Lost in Translation: On the Language of Consent


When we think of consent, we think of dialogue, communication, and a proactive stance on discussing our desires and boundaries when it comes to sex. It requires that we both be able to consent or express volition when it comes to the specifics of sex. Unfortunately, given the difficulty and hassle of constantly communicating what we like and dislike, at some point we cross others’ boundaries and feel as if our limits have been reached. Too often it is difficult to speak of discomfort and disgust when it comes to sex, worrying we’ll spoil the moment. Sadly, most of us have experienced some form of such discomfort, though many might rarely describe their experiences as sexual assault.

Part of rehabilitating rape culture requires that we address the cause of assault: the crossing of our boundaries, the breaching of our limitations, and the disintegrating of bodily and personal autonomy. To be assaulted is to be violated, to have one’s consent disregarded or sidestepped. Consent is the core of a positive, healthy, voluntary sexuality. Consent ensures that we can love one another more fully without sacrificing our emotional states.

These problems become even more pervasive when the individuals in question are not necessarily capable of articulating communication. Lingual diversity renders this process even more impenetrable and tenuous. Since each of us speaks different languages with dissimilar abilities, the romantic communiqué of consent can become complicated, to say the least. Just as children and people with certain disabilities cannot always express consent, asking for permission can easily turn into “asking for it.” Relevant to our inability to fully convey consent and choice when intoxicated, our ability to exercise our free will becomes difficult when we cannot articulate our desires or discomforts when speaking our nonnative languages.

Some of the problems with lingual ineffability is that we tend to simplify our words, constrict our desires, and insufficiently recount our breaking points. We tend to rely too heavily on the visual and corporeal, and we paraphrase the extent of our agreements. We cannot impart our attractions or boundaries, despite the fact that we may have the faculty to consent; we just can’t decode it. Nevertheless, our desires tend to spill into our actions, so the query of consent calls for some manner of addressing our consent. The line between compliance and consent, therefore, must be established to allow for both parties to liaise with full confidence and self-determination. Because we are vulnerable when we cannot wholly voice our approval, we must be careful that we nor our partners do not adopt an unquestioning approach to authority. To translate our wants and wishes, with pleasure, insists on our decipherment of each others’ impulses.

As exoticism thrives within the wake of globalization, these concerns grow more and more salient. As our cultures diversify and our languages multiply, the dilemma of consent continues to to become a transnational consideration. Body language does not necessarily aid these issues, because divergent cultures have contrastive codes of acceptable physical contact, regarding distance, touching, eye contact, and so on. As within medical ethics, the distinctions between expressed consent, informed consent, implied consent and inadequate consent grows strained. It is our ethical responsibility to obtain informed consent. Because enthusiastic consent is sexy.


Musings of Ragna’s may be found @raggijons

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