Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fetishes and Consent

This is something of an extension of my recent Bad Reality, Good Fantasy post - a bit of a rant in response to yet another example of ignorance expressed about fetishism (specifically in the context of exhibitionism) encountered online.

Fetishism does not inherently imply a violation of consent. Why do people assume this? I imagine that in the past, society has distinguished between acceptable and unacceptable sexuality based on the instinctual, heteronormative standard - man and woman in a committed relationship trying to make babies. But with the normalization of things like recreational sex and homosexual relationships, I believe that we are in the process of transforming our understanding of acceptable sexuality to a superior framework that emphasizes the importance of consent. If the participants want to do it (and know what they're getting themselves into) - fine. Doesn't matter how it looks to anyone else.

But it takes time for the culture to normalize sexual behaviors that have long been considered strange, and possibly even criminal - especially if they've traditionally been defined as mental illness (as, I remind you, homosexuality once was). I think that a lot of people are still uncomfortable with things like exhibitionism, and in order to rationalize their discomfort, they feel compelled to contextualize these behaviors as unacceptable by associating them with a violation of consent. This association is further supported by the stereotype of the public flasher, who (allegedly) delights in the reactions of disgust and horror that are elicited by his activities.

Personally, I've never encountered somebody like this in real life (as opposed to creative fiction). I believe that the majority of these fringe cases simply consist of desperate perverts with boundary issues, a lack of self-control, and/or a poor understanding of what constitutes our social norms. If exhibitionism is simply the desire to be looked at, then there is no reason to define it by the desperate acts of a small (yet visible - because the public loves a juicy story) minority. Like everything else, exhibitionism exists on a spectrum, its expressions ranging from the heinous to the benign.

Are we so limited in our imaginations, that we can't conceive of a person with the desire to be seen expressing it only in responsible outlets with consensual audiences? It's no coincidence that voyeurs and exhibitionists make great company. And both can delight in the production and consumption of pornography, which caters to the voyeur and the exhibitionist within us all. If even rape fetishists can fulfill their desires (utilizing the tools of fiction, fantasy, and roleplay) without running afoul of the law or human decency, then why can't anyone? We are not slaves to our sexual desires.

Bottom line: when somebody plays a game without asking, it's not the act of not asking that they are deriving enjoyment from. It's the game they want to play. They either just don't know how to ask, haven't been taught the importance of asking, or are afraid that the answer will be no. These are all situations we can deal with, but only if we accurately understand what it is we're actually dealing with first.

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