Image: Katie Drazdauskaite
Consent is a foundational tenet of the world of the Passionate Pantheon, even in long-term intimate relationships. We’re currently working on a series of short stories in the universe, and we don’t always have space to show that in as much detail as we’d like. Not if we want to also show the hot kinky sex they’re negotiating about, at any rate! Take, for example, this snippet, cut from an upcoming short story:
The moment the door closed, she pushed him against the wall, pinning him there with her body. “So what do I need to do?” she purred.
Hassan blinked. A quick hot jolt shot through him, a feral desire beyond the Blessing of Fire. He pushed it down firmly. “Do?” his voice sang from the drone. “Whatever do you mean, Priestess Carrathen?”
“To earn the antidote, Priest Hassen.” She ground against his hips, hot and wet. “I can’t come without it, and believe me when I say I would very much like to come. Since you’re the reason I’m in this state, it’s only fair that you be the one to decide how to resolve it.”
Hassen ran his hands up her back, beneath the thin sheer robe. He shivered at the feel of warm, soft skin beneath his palms. Carrathen kissed him, urgent and rough, tongue slipping between his lips. The fire within him blazed hotter. She folded his hand over her breast. “So, Priest Hassen, do you intend to address this situation you’ve created?”
“I’ve never been able to say no to you.”
“Not since the day we met. But would you want to?”
She laughed a delighted silvery laugh. “You see? You can say ‘no’ to me after all. Now then, what must I do to earn release?”
“This seems an easy thing,” Hassen said. “You need only summon the antidote from the Provider behind you.”
Carrathen pinned his wrists to the wall and pressed herself tight to him, teeth grazing the side of his neck. “What a practical solution. How ordinary. How…boring. Surely the Temple should reward your selfless service, Priest Hassen. What better way than by allowing you to set the terms of my release? I am in a state to be extremely…” She leaned forward to take his earlobe gently between her teeth. “Accommodating.”
“You make a compelling argument,” Hassen said. “Still, if I am to set an appropriate condition, I will need to know, how badly do you want release?”
“I’ve been bound and teased for hours.” She ran her fingers lightly over his erection, where a glistening bead of wetness formed. “How badly do you imagine?” She raised her fingertip to her lips to lick off the drop of wetness. “Now that you know, what must I do, if I am to earn what I so desperately crave?”
Hassen nuzzled her neck. “I’m sure we can work something out,” his drone sang.
“If I’m very lucky,” she murmured, “it will take a long time and a lot of hard work. You have me in such a state, I dearly hope you take advantage of it.”
“It would seem a shame not to.”
What do you see when you read this scene? You might describe it as a flirtation, a come-on, maybe even a proposition. We see a consent negotiation. Fun negotiation, yes; playful, mischievous, flirtatious, even whimsical, but negotiation nonetheless. These characters are clearly enjoying their verbal interplay as much as their physical interplay, but fundamentally this is a conversation about consent.
Too often, the real world frames consent as about as much fun as a union labor contract negotiation, only without the camaraderie or joie de vivre. A necessity, sure, but one you undertake out of obligation, not something to look forward to. Is it any wonder so many people push back against consent culture with “talking about consent totally wrecks the mood!”?
Thing is, most of us have never seen consent modeled in a fun, playful way. Properly done, sexual negotiation can be super-hot…think of the most steamy sexting session you’ve ever had, but up close and in person. The Internet is full of wonderful conversations about what consent is and why it’s necessary and (we’re both fond of the video that compares consent to tea), but they usually tell, rather than show—there’s no sense that conversations about sexual consent are necessary but also a lot of fun.
Hang on, let’s back up a bit. When you hear “flirting,” what do you think?
For some folks, flirting is a tool, a means to an end. It’s a signal. You flirt because you want to have sex. Sex (often defined by folks who think of flirtation this way as the act of a penis entering a vagina) is the end goal. If sex doesn’t happen, the flirting was for nothing. In fact, it was worse than nothing—it was an offer that turned out to be merely a taunt, a fake, a con.
For other people, flirting is a goal in itself, not a means to an end. You flirt because flirting is fun and engaging, because flirting is enjoyable in its own right. If the flirting leads to something more, hey, that’s cool, but it doesn’t have to—in fact, you might even flirt with someone you don’t intend to have sex with, because flirting is fun.
And what about foreplay?
Well, it’s the same thing. For some people, foreplay is merely the opening act, not the show. Yeah, it’s fun enough and all, but everyone knows it’s not the main event. It’s not ‘real’. For other people, foreplay is fun—fun enough that you might do it just for the joy of doing it, without necessarily needing or expecting it to lead to sex, however you define ‘sex.’ (Some people would call foreplay that doesn’t necessarily lead to anything further ‘making out’.)
In the City, sex is pervasive. People have sex, and we mean a lot of sex, quite casually, for a large number of reasons, and often in ways so exotic they don’t even have names. Yet we suspect that for people of the City, both flirtation and foreplay are far more likely to be seen as activities of their own, that don’t need to lead anywhere else and certainly don’t need to end in sex (which is in itself defined much more broadly than we would in the real world—in fact, we have an essay percolating about that!).
And in the City, the little talk about consent isn’t a tedious, super-heavy prelude to the main event. There’s no heavy sigh, no “okay, now we need to sit down and have The Talk.” It’s baked into flirtation. It’s so ordinary, so normalized that negotiations about consent just naturally weave themselves into almost every activity. People of the City don’t see negotiation, consent, flirtation, and foreplay as separate things, items in a checklist you tick off before you get to the sex. Yet consent is absolutely foundational to the worldview of the City.
