My line is “It’s implied”. That means that I am responsible for my own actions. Broadly speaking, my words and actions convey a meaning from which people will naturally draw my intentions, without my always having to be explicit. In terms of interpersonal relationships, even indirect actions and statements go a long way in defining where I am and where I want to be. The underlying assumption is that we are all social beings, and that we understand the meanings behind specific behaviors.
Take body language. Body language is often a very accurate gauge for testing the waters and making or communicating sexual decisions & desires. Flirting, hair tossing, and preening can be effective, obvious, and above all, natural ways of communicating what is left un-verbalized. We don’t just approach strangers and say “Hey, because I’m attracted to you I’d like you to notice my lips, arms, chest…and by the way I’m [probably] available; what’s your name?” Our intentions are often conveyed as much by what we don’t say as what we do say.
It can sometimes even be a dangerous thing to rely completely on expressed statements. People may say and avow things they’re unsure about because they feel that it’s appropriate to the circumstances or because they feel pressured. Basing sexual decisions on implied actions and meanings entails being attuned to everything about the encounter: the context, the person, the surroundings. “It’s implied” is a rallying call for going deeper into all the elements that comprise a sexual situation.
A person shouldn’t always have to say “I’m comfortable” for me to be aware that they’re comfortable. They may express it verbally and that can be great, but shouldn’t I be able to detect when there is a level of discomfort without it being made explicit? Shouldn’t I be able to react in a responsible and mature way if the issue of discomfort is raised either expressly or implicitly? Could we even consider that keeping our eyes open to lines of implied consent may add to the overall sensual experience? For example if your partner is responding, bodily or verbally, and you’re in turn responding to that, isn’t that a bit more natural than if at every instance, everybody was expressly making sure that everybody was “cool” and everybody is expressly reassuring to everybody else the same?
Here’s what “It’s implied” should never be: it should not be the excuse for “s/he was asking for it”. Any argument for consent based on implied behavior should fall flat against an expressed “no”. This point, of consent and implicit behavior, where actions and expressed words may appear to converge or diverge, is the trickiest aspect of modern sexuality. It is where moral responsibility, socialization, gender, sexual dynamics, and other legal, social considerations merge, jostle and collide; but l think it’s appropriate to make some concrete observations here.
The word “Implied” as used in this sexual context of consent is not a simple concept. And furthermore, the idea that sexual consent is always “expressed” is also problematic. In fact, for a sexually & socially responsible individual it should not be always true that “the line of consent” is equated with an expressed “yes”. Many people can verbalize a sexual “yes”: what about women whose spouses or partners have abused them in the past if they do not comply with sexual demands?; or teenage girls with older adults, perhaps adults who are authority figures of some sort; or even prostitutes with abusive handlers and pimps; and of course, drunk or incapacitated adults may say “yes” as well. Although a expressed “no” trumps everything else, I believe a responsible sexual decision should be derived from the whole situation and not just that affirmative syllable “yes””.
My statement that “It’s Implied” is really an emphasis of individual’s responsibility to examine and understand the breadth of a sexual situation in order to make a decision. People can verbally acquiesce to, and even request, activities that can be hazardous to their well being, with or without a fully-formed capacity to understand the implications of such decisions. In forming a responsible idea of consent, I think we have to be very aware of the role played by implicit understandings communicated and made evident through circumstances, statements and actions. These are the building blocks of consent that must be part of a responsible sexual decision.