Some Musings on Consent, Part 3

Image: Maria Vlasova

What if you could live for however long you like—hundreds of years, if you chose? In a society where people routinely lived for three centuries or longer, what would that mean for your relationships? How would it shape the activities—both sexual and romantic—you might willingly explore?

Part 2 of this series talks about how perception of risk changes what people might consent to, and how risk informs our ideas of consent. In this part, we want to look at something else: longevity.

People in the Passionate Pantheon universe don’t have a maximum upper limit to their lifespan. Barring a very rare accident, they live as long as they want to, even if that means two, three, four hundred years…or more! We think these radically long lifespans would have an impact on how people think about romantic relationships, what “commitment” looks like, and even on how people think about consent. It’s happened even within the timeframe of ‘written history,’ and the average lifespan has only extended a few decades in that time. 

Longevity changes the equation. When you can easily live hundreds of years, you learn that change is part of life. A partner who was a good match for you 150 years ago might not be a good match for you 150 years from now. Ideas about “until death do us part” make less sense when you can expect to live many centuries, so it’s not really reasonable for sexually and emotionally monogamous ‘lifetime’ relationships to be the expected norm. Even in our society, it’s becoming acceptable and normal to have multiple relationships rather than only one single one in a lifetime, and we typically don’t live much more than a century at best. The definition of monogamy has changed from “one relationship in a lifetime” to “one relationship at a time”.

Long life also allows you to see the full scope of the variety of the human sexual condition. It’s easier to explore and experiment when you have centuries in which to do it. It’s easier to know your own boundaries when you’ve had centuries in which to find them.

Residents of the City grow up in an environment where physical risk is incredibly low and life extends as long as you want it to, so their assumptions about the potential consequences of the choices they make are quite different from ours. How does that change what people will consent to? How does it change how people think about consent?

In the real world, choices about whether or not to have sex are often made with a quick, perhaps even unconscious, risk/reward calculation: what am I getting out of this? What are the risks? Are the risks worth it? We talked in the last essay about how changing the risk side of the equation might change the way people approach sex and the things they’ll consent to, but how does the equation change when you know you’ll live for hundreds of years, in a body that is as vigorous as it was when you were 24?

One obvious difference is that people would probably be less likely to make choices in sexual partners based on age. If you’re 300 years old, you’re unlikely to  date someone who was 30 (especially if they hadn’t taken their adult name yet!), but you might date someone who was “only” 150.

Veenja shrugged gracefully. “What about you? Why did you volunteer?”

It was Chanae’s turn to shrug. “I’m still young. I want to experience something new. My siblings are all older than I am. They—”

“How old are you?” Sakim interrupted.


Eyes widened around the table. “Forty-eight? You’re only forty-eight?” Eranis said. “I feel dirty.”

“Yes.” Chanae blushed. “If they choose me, I will be the youngest Sacrifice ever given to the Sun God. My youngest sibling is twenty-seven years older than I am. My next older sister is twenty years older than she, and my oldest sibling is thirty-six years older than her.”

—from Book 1, The Brazen Altar

It’s also possible that as you age, you might find your sexual horizons broaden. In the real world, many people hold a preconception (which we don’t think is necessarily true, mind) that the older you are,the more sexually conservative you are. In a world of radical longevity, we think the opposite would happen, especially in a world where bodies don’t age, joints don’t give out, and libido can easily be made however strong you would like it to be, on demand.

First, as you grow older, you learn that however vast you think the ocean of human sexual experience may be, it’s actually much wider than that (the further into that ocean you swim, the further away the far shore turns out to be). 

Second, as you have more time to explore yourself and your boundaries, and get a better grasp of how you might react to new things, you can approach new sexual activities with greater confidence and less fear. (Of course, having access to high levels of technology helps, too; if the residents of the City can imagine something, they can probably do it.) 

Third, the longer you live, the more likely it is you’ll meet someone who can introduce you to new things, whose interests mesh with yours, and who you feel safe with. And the longer you live, the more of these people you will meet, each of whom may introduce you to different things to explore.

Technology plays a role here, too. How many women throughout history never had sexually satisfying experiences because they lived before the invention of the vibrator? How many people in the future will have more sexually fulfilling experiences because of technology that doesn’t yet exist? Growing up in an environment of ubiquitous, unlimited technology might itself mean people would be more open to new ideas. And when you live a very long time in an environment of nearly limitless technology, you have more opportunity to meet people who are using it in creative ways. Longer lifespan offers you more chances to see people applying the technologies in ways you yourself might never have thought of.

And, of course, in the world of the Passionate Pantheon, you have unlimited control over your libido. If you want to be aroused, you can be. Don’t want to be? That’s easy, too.

So how does this all play out in the City?

We think that sex might be simultaneously much more complex and much simpler than it is in the real world.

Socially, the people of the City would communicate in complex ways. They live far longer than we do and in a society that has sex as an openly acknowledged and important part of its foundation, so the social dance around sex might grow to be surprisingly complex and nuanced.

At the same time, when consent to sex and casual sexual relationships are stripped of negative connotations, they become much simpler—sex is not burdened with the expectations that are often attached to it in the real world. People can come together sexually without seeing anything shameful or dirty about a quick sexual liaison, without expectation that the sex has to “mean” something or necessarily has to imply a long-lasting commitment.

Radical longevity plays a role in both factors: more complex social interrelationships makes the dance of intimacy more complex, and seeing a broader range of sexual relationships means understanding that human sexual variety is common and normal.

Now, having a long life doesn’t mean that everyone would automatically be more open to new things, better at communicating, and more aware of their own boundaries, of course. But we do think that in general, radical longevity in an environment that values communication and exploration would give people a better chance of getting good at it. 

There are probably plenty of other ways longevity might affect our relationships—what else do you think might happen?

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