As a survivor of rape and sexual assault, the last several weeks have been difficult, and listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday brought back painfully familiar experiences. Each of my abusers disguised their assault and rape as horseplay, and they each laughed while they stole my dignity. My consent was never given. I said no, stop, get off. Yet they didn’t, and instead, they treated it as a game.
Then I actually watched an interview with a women who had teen daughters standing beside her. She said it was normal for a boy to grope a girl. That made me livid. I feel like I have to do something, to be proactive.
Many people are utterly naïve to the meaning of consent. And hearing men say they can’t touch a woman ever again without risking being accused of sexual assault drives the point home even harder.
So what is consent?
con·sent| \ kən-ˈsent \
1: to give assent or approval : AGREE
A very basic definition, but it’s clear and concise. But let’s go a bit deeper, this time with the help from Planned Parenthood. These are the basics of sexual consent.
- Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
- Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
- Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
One of the reasons MM Romance appealed to me so much was because consent was respected. In many MF Romance novels, women would say “no” but their desires were disregarded. Women were taken. Maybe they were reluctant through the first kiss or caress, but to me, as a survivor, that first kiss or touch or grope read like pressure and manipulation.
It certainly wasn’t consent.
I didn’t find that theme nearly as prevalent in MM Romance. Granted, it was a lot of years ago that I made the switch, and MF Romance has taken on the challenge to address consent, thankfully.
As I was proofing my manuscript for my upcoming novella bundle release of Lonely Hearts, I noticed several scenes where my characters get consent to touch or kiss or more. In the social context of this last week, those scenes stood out in stark contrast to what I was hearing on the news. Excuses about “boys will be boys” and that “men can’t even hug a woman without getting accused” or “no man is safe.”
What’s so hard about asking someone if you can touch them first? In Lonely Hearts, which is made up of 4 novellas, I addressed consent several times.
So, I propose this: authors, share scenes from your books that show what consent looks like. I’d love it if we could link these up somehow, perhaps a hashtag like #ThisIsConsent and #ConsentInRomance.
I’ll start. This is a scene from Stroke of Luck which will be in the upcoming Lonely Hearts bundle. The single novella is already for sale out in the world. This example has nothing to do with sex. It’s about touch. Cas has birthmarks, and his whole life, people have reached out to touch them without asking, to the point that he covers one up. While I write a scene earlier in the book where someone doesn’t get consent to touch him, here, Marc does.
For setup, they are in a pool, and despite running into each other several places in previous weeks, they just realized they both live in the same building.
“You have beautiful form.”
Cas smirked and glanced at Marc’s chest. “So do you.”
Marc couldn’t help but chuckle. This Cas was different from the defensive Cas. He was playful, not quite as reserved as he’d been at the bar and while they walked on the street, but more like the Cas he’d first seen at Goodwill before Marc had laughed at the leather jacket. This Cas, Marc needed to be careful around.
“I meant your swimming form. Looks like you’ve had quite a bit of practice.”
“I swam competitively through college.” Cas pushed his hair all the way out of his eyes.
One of Cas’s eyebrows was white like the streak in his hair, and Marc couldn’t help his noisy gasp. He reached to touch it but stopped himself. He tried to detract from how rude he’d nearly been by waving his hand in a nothing gesture and asking, “So you never wanted to try out for the Olympics?”
Cas smoothed the white brow, clearly aware Marc noticed, but rather than getting defensive, as Marc expected he would, Cas dropped his hand back in the water and said, “I did try out for the Olympics. Once.” He shrugged. “Didn’t make it. My times weren’t good enough to justify the cost of a coach. And then I was offered a job . . .”
Marc tried not to glance at the light brow. It was on the same side as the white streak, but he was positive it had been dark the last two times he saw Cas . . . And now he was staring.
“Touch it,” Cas whispered. “You want to.”
“That would sound filthy in any other context, you realize.”
Cas smirked. “Maybe that was intentional. But you can touch if you want.”
Marc licked his lips and nodded, moving closer so they were toe-to-toe. He thumbed over the white brow, did the same on the other side with the dark one, then moved to the shock of white buried in that fuck-me hair he’d first noticed at Goodwill. “Birthmark, right?”
Cas nodded and shifted even closer. If the rope wasn’t between them, their chests would be touching.
“But it was dark before,” Marc said as he traced the light brow again. “How?”
“I use a pencil and some stuff to make it match the one on the left.”
“Why? I love this.”
A soft sound escaped Cas’s throat before he coughed. “The birthmark in my hair I quit covering up in high school, but the eyebrow . . . I don’t know. I don’t like the questions and the stares and people touching it.”
Marc took two giant steps backward. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to . . .”
“It’s okay. I gave you permission.”
So what do you say? Want to share scenes of consent? Post your scenes on your website, or if you’d like, e-mail me and I’ll host you. I’ve made graphics as well. As I run across scenes in my books, I’m going to post them here. I’ll use the hashtags #ThisIsConsent and #ConsentInRomance.