The art of Consent

Of Yes and No

Copyright: Marica Zottino

The art of seduction is an area with no clear borders, where game roles are ambiguous. In this game, sometimes an apparent distant and detached attitude can turn into a more favourable one, thanks to the insistence of the other. When we enter the sexual field, these poorly defined borders become slippery and dangerous.


A famous nineties Italian song about girls says, “when they smile at you…it’s likely to be a yes,” and then adds wisely, “but when they walk away it is no…and you have to accept it.”


This points out the topic of consensus was already hot in 1995, and still is now in 2019.


A sexual act without consent denotes a situation of abuse. So far, I think we can all agree.


The huge rate of sexual assault and rape reports has brought to public attention that consent is highly subjective and interpretable.

Italian data suggest that one in three women are or were victims of gender-based violence. Of these, 21% (4.5 million women) have experienced sexual violence, 5.4% (1.2 million women) have been raped or victims of a rape attempt. Only a quarter of these women experienced violence from a non-partner or stranger, the remaining three quarters experienced violence from their partner.

This means that sexual violence mostly happens inside the house. The mainstream question is: how can sexual violence happen within a couple?  The answer is very simple, and it is the same as above: a lack of consent to the act is enough to connote it as sexual violence.  This statement is certainly a shock because we all grew up with “bread and marital duties,” but as an example, in 2017 an Italian Court established that sexual relations between spouses without consent is a crime.


As we are not lawyers, we will not speak about the legal consequences of this.  But as psychologists, we can undoubtedly say that a sexual act without consent will cause an important emotional impact on anybody. It can pervert the perception of our desire, leading the person to the belief that his/her pleasure can be overlapped with the pleasure of others.  It can lead a person to emotional freezing, which protects a person from the experience of anguish, paying a high emotional price. It can lead to feelings of anger or resentment, which can explode in unexpected moments and manners.  So, forcing themselves to a sexual act has harmful effects on a person’s well-being. 


While doing research for this article, I discovered that the always-cutting-the-edge Sweden, enacted a law in 2018: "sex must be voluntary."  The text of the law does not state that explicit consent is required, but states that passivity cannot be mistaken for a sign of consent.


Within my research I also run into this claim:


"Don't spoil a romantic moment! Asking to sign a contract can be embarrassing. With our Legal Fling app, you need just a click to give your consent. It is guaranteed through WhatsApp, Telegram, Messenger, Facebook, SMS."


It sounds a bit “Black Mirror” because it is about the chance to give a preliminary consent to sex through an application. The app is called LegalFling and was conceived by the Dutch company LegalThings. What happens if you change your mind about consent?  The contract terms can be modified anytime!


In conclusion, the consent issue is now more relevant than ever, and it is often faced with sarcasm and irony. Emmeline May wrote in The Huffington Post, "People have trouble understanding that whenever you want to have sex with someone, you have to make sure the other person wants it. It's easy, really." 


"Tea consent" was born from this idea.


All this suggests that if we look at sexual relationships with eyes cleared of gender stereotypes (and the tea metaphor helps us in this way), it would be easy to mark the border of respect.  As May says, "Whether is tea or sex, consent is everything."




Dr Giulia Radi

Ph.D., Psychologist and Psychotherapist


(+39) 349 5887485


To know more



May, Emmeline (2015) “Consent: Not Actually that complicated” in Huffington Post 


Video: “Tea consent” (2015) by Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios


Video: “Prestazione occasionale” (2018) by The Pills (only ita)



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