The City prizes agency and consent in ways that, far too often, the real world doesn’t. The social framework of the City rests on a foundation of respect for agency, autonomy, and consent. Not just in sex, but in everything. We’ve mentioned before that people of the City would, for example, be quite appalled at making a child hug a relative they didn’t want to touch. Children of the City have, in many ways, greater agency than adults in the real world.
To those of the City, consent is necessary, and conversations around consent happen more or less constantly. So how do they do it without making all these conversations into a heavy, off-putting burden?
We cut the scene at the start of the essay from a short story we’re writing for the release of the upcoming novel, The Hallowed Covenant. (We’re used to writing 120,000 words at a time, so writing 8,000-word short stories always means a lot of cool scenes end up being chopped out.) We dusted it off and put it here because it shows that a negotiation can be fun and playful, without being, like, such a drag, man.
Let’s go through and have a look at exactly what’s going on in this scene.
This scene takes place as Hassen, a minor character from The Brazen Altar, is training a new novice to take his place. One of Hassen’s jobs is to sexually stimulate potential Sacrifices as they recite the Litany, so that if they’re chosen to be bound to an altar at the top of the great ziggurat enduring forced orgasms from sunup to sundown while they recite the City’s history, they’ll be able to get through the whole thing.
During this training, Carrathen agreed to act in place of the potential Sacrifice, given powerful aphrodisiacs and a Blessing that prevents orgasm, then tied down and teased for three and a half hours…all for the purpose of training a new novice in the fine arts of sexual stimulation, of course. Not quite ‘For Science’, but a similar vibe.
Now she’s worked up, and looking for release. She could simply take the antidote to the Blessing that prevents orgasm, then do whatever she likes…but, as she says, what’s the fun in that?
Carrathen introduces the game they’re playing asking Hassen “now that I’m in this state, I’m interested in going further with you, are you interested?” Hassen reminds her that she has an out available to her, without implying that he isn’t interested. She acknowledges it, and makes clear she would like to continue. All this is basic consent negotiation 101, but done in a playful way, without interrupting the flirtatious game they’re playing.
Now, you might argue consent is particularly important in this situation because they’re negotiating some pretty kinky sex. But we would say that from the perspective of the City, the sex they’re negotiating isn’t all that kinky. When we talk about the Passionate Pantheon, we say there’s a lot of kinky sex going on, but that’s viewed from our real-world perspective. From theirs, it’s quite different. The City takes a much broader view of what’s possible in sex, and a big part of that is the City’s emphasis on consent and the fact that consent is woven so tightly into ordinary interaction, rather than seen as this extra thing you have to do before you can get jiggy.
When all your flirtations are opportunities for negotiation, and you have a mindset that sees consent as a fun, hot, sexy thing in its own right, it’s much easier to take a broad view of sex.
The two of us enjoy flirting, and we enjoy conversations around consent. One of our goals in writing these stories is showing how fun those conversations can be. (Okay, we also write them because we want to explore a world where the social attitudes about sex are pretty close to the opposite of those in the real world, and because we think the stories are hot and we hope you will too.)
We also think that when you weave negotiations about consent into the fabric of your flirtation, rather than treating those negotiations as some separate thing, you can have better sex. It becomes part of the build up, the foreplay, the tentative initial exploration of the biggest of our sex organs—the mind. As someone we both know says, “Vanilla dating is too hardcore for me.” The idea, so prevalent in much of mainstream dating, of just continuing until you’re told to stop…that sounds to us like it can only have two results. Either you have mediocre and/or generic sex, or you keep going until you risk traumatizing or harming someone. When you don’t know where the boundaries are, you find them by tripping over the landmines. (Yes we know that’s not how landmines work, just go with us here, ok?)
So yes, these consent conversations are a lot of fun, but more than that, treating consent as a part of your ordinary interactions enables you to explore a wider range of possibilities.
So why don’t more people do it?
The shallow, surface answer, presented here, is that many people—mostly, in our societies, cishet men—don’t want to talk about consent because they’re afraid the answer will be no.
But that’s overly simplistic. There’s more to it. A big part of it is a starvation model of sex vs an abundance model. If you have a starvation model of sex, if you see sex as something rare that’s hard to find, you won’t be inclined to make it even harder to get by putting more hurdles in the way. And why is sex scarce? Well, a lot of women are selective about who they have sex with because they are reluctant to be judged or shamed afterward, or they don’t want to risk violence precisely when they’re most vulnerable, or both. (Often both, and usually without any guarantees of decent sex to make up for it either.)
And perhaps not coincidentally, the people who are most likely to have a starvation model of sex are often the very people most likely to judge women for having sex or disregard their partners’ boundaries, or both—a stunning example of self-defeating behavior if ever there was one.
In the City, and in many real-world sex-positive spaces, sex isn’t scarce. When sex isn’t scarce, it’s not a big deal when someone says no. That gives you the freedom to negotiate for the sex you want…because hearing no is really not that big a deal. If someone says no to something, you’re not left feeling that means you’ll never have another opportunity to have the kind of sex you want to have.
If you take anything away from all this, let it be the idea that treating consent like a necessary chore, something you have to get through in order to get to the good bits, is a self-defeating attitude. Conversations about consent can be part of the good bit…indeed, if you approach consent negotiations with the idea that they’re fun and sexy, you may find that doors to even more good bits—good bits hitherto undreamed of in your philosophy—open to you.
Preorders for the new novel, The Hallowed Covenant, open in a few days! To celebrate, we’re working on a collection of short stories in the Passionate Pantheon universe you can find on our Indiegogo page. Stay tuned!