The first step toward sex positivity is an active conversation about consent
By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
As you read through our Sex Issue, I hope you find something to pique your interest. Attitudes and opinions about sex have changed over the years and I think the wide array of content that we’re bringing you in this issue will show that.
Sex is probably the most fun and most serious activity that we engage in. So, we knew we had to find a balance of coverage.
Hopefully you’ve already read our stories on the importance of sexual health, the pressure that LGBTQ individuals feel when dealing with sex and sexuality alongside religion and our piece on 10 things you should know about your waning sexual desires and how to deal with them. In the coming pages, we’re bringing you the wilder/fun side of sex. A series of sex-positive stories that demonstrate how the stigmas around sex have changed and where there is still room for improvement.
We will tell you the story of Michele James, a local woman making a career as an adult film star. You’ll meet a group of people who call the world of kink and BDSM their home. We’ll fill you in on the best Pittsburgh aphrodisiacs and I’ve filed a report from my afternoon spent at an adult toy store.
But the first step toward sex positivity is an active conversation about consent. In fact, it’s irresponsible to talk about sex in any format without also addressing the importance of active consent in any sexual or potentially sexual situation. As we continue to move further away from the start of the #metoo movement, consent is still very much a discussion that needs to be had. Because regression can’t be an option. Remember how we got here in the first place.
“I think that what has gone on has made the survivors of this type abuse and harassment more empowered to talk about what they went through,” says Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. “It’s also made more men, certainly not all men, stop and think about their actions and what they’re saying and how they are treating the women they interact with.”
Hall says she believes parents are talking to their children more about consent and there have been efforts to teach young men, especially, about consent. But she says no one should struggle with how to teach consent.
“It’s kind of crazy to me,” Hall says. “You simply ask permission. ‘Can I kiss you?’ ‘Is this comfortable for you?’ Some kids are having sex in high school and they need to be aware of this. And we don’t just need to be teaching our young men and boys, we need to make sure our girls understand that if they don’t give consent than the other person must stop.”
David Brunner, a sexual health educator, adds that consent also isn’t a one time ask. As things move on to the next stages, consent should be sought along the way. That’s active consent.
Prior to this issue, the Current conducted a sex survey on a wide variety of sex-related topics. One of those questions asked whether the respondents understood and practiced active consent. An overwhelming 98.8 percent of people said they did. And while that number is huge, it still makes you worry that 1.2 percent of respondents didn’t know.
But the only way to make sure that the number hits 100 percent is through education. And sometimes the best education comes from places you never expected. As you read the stories on the next few pages, you may have preconceived notions about pornographic film performers or those who liked to be ensconced in latex and bound by ropes. But what you probably don’t know is that the people involved in these activities probably have the clearest understanding of consent.
“Consent is the cornerstone of activities in places like the BDSM community,” Hall says.
Mistress Kye, who you’ll meet later in this issue says, “Safety in our community is everything. Without feeling safe, there is no trust. The three main tenants of BDSM are communication, trust, consent. In that order. We communicate, we trust each other, we give our consent.”
James says it’s also vital in her role as an adult performer.
“Every time I go to set, it’s the first thing I discuss when I get there. I walk in, ‘Hi, I’m Michele, I’m going to be working with you today.’ Once everyone leaves and it’s just me and [the other performer], I say, ‘what are your complete boundaries, what are your hard no’s,’ what don’t you want me to do to you? And he tells me that. And then I tell him, this is what I don’t want you to do to me.
“I’ve never had problems with my consent being violated, because I make it clear up front.”
So as you continue through our sex issue, read the thoughts, opinions and stories from the wide-range of personalities we’ve collected. We may all like different things, but deep down, the goal is to be safe and have fun.
Bethany Ruhe contributed to this report.