Over the last seven years of working on the STARS Talk, I have moved away from how we teach consent and boundaries. While the A still stands for Avoids (i.e., Boundaries), my thinking has broadened.
Sexual consent, as summed up by Planned Parenthood’s FRIES acronym, does not make any sense.
FREELY GIVEN- This assumes that the person consenting has no history of trauma, is not living in a social context that is sex-negative, and has power and sovereignty over their decisions.
REVERSIBLE- This assumes that the person has the agency at all times to change their mind without concern or care over the consequences.
INFORMED- This assumes that the person consenting has been clearly and honestly informed of their decision's positive and negative outcomes. They understand all the harm that may be possible, up to and including death.
ENTHUSIASTIC- This assumes that anything that is said Yes to is unequivocal and absolute under present circumstances, even if those circumstances may change in the course of sexual activity.
SPECIFIC- This assumes that whatever they consented to will not change or that the activity will stop for another FRIES conversation to happen again.
In my experience, this is almost impossible, even under the best circumstances. My freely given and most enthusiastic yeses have happened when I am under the influence of love hormones, sex brain, or trauma bonding. I have rarely been able to stop someone in the middle of a heated moment because I have changed my mind, nor have I met many others who have. (There was one woman who told me that in the middle of being penetrated by a man, she said to him that she wasn’t enjoying herself and for him to stop. While he did, she was quickly kicked out of his apartment and had to wait for a cab outside alone at night. I have never tried that myself; instead, I let him finish and go home safely. ) I have never, except in a kink negotiation or medical procedure, ever gone over informed consent.
While FRIES is theoretically a great idea, it doesn’t work in real life because sex is complex, nuanced, and messy. After all, humans are involved.
I understand that many people (especially people who identify and or look like women [or have experienced life as a woman at any point]) face boundary-pushing, emotional manipulation, complete disrespect of their boundaries, and sexual assault. FRIES consent is a reaction against that, drawing a firm and clear line and giving those who regularly experience boundary crossings power and agency.
These ideas of consent overlook the power differentials between the person asking for consent (usually the person with power) and the person giving consent (usually the person with less power). It makes it easy for the responsibility of any consent violations to fall on the person giving affirmative consent since they said Yes, even if they didn’t consent to everything that happened. We all heard that story many times.
"'No means No' and 'Enthusiastic Yes' rarely exist. Most of us live in the gray zone between 'good, not great' and 'bad'."
"'Yes' may be safer to say than 'No'."
"'Maybe' felt closer to a 'Yes' than 'No'."
"The person consenting wanted to please you, be validated by you, or just experience you."
"The person consenting has leaky boundaries and doesn’t know how to say 'No'."
"The person consenting is human, and humans are messy."
This is why we must teach ATTUNEMENT instead of yes/no boundaries. If we had to be a “hell yes” to everything about sex, we would probably never have sex in the first place, much less try new things and grow.
Avoids/Boundaries conversation needs to emphasize our somatic intelligence over our trauma responses.
And this is why a STARS Talk is so fucking important. It's the whole shebang-safety, pleasure, avoