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The Scarlet & Black

Consent is Sexy: a Radical View


Column by Talera Jensen
Talera Jensen - Sofi Mendez

We can agree with that statement, right? Consent is mandatory—not only in sex but in all social situations. We, as Grinnellians, should comprehensively understand that concept and practice it in every aspect of our lives, not just the bedroom.
Why is it, then, that we must repeat the mantra “consent is sexy?” Why is this an acceptable phrase within our College?
Think for a minute about what “sexy” actually is. ‘“Sexy,” in most American connotations, is a modifier for something that sexually excites or attracts someone—that ‘“someone” may or may not be the person saying it. Do people find things ‘“sexy” because they are sexually enticing, or because society tells them those things are “sexy”? Do people find things “sexy” because they are evolutionarily beneficial or because the media advertises them as such?
Simply put, all of the above speculation could be correct in its own ways, depending on the situation. However, not one of these reasonings is a morally acceptable argument for the importance of sexual consent.
If society or the media tells you “consent is sexy,” there is an agenda present (as there always is)—an agenda to commodify a basic human right. This is not far off from the capitalistic tendencies of corporations that pride themselves on being “inclusive and diverse” when really they just care about profits. If someone needs to find the act of consent sexually attractive or enticing in order to practice it with others, it loses its status as a requirement and becomes more like a fetish. That’s like having a kink for racial equality, a fixation for free speech. When you put it in those analogous terms, it’s somewhat humorous but the sexualization of consent is a serious issue that needs to be resolved in our postmodern society.
Not to mention that partaking in sexual acts (even if consensual) only for your own gain is something we have become too used to in our narcissistic, pornographic culture. However, sex between people should be for the purpose of one another, as it is a highly personal and sociologically vital experience. Selfishness is a capitalistic trait that leads us to act in ways that hurt others; the sexualization of consent is ‘sold’ to us because we, as humans, are prone to only partake in self-advantageous acts. If we want to achieve social justice, this needs to change.
Now, saying something directly concerning the act of sexual intercourse is “sexy” should make sense, right? Because “sexy,” linguistically, should mean “like sex.” However, very few (if any) people consider this phrase in pure definitional terms. When a few signs were on the stage at the NSO meeting about sexual respect saying “consent is sexy” in various cursive fonts, the first years are not simply getting the impression that “sex equals mandatory consent.” Saying “consent is sexy” is implying that if consent is not sexy, it’s undesirable in sex. There’s a logical disconnect here that we, as a College community, must understand and change if we are to call ourselves “free from sexual coercion, violence or intimidation.” Normalizing the sexualization of this moral right is a coercion and intimidation factor in and of itself.
From a macro perspective, the phrase “consent is sexy” could easily be a by-product of rape culture – the culture that tells people that their sexual desires should not be hindered by another’s feelings. If we are to say “consent is sexy,” we are admitting that we cannot understand a sexual concept without personally finding it beneficial to us. It’s the same logic that potential violent criminals use when not partaking in a crime – they understand that they could go to jail if they do that, evaluating the rewards versus the costs.
Consent should not be a concept that emotionally caters to violent criminals. Rather, it should be an altruistic moral requirement. It is an altruistic moral requirement. An evolved, diverse human society based on the values of peace and fairness would never objectify a moral right—so why should we?
Repeat it with me. Consent is not “sexy.” Any basic human right is not “sexy.” It is moral. It is good. It is necessary. It is mandatory. But it is not “sexy.”

Photo by Sofi Mendez.

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