There can be no consent where it can’t be withdrawn.

Attributed to Miguel Duque, this is the basis of the essay by unquietpirate and I that’s getting a bunch of the right people super scared: “You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense.” The right people, of course, are rape apologists (though the loudest objections seem to be coming from MRAs).

Soon after that essay’s publication, I published a two-part elaboration. It expands on the premises we introduce in the essay, as a response to some of the initial discussion it generated, called “Radical Ethicism, Part 1: What is consensuality?” and “Radical Ethicism, Part 2: Ethic of Consent, applied.”

So, here’s the experiment. First, set it up.

Bob and Andy are having sex. This is sex that they have both agreed to. But, in the middle of the sex, Andy starts feeling bad (it doesn’t matter why; unexpected and undesired physical pain, or a bad memory) and no longer wants to continue having sex just then with Bob. Andy verbalizes this desire, such as by saying, “I want to stop having sex.” Assuming that Bob views himself as “not a rapist,” what should Bob do if he cares more about his self-image as “not a rapist” than about having sex with Andy? Should Bob:

  • keep having sex with Andy, or
  • stop having sex with Andy.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who could argue that Bob should continue having sex with Andy while keeping a straight face. (If you do, though, YIKES.) The point here is simply that Andy has “withdrawn consent,” in exactly the way most people conceive of it, and the ethical thing to do is, of course, stop fucking.

Now, the thought experiment: ask, “How long after they start having sex is it okay for Andy to feel bad about that encounter?”

Since most people (including self-described “feminists who do consent work”) wrongheadedly think of consent as functionally identical to permission, they’ll give you an answer along the lines of “until the sex act is over.” What they’re showing you is that they don’t really believe that “consent can be withdrawn” at all. If they actually believed that, they would tell you that it doesn’t matter when Andy starts feeling bad; there is no arbitrary point in time when someone loses the ability to “withdraw consent” that they once “gave.”

Andy has the right to feel however Andy feels, whenever Andy feels it. And, y’know what? So do you.

Try it out. Especially on self-described feminists. Let me know how it goes. :)