How to Write Consent.
by Stella James
My mom raised me on old black and white movies, where the romantic gestures were grand and the emotional drama was ever present. It romanticized the notion of the guy grabbing the girl and crashing his lips to hers, her melting in his grasp, and all was well again.
For years, I longed for the grand proclamations, the sudden desperate kisses silencing my spiraling monologue. Until one day, a guy forced a kiss on me that wasn't welcomed and wasn't reciprocated. Thus, my journey understanding more about consent, especially mutual consent, began.
The power of consent is something I am very vocal about, and one of the things I've seen circulating is the argument that stopping things en medias res to confirm consent "kills the mood". Which women argue that this has never been the case.That asking someone if they want to continue has never turned them off. This conversation really interested me as a romance writer.
Is there a way to write consent without it being the verbal, "Yes, I agree to this. Please continue."? I think there can be. After all, the saying goes, "You can tell alot by someone's body language".
When writing any kind of romantic scene, there are small gestures that come into play that signals the love interest to continue in their pursuit. They long to be physically closer to the other person by leaning into them or touching them in some way. When aroused, your skin flushes, your pupils dilate, your heartbeat quickens.
I always think that a murmured, "Is it okay if I kiss you?" is sweet, but how else could this be welcomed without words? They would lean in, eyes might close half way, maybe even lick their lips in anticipation. When the kiss happens, they might grasp at their clothes to keep them there, or cup the back of their neck to bring them closer, or hug them to them, longing for more contact.
The moment that a character is retreating, turning or pushing away, is the moment consent is no longer present. Don't forget that in many situations, someone might be comfortable with a certain level of intimacy, but once it gets to be too much for them, they have every right to pull back. This is the case for many people in newer relationships.
Of course it is okay to still have verbal communication! But please make sure the question and/or conversation is believable. Or that the way they ask fits that character's personality. Make sure the way they ask still sounds like them asking.
Consent is so important to represent in fiction, especially in today's society where people are finding their voices against sexual assault. As a writer, I feel we have a responsibility to show healthier ways of navigating a romantic relationship.
On a final note, something that is never consent is when one person rejects the idea of having sex and their partner finally "talks them into it". This is the reality of too many people, and it is not consent. If someone says no the first time, it's not an invitation to try to change their mind. You're doing more harm than good in the long run. Don't harm your characters and readers the same way.
Consent is always sexy and it always needs representation. Whether you choose to have verbal or nonverbal consent in your book is up to you. Please just make sure that both parties are into the romantic gestures and include all the fluff!
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