Theorizing Consent

Consent has been on my mind lately. And since I was just at an academic conference, I’m now looking for points of convergence between the two: who has theorized consent? In which academic disciplines? For which audiences? To what effect?

Sex educators have written a lot about consent, and that’s especially true on this blog. We’ve published posts on consent being sexy and tips on getting a partner’s consent. In my post series about informed consent, I tackled topics like STI disclosure, relationship status disclosure, and medical consent. I’ve written about the options available to consenting adults, and how the puzzle box model of sex (and other commodity-based models of sex) obscures consent.

Feminists, too, have written a lot about consent. And yet in the academic realm, it seems that there’s not much about consent except in relation to feminism and/or sex education. This abstract of a paper analyzing sexual consent literature, for instance, claims: “Sexual consent is an understudied and undertheorized concept despite its importance to feminist researchers and activists interested in sexual violence. Literature on consent, although sparse, has been produced from a variety of disciplines, including law, psychology, and sociology.” And it’s not that old a paper, published in 2007, so I doubt whether things have changed that much (I’m an academic – I know it can take a while to get the ball rolling on research and publishing).

I’ve got a lot to say here, but I’ll keep this to an introducing-the-topic post and close with a few questions for others, within the academy or outside it.

  • How do you think about consent in the field you research, study, or work in? Is there a consensus on the language used to describe consent? Is anyone actively researching or studying it?
  • Do you relate consent just to sexual behavior, or to other aspects of life as well? (e.g. in the political system of a democracy, we consent to be governed by those we vote into power)
  • How do you theorize the connections between consent and identity? Who is capable of giving consent, or incapable? Does one’s ability to give consent vary according to the act being consented to?

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