Sex and Self-Knowledge: Beyond Consent

Katherine Angel over at the Verso Blog:

In recent years, two requirements for good sex have emerged: consent, and self-knowledge. Consent, in Joseph Fischel’s words, gives ‘moral magic to sex.’ Self-knowledge too, is paramount. ‘Know what you want and learn what your partner wants’, urged a New York Times article in July 2018; ‘good sex happens where those two agendas meet.’ ‘Have the conversation’, a sex educator exhorted on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The New Age of Consent’ in September 2018—the direct, honest conversation about sex, about whether you want it, and exactly what you want. Have it before you are in the bedroom; have it in the bar, have it in the cab home—any awkwardness will be worth it later. This rhetoric is not entirely new; Rachel Bussell Kramer wrote in 2008 that ‘as women, it’s our duty to ourselves and our partners to get more vocal about asking for what we want in bed, as well as sharing what we don’t. Neither partner can afford to be passive and just wait to see how far the other person will go.’ Women are urged to know their desires, and be clear and confident about expressing them. Simple, right?

These principles are framed as common-sense, and easy enough. They are also framed as inherently liberatory, since they emphasise women’s capacity for—and right to—sexual desire and pleasure. But in urging women to be confident and clear about their sexual desires, the consent discourse risks denying the fact that women are often punished for precisely the sexually confident and assertive positions they are being asked to cultivate. What’s more, the exhortations to confidence and positivity—the insistence on defiant affirmation—have an underbelly: they render lack of confidence, insecurity, or not-knowing as ugly, abject, and shameful. They brook little vulnerability or ambivalence. And they make inadmissible the experience of not knowing what one wants in the first place.

More here.