{thread} Time to livetweet my reading #ScrewConsent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice by Joseph Fischel. I’d already started so I’ll go back and yank some highlights. Follow along and let’s chat about it! If you’ve read it or haven’t, I’d love for y’all to weigh in. #AidaReads
I’m excited that this book aims to be accessible and compelling but doesn’t cut out fancy pants terminology all the way out. Also it gives a lot of good acknowledgements across the board so it’s not just a circle jerk of the usual suspects or pretending “I did this solo!”
First neat term: “Democratically hedonic culture” meaning “A world where access to pleasure and intimacy is not so systematically and unfairly apportioned to the privileged few.” #DownForIt
“The more accurate and accessible sexual information for young folks, the better, and the more we can destigmatize sex talk, the more likely we are to have pleasurable, not just bearable, sexual experiences.”
That said, he’s here to critique the focus on consent and the ways it’s been deployed in various arenas including sex ed. As someone who gets WHY we moved to “enthusiastic consent” but doesn’t want us to stop/stay there because it’s too simplistic, I’m excited for this.
(Also can we just talk about how many puns are in just the first few pages? This guy seems ridiculous in a way I enjoy 😂) He’s warning us against collapsing “consent into desire into pleasure” which is spot on TBH. They’re not all the same thing though they can overlap!
To clarify, he adds: “I do not mean *fuck consent, go ahead and have whatever snacks you wish, unimpeded.* Nor do I advocate screwing, as in jettisoning, consent as a core component of sexual assault law.” Where he advocates that we screw consent is in our sex *politics*
Some of his critiques:
- “[consent’s] conceptual thinness has been remedied by increasingly more robust, sometimes ridiculous redefinitions of consent as enthusiastic, imaginative, creative yes-saying.” Meh redefs aren’t Bad but we should be careful w/ loading terms too hard.
- the above then leading to “a cultural coding of not enthusiastically desired sex as sexual assault” (which, yes, I’ve seen and is a trash hot take and way oversimplified)
- making consent primary in these convos obfuscates / doesn’t address how even consensual sex can be awful
(And how often the burden of awful yet consensual sex is borne by women, which yeah is super fair)
Then there’s pages devoted to campus consent legislation. He names some popular concerns including state overreach into people’s private lives & the bureaucratization of sex while telling hyperbolic academics to calm the hell down with their oMg ALL sEx Is FaSt ApPrOaChInG rApE.
He also cautions people freaking out about consent being so re-defined and regulated, that there is a difference between what institutions say is ideal / a goal versus what is punishable as an offense in student codes of conduct. But to watch, either way, what norms are promoted.
He believes that affirmative consent is the best model we have thus far in the legal terrain, & that if people are worried about state overreach and make that THE sole talking point, this seems like a weird hill to die on when there are SO many other ways states overreach.
Unsurprisingly, sex being a taboo topic for many means that anything that involves it automatically gets wackier and more intense than its non-sexual counterparts/equivalences. Sex is both special and not, hyper visible & invisible. This is why it’s an area of focus for me 😁
Anyway. He basically urges us to consider this but also see where the biggest problems still are: disbelief of survivors, unreported incidents, lax enforcement / consequences for assault, how racialized punishment is, epidemic rates of violence, criminal system discouraging vics.
So thus far I’m into how he’s writing about all this. Seems he’s down to consider varied perspectives and pull out the nuggets without falling prey to black and white thinking on it. (You know I love me some nuance y’all.)
That said, when he tackles the Consent and Tea vid or “consent is sexy” I think he leaves a lot to be desired. Meh. I think consent and the process of getting it can be SUPER hot and sexy, but they don’t HAVE or NEED to be to be important yknow? But yes consent isn’t EVERYTHING.
He’s right, that when we collapse the complexity of sexual interactions and put primacy on consent to the detriment of other things, it’s not helpful. Surprisingly, Catherine MacKinnon (who uh has many views I find objectionable) does have some spot on critique about this:
In his wording of her ideas, “ if women’s choices are so constrained, if women are enculturated to be passive and to please others, then their ‘consent’ is not nearly as morally transformative as the good liberal would like.” Which I agree with! We MUST LOOK AT THE MACRO!
“In the real world structured by sex inequality and regressive gender norms, we must much more deeply question the voluntariness of all allegedly voluntary sex and the supreme transformative power we assign to consent.” And to me this ties to labor rights & sex work as well!
There are so many people that focus on how voluntary or not sex work is, but completely ignore or miss the point when we think about how voluntary ANY jobs are under capitalism. Again, because something has sex in it the focus and framing get wacky and feel “special.”
