My 17 year old daughter generously sat down with me to talk about consent — her personal experiences with it, humor of it, nonverbal versions, and how to respond to rejection. We talked about her thoughts on the Dear Boy Who Likes My Daughter episode, how she perceives my romantic relationships, what makes a good cuddle partner, and being resourceful after trauma. There’s laughing and crying and lots of proud mama.
I’ve been gradually catching up on Dr. Doe‘s Sexplanations podcast; I’m up into the 30-somethings now but my favourite so far might have been episode 25, which presents a very authentic and raw look at Lindsey and her daughter Des’s thoughts on sex, romance, and consent. Adorable.
You’ve probably seen the news about people taking a technological look at the issue of consent, lately. One thing that’s been getting a lot of attention is the Tulipán Placer Consentido, an Argentinian condom which comes in a packet that requires the cooperation of two pairs of hands to open it.
One fundamental flaw with the concept that nobody seems to have pointed out (unless perhaps in Spanish), is that – even assuming the clever packaging works perfectly – all that you can actually consent to with such a device is the use of a condom. Given that rape can be and often is committed coercively rather than physically – e.g. through fear, blackmail, or obligation rather than by force – consent to use of a condom by one of the parties shouldn’t be conflated with consent to a sexual act: it may just be preferable to it without, if that seems to be the alternative.
Indeed, all of these technical “solutions” to rape seem to focus on the wrong part of the process. Making sure that an agreement is established isn’t a hard problem, algorithmically-speaking (digital signatures with split-key cryptography has given us perhaps the strongest possible solution to the problem for forty years now)! The hard problem here is in getting people to think about what rape is and to act appropriately to one another. Y’know: it’s a people problem, not a technology problem! (Unshocker.)
But even though they’re perhaps functionally-useless, I’m still glad that people are making these product prototypes. As the news coverage kicked off by the #MeToo movement wanes, its valuable to keep that wave of news going: the issues faced by the victims of sexual assault and rape haven’t gone away! Products like these may well be pointless in the real world, but they’re a vehicle to keep talking about consent and its importance. Keeping the issue in the limelight is helpful, because it forces people to continually re-evaluate their position on sex and consent, which makes for a healthy and progressive society.
So I’m looking forward to whatever stupid thing we come up with next. Bring it on, innovators! Just don’t take your invention too seriously: you’re not going to “fix” rape with it, but at least you can keep us talking about it.
For a philosopher, Helen Nissenbaum is a surprisingly active participant in shaping how we collect, use, and protect personal data. Nissenbaum, who earned her PhD from Stanford, is a professor of information science at Cornell Tech, New York City, where she focuses on the intersection of politics, ethics, and values in technology and digital media — the hard stuff. Her framework for understanding digital privacy has deeply influenced real-world policy.
In addition to several books and countless papers, she’s also coauthored privacy plug-ins for web browsers including TrackMeNot, AdNauseum, and Adnostic. Nissenbaum views these pieces of code as small efforts at rationalizing a marketplace where opaque consent agreements give consumers little bargaining power against data collectors as they extract as much information, and value from this information, as they can. Meanwhile, these practices offer an indefinite value proposition to consumers while compromising the integrity of digital media, social institutions, and individual security.
Some 702 intimate examinations were done on sedated or anaesthetised patients (table 3). In only 24% of these examinations had written consent been obtained, and a further 24% of examinations were conducted apparently without written or oral consent.
This 2003 study at an “English medical school” determined that vaginal/rectal examinations were routinely carried out on anaesthetised patients without their knowledge or consent. “I was told in the second year that the best way to learn to do [rectal examinations] was when the patient was under anaesthetic,” one fourth year student responded, to the survey, “That way they would never know.”