Here’s an awesome question, and I’ll put a gentle notice here that it’s a discussion of consent, including the absence of consent:
Please define enthusiastic consent.
Enthusiastic consent is the gold standard consent. It’s not just an active “Yes” – which is bare minimum consent- it’s a “HOLY MOSES YES NOW PLEASE DO IT OH MY GOD THAT YEEEEEEEES!”
From the point of view of the dual control model, enthusiastic consent happens when sexually relevant things are activating your brain’s sexual “accelerator,” and nothing, no potential threats at all, are hitting your brain’s sexual “brakes.” The “ons” are turned on and the “offs” are nowhere in sight.
Which is what makes enthusiastic consent so difficult.
The “potential threats” that hit the brake are not just the straightforward things like “Am I at risk for STI transmission, unwanted pregnancy, relationship consequences, or social reputation costs?” The brakes can also be hit by things that are embedded deep in our culture. The brakes can be hit by sexual shame and disgust, by body self-criticism, by guilt about the very act of receiving pleasure.
These are things that many of us carry around inside our bodies every day, so that even under the most sex positive conditions, there is still a part of us that is holding back, unable to abandon itself to the full-throated YES of enthusiastic consent.
And that’s why enthusiastic consent is the gold standard, not the minimum standard. We all have that cultural shit. It doesn’t go away, just because you love your partner, love sex, want sex in general, and want this particular sex. If enthusiastic consent were the minimum standard, a lot of us would never even get started
(This is the thing about the dual control model: the accelerator can be pushed all the way to the floor, but if the brake is on… you’ll just spin in circles.)
An excellent alternative is what I’ve started calling “open” consent, based on a suggestion by a student. If you have responsive desire, rather than spontaneous desire – that is, if your desire for sex emerges only in a highly erotic context – then you’re going to experience “opennness” more often than “enthusiastic consent.
Open consent, in terms of the dual control model, happens when the brakes are on no more than usual – that is, there’s nothing about the present circumstances that are hitting the brakes more than usual, and you anticipate that if you say yes, good things will happen that will activate the accelerator.
A simple analogy might help us to understand the qualitative difference between “enthusiastic” and “open”:
Imagine if you and a friend are ordering a pizza. You’re choosing toppings together. And your friend says, “How about this…” and proceeds to describe a pizza that you would definitely be interested in eating if it were delivered to your door in a hot cardboard box.
“Sure, that sounds good!” you say.
Consent. Opennness. 100% yes.
But what if your friend describes exactly the pizza you are most in the mood for right now, an amazing pizza, better than anything you had even imagined. so delicious sounding that you can’t stop imagining that moment when the delivery person knocks on the door and hands it over.
“OH MY GOD YES!” you say.
Both kinds of consent can result in some highly satisfying pizza-eating. Highly satisfying. Both kinds of consent can result in some disappointing pizza, too – it depends on the pizza, if you see what I mean.
In short: Enthusiastic consent is when your accelerator is already being activated AND your brakes are disengaged. Open consent is when you expect your accelerator will be activated if you say yes, and your brakes are no more engaged than they usually are.