eventually roll out to states and then to the federal level. There will be little need for criminal trials as almost every man accused will plead-out due to being unable to launch a defense.

    Effectively, the broadening of the definition of rape and the narrowing of the definition of consent, serves to make almost all sex prosecutable as rape. Many women will applaud this as empowerment – the power of the accusation, then wonder where have all the good men gone.

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