As I mentioned yesterday in my Fifty Shades post, I want to explore this idea of trust a bit further. It’s important, because I’m seeing something huge happening among people who call themselves both feminists and Christians. We are standing at the threshold of a new (and hopefully healthier) sexual ethic that reflects both our faith and the letting go of patriarchal norms. This is a marvelous thing that is unfolding, and I am beyond thrilled to be part of it.
Last week, fellow blogger Dianna Anderson posted this fantastic piece titled No Touching: Consent as the First Step. I absolutely agree wholeheartedly that consent must be a foundational element of our sexual ethic, because otherwise, little else that we say matters. As important as consent is, however, it cannot by itself be our ethic. We need other elements–without them, we end up with the potential for “whatever makes you happy.” That’s not truly healthy either.
The next thing we must talk about is trust. Consent is good, but it must go hand-in-hand with trust. What made me think of it was not the lack of trust I see in Fifty Shades (though that did help clarify it). I was actually inspired by this quote from the aforementioned post by Dianna:
Consent is asking at every step “Is this okay? Does this feel good? Can I touch you here?” and getting a unequivocally positive response before proceeding.
With all due respect, I disagree with this statement. There are times and situations in which it is certainly true, but it is not universally applicable. When my husband and I are physically intimate with each other, we don’t ask permission and require an enthusiastic “yes” before every single activity. To my recollection, we have never done this. In fact, it would be rather strange if we started. At this point, the expectation is that if one of us does not want to do something or is not enjoying it, we will speak up; if one of us speaks up, the other is expected to listen. We communicate if we want to try something we’ve never done, but otherwise, we simply do what feels right in the moment.
That got me thinking: Why is that?
Why don’t we have to ask permission for every kiss, every touch? And why didn’t we need to even when we began a physically intimate relationship?
The answer is that we trust each other. We have always had the kind of open, honest relationship that made such trust possible. This is why we don’t need to ask permission. It isn’t because permission is merely assumed; it’s because we understand each other well enough that we don’t need words to communicate.
It just so happens that I think that the level of trust one has for a partner and the level of physical intimacy should match. That means that the “are you married, check yes or no” question is the wrong one to ask. It also means that “do you have permission” might also be the wrong question to ask if it’s asked in isolation.
I’m not comfortable affixing labels to relationships in such a way that the only equation is consent + trust = married couple. And for those who do not share my religious sensibilities, it’s not my job to police your ethics or tell you that you shouldn’t have a sexual encounter that requires asking permission for every act. But as for people calling themselves Christians, I absolutely believe that we should not be sexually linked with people we do not fully trust.
There are a number of other factors that come into play when developing a healthy ethic, but both consent and trust are foundational. I would like to see us build on these two things as we seek to discern how we can have relationships that honor others and reflect our faith.