(And if you want to know more about all this sex work stuff and how we should move to decriminalize it and how to make safer spaces for all of us and ALL THAT GOOD STUFF make sure to follow @KateDAdamo @AudaciaRay @CeciliaGentili @aliciasanchez @swopusa and more 💋)
Anyway back to 📚: “Put most broadly, if we wish to facilitate a feminist, more democratically hedonic, better informed sexual culture of mutuality, respect, & women’s self advocacy, then let’s focus on ways to facilitate {that} rather than simply renaming those values consent.”
Which I agree with. If we put too many concepts, norms, and expectations on to the idea of consent, it becomes a bloated a term that can’t be practically used. Rather than expanding it or making it too narrow how can we put it in conversation with the other key concepts?
This is also about how direct we can be. If we want to address reciprocity, let’s tackle that head on. If we want to address pleasure, let’s do that. In my experience it has been helpful to be clear and specific with our naming, with our focus. But that’s also my experience!
Not all communication is or has to be direct. And we also gotta be aware a big reason some of us have used or still use consent as a jumping off point for these other convos is the other topics are RISKIER TO BRING UP DIRECTLY and sometimes get us fired.
So once again and to the surprise of no one, I sing “it’s CoMpLiCaTeD!”
Here is where it ties to transformative justice to me as well: “What values, norms, & practices in our culture facilitate mutually fulfilling, creative, nonrote, nonblah sex? What values, norms, and practices in our culture enable unpleasant, unwanted, or even assaultive sex?”
When we collapse the convo to just one about consent, we miss out on a whole world of possibilities and other connections. We miss the bigger picture of how intricately systems are tied together, and that is critical to actually moving forward to build a better sexual culture.
Also props to this author for a nuanced take on why it’s concerning if we have a very arbitrarily neat and extreme divide between assault and “perfect sex” that makes assaultive sex a REALLY BIG category. He does NOT throw people under the bus or say anyone is hyperbolizing.
Instead, “I am suggesting that by calling all that bad sex rape we are a) potentially generating & amplifying people’s psychological and sensorial injuries and b) missing political opportunities & underutilizing political resources to remedy bad, sometimes really bad, sex.”
What he means by Point A is that if we move to all our media and laws calling mediocre sex, sex that is not enthusiastic, sex that is not pleasurable, & so forth “assault“ then it can amplify people’s pain when they reflect on their experience BECAUSE it’s coded as So Bad.
That even if in the moment it was meh or blah, that due to the cultural messaging around it as “YOU WERE JUST ASSAULTED AND THAT IS THE WORST THING YOU SHOULD FEE REALLY BAD” it can generate feelings that weren’t necessarily there.
And that’s the dicey line, right? People like me want to help give language and ideas so people can see and find themselves WITHOUT being prescriptive about it. That’s why we need storytelling and a wide range of storytellers. There are SO MANY ways we can be and feel and exist!
This actually makes me think of ideas around free-speech as well. Free-speech as a legal concept is constructed so the government won’t (allegedly) throw you in jail for saying XYZ. But free speech is a TRASH measure for day to day interactions. It’s a low bar for good discourse.
And that’s the thing: free speech isn’t a concept meant to legislate how we day2day should talk, what’s kind, what’s Best so we gotta stop using it as such. Similarly with consent: if it’s about agreement and legality, we gotta move beyond it when we aren’t in a legal situation!
And hello welcome to our explicit tie in to carceral feminism: when our convos about sex & assault focus on HOW CAN WE LOCK UP THE BAD GUY we fall into the trap of believing harm = crime = need to excise someone fro community = this is Only about removing the Bad People. 🙄
”What are we sacrificing when we tether sexual politics over and over to consent? What values remain un- or underarticulated?”

I’m part of a national workgroup right now that’s drafting up clinical guidelines for working with kinky clients (kinkguidelines.com if you wanna follow or give input!) and one of the big pieces I’ve yelled about is consent & how it’s important but NOT THE SOLE THING.
Every time someone is like “bUt I dId It WiTh CoNsEnT” I want to spritz them with a water bottle. Consent is a flimsy measure for how adaptive or healthy or healing or useful or whatever an activity is. We must move beyond consent and into the more detailed territory. 📣📣📣📣
Reading the next few pages that outline the book, it seems he gets into this too, though maybe we will arrive a different conclusions. Excited to see where he takes us regardless. I’m gonna pause reading now but will return in the coming days :) This book is gonna be a LOT.
Pssst @LatinoSexuality did you already start reading this one?
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