The “Consent is Sexy” tagline has got to end. During a dance performance on my campus this past weekend, around 50 self-identified males wore handmade shirts sporting the slogan, “Consent is Sexy.” This elicited a positive visceral reaction from the crowd, for seeing an overt display of men advocating for consent is a satisfying change of pace from themes of rape culture that often prevail when large groups of primarily white, cis-gendered men gather to assert their masculinity. Yet, in my opinion, this supposed advocacy for consent is far from subversive. Instead, the idea that consent is sexy, which is highly problematic to begin with, has become so mainstreamed that it fails to create any meaningful dialogue or thought surrounding issues of consent and sexual violence.
Sure, consent can be sexy. Ask for consent while giving me a box of chocolates and playing Michael Buble? Damn right I’m going to think you’re sexy. Ask for consent when I’m not in the mood and you haven’t showered in a week? Not so much. What should be evident is that consent has absolutely nothing to do with my assessment of your sexiness. Consent is an undeniable right that is absolutely necessary for any sexual activity, not a convenient way to gain some sexy points with your partner(s). Sex without consent is dehumanizing, a violation of personal autonomy, morally despicable, and, in my opinion, is not sex at all. Nonconsensual sex is violence. NOT a less sexy way to engage in intimate relations.
The “Consent is Sexy” slogan has brought issues of consent and sexual violence to mainstream audiences, particularly on college campuses where issues of sexual violence need visibility. And while I personally don’t think arguing that “consent is sexy” has ever been an appropriate mode for discussing consent, it is certainly not enough now. Rather than encouraging change, raising visibility, or producing dialogue, the quick and easy assertion that “consent is sexy” both starts and ends the conversation. Wearing a t-shirt bearing that slogan doesn’t create dialogue. Rather, it timidly acknowledges that whoever is wearing the t-shirt thinks good sex should probably be consensual. Or they want a sexier persona. Either way, the mainstreaming of this slogan serves as a convenient way to acknowledge the issue without actually having to think critically about its implications, which is a horrible injustice to our communities and the issue of sexual violence.
Consent is NOT sexy. Consent is absolutely necessary. So let’s stop talking about consent in the same way we would discuss perfume or flowers and let’s acknowledge that consent is a basic human right that should not and must not be violated. Maybe then we can actually start talking.