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What Do You Like? Talking About Vulnerability and Consent


There is an ever growing conversation about consent in our culture. How do you get consent? Isn’t it awkward to ask for permission in the heat of the moment? Is the conversation about consent about more than just sex?

According to Alison Oliver, a lecturer in the school of social work at the University of Iowa, these are all great questions to consider. She offers this definition: 

"Consent is a shared understanding. That can be in any domain. It doesn't have to be sexual. It is a living breathing thing," she explains. "A lot of us start with baby steps of treating consent like a transaction, but it can also be dynamic. Having a shared understanding of what you are agreeing to or not, but also what they are agreeing to treat each other in it." 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Oliver about a workshop she is co-hosting this weekend in Iowa City as a part of the Witching Hour Festival, called "Erotic Vulnerability, Joy and Consent," which is aimed to give attendees conversation starters and tools to better communicate about sex.

Oliver says the conversation about consent is starting to devolve into the question of, "How can I protect myself?" Which is a sign that we're seriously struggling with how to talk about this issue.

"We've seen [consent conversations] develop into a liability approach," she says. "No means no is an important message, but it's not the only thing availalbe. It's not dynamic." 
Emily Wentzell, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, and Bobby Dennis, male engagement and sexual assault prevention/advocate, also join the conversation. Dennis teaches  bystander intervention training and education, which is a curriculum aimed to give men tools to work to prevent sexual violence and misunderstanding.
Oliver suggests that instead of asking about consent like it's a yes or no question, we should approach asking more like we're making plans for dinner. 
"When you get out of liability protection mode of consent as a transaction and invite it as a curious, interested way, in the way we do with lots of other activities - food, dancing - we open ourselves to negotiation," says Oliver. "What are we interested in? What do we like? What aren't we in the mood for today? What are we in the mood for?" 

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa