As the epidemic of sexual assault sears its way across college campuses and the dating landscape, a new study says the kink community can be a repository of best practices involving consent and communication.
The starting point for a healthy and positive sexual relationship or experience is mutual consent – a not-so-easily understood concept that can be difficult to put into action when sexual experiences are unfolding in real time. Think of the hundreds of fictionalized sex acts that appear in movies or TV and the gist of consent is that it can be conveyed in a word, a glance or condoning a permissive wandering hand. The point of many of these scenes is to show couples that are “swept up in the moment;” it requires little effort to have a naturalized consensual sexual encounter that satisfies both parties without “breaking the mood.”
But for young adults who may not have a large back catalogue of sexual experience, these fictionalized encounters often serve as a roadmap for their real-life experiences. Elements deemed “unsexy,” such as explicitly asking for permission and setting boundaries, get pushed aside for raw feeling which can turn a sexual experience into a sexual assault.
The study finds that members of the kink and LGBTQ communities are often much better at verbalizing their sexual wants and standards because they must be. As a sexual minority, members of these communities often begin their search for a partner by talking about their own needs and expectations. Members of the kink and LGBTQ community can be practiced sexual negotiators and communicators, and members of the ‘vanilla’ crowd could learn a lot about practicing consent from them.
The dimensions of Positive Sexuality address many of the problematic issues arising from non-mutual consent. First, Positive Sexuality states that individual sexuality is unique and multifaceted. Young adults would be better served if they felt their sexual activities did not have to be constrained by tropes or judged against generalizations. Consent in sexual activities should be an ongoing mutual experience and must take place outside the rarified and fragile bubble of traditional romantic norms. Women especially, would benefit if their individual needs are supported rather than commodified into transgressions.
Another tenant of Positive Sexuality values the promotion of open and honest communication. Best practices in the kink community are founded on the “opt in” model of consent – when all partners engage in affirmative consent during sex and sexual activity. Even starting a more public dialog about what consent means to different people would have a positive effect on current harmful sexual norms. Young people should know that sex and sexual consent can mix beautifully and the study says they could take lessons from the kink community about incorporating consent into the whole of the sexual experience. Practicing Positive Sexuality supports a better way to engage with consent.