Sex is a messy affair. And I’m not just referring to the interlocking of body parts and the exchange of fluids. The ethics of sexual relations, the dos and don’ts of intercourse and everything that leads up to it, are areas of contention despite our bravest attempts to demystify them.
Take, for example, consent, that great determiner between a perfectly legitimate encounter and an abusive one. The first part of the word’s definition seems simple enough – permission, approval or agreement. But then we come up against compliance and the long slide down the slippery slope begins. To comply, you see, is to yield from a position of weakness. Can a sexual encounter be deemed appropriate even though one party complies?
Compliance, it seems, is the grey area – that part of the spectrum that lies between fully consensual sex and rape. The messiness starts here.
And for me, here is where the crux of the matter lies, not at consent but at the delicate balance of power that starts to tip at the point of compliance.
Sex, like any other human interaction, is shaped by the dynamics of power, perceived and real. The direction it takes depends primarily on the way both parties view themselves in relation to the other. And when one party sees itself as dominant or seeks to achieve dominance, abuse becomes a very real possibility.
Think about it: the boss who coerces an employee into a late- night private meeting; the teacher who fondles a young student; the husband who claims that his wife’s flesh is his to do with as he pleases. What is the determining factor? Is it the issue of consent? The employee might say ‘yes’ or ‘ok’ or whatever the catch phrase is, as might the child and wife. But does that justify an encounter where one party asserts and practices dominance over the other?
I don’t think so. I believe that the human body, like the soul that it houses, is sacred, and that any attempt to dominate another human being is an act of violence, of terrorism.
Some might argue that when it comes to gender relations, the dominance of one and consequent subjugation of the other is the only way to go. After all, society places men and women in different roles. It seems to be the natural order of things. But is it? We know of the existence of matrilineal societies, are they ‘unnatural’? By whose standards? And even though men and women have played different roles traditionally, can we presuppose that one is beneath the other? What about the concept of partnership?
Partners may hold different functional roles, but equal standing is implied. When viewed through that prism, abuse of any kind becomes an anomaly. And sex, the messy affair, takes on a beauty all its own.
Ruth Osman, a Guyanese writer and musician, resides in Trinidad and Tobago. She has a husband and two house plants.You can find her at: http://ruthosman.tumblr.com/
So let’s hear from you. Does saying “yes” or giving-in to sex always indicate effective consent? What are some of the reasons why a woman might comply with sexual advances when she really doesn’t want to. Does society set up the sexual roles of men and women as dominant and submissive? What kind of effect might this have on women emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually?