Recently listened to a conversation between a Feminist and an MRA talk about consent. The feminist was advocating enthusiastic consent while the MRA was arguing that the current model of consent was sufficient. Here are some vague thoughts I had from my perspective as a Gender Egalitarian.
Consent is really complicated. I sided closer to the Feminist but bot sides acted like if they just solved this one question then the matter of consent would be settled.
Lets break this down into external and internal consent. Internal consent is how a person feels about the sex on the inside, whether or not they want to have sex. External consent is outwards signs that they give the other person (or people but lets assume its just two people for now) they they want to have sex, like saying “I want to have sex” or making sounds that signal enjoyment. Both internal and external consent are on a scale and while they are correlated one does not guarantee the other. The Feminist and MRA were arguing over where the line society draws on the spectrum of external consent should be. I have heard people use different definitions of enthusiastic consent, some that include nonverbal consent like touching or signs of enjoyment and others that require verbal consent.
Clearly all we care about is internal consent, and external consent just increases the likelihood of internal consent. If internal consent is very certain (like in a long term relationship, doing sexually activities both have verbally talked about and agreed to before hand and using safety words) then apparent lack of external consent (like in non con play) is usually fine.
But this distinction means that someone can give enthusiastic external consent, say “i want you to do X” at every step, and still not give internal consent. Maybe they feel like i they don’t give external consent their partner will be upset. Or they are just to nervous to say no.Enthusiastic consent doesn’t guarantee internal consent. But it is still a good idea because it does make internal consent more likely. Although I’m not sure if enthusiastic verbal consent makes internal consent a lot more likely than enthusiastic non verbal external consent
Another problem is that internal consent is also a spectrum. Someone one can not know whether they want to have sex, or have a small preference for not wanting sex but not enough to express external non consent.
Another related issues is how alcohol affects consent. Most people agree that people who have had one standard drink can consent to sex and that people who have passed out cannot. But there is no way to objectively decide where on the alcohol spectrum to draw the line, both legally and morally. In a Alcohol affects other internal consent and a its relations to external consent.
I also think that while consent remains a very good deontological heuristic, there are still possible situation where there are consequentialist reasons for not having sex with someone even if they consent. For example if someone really wants to have sex but you are fairly sure they will regret it afterwards,because for example they have a religious belief that will make them feel shame.
Consent is really complicated and the solution that i personally use (“try REALLY hard to not accidentally do something that someone doesn’t consent too”) is to vague to give directly to other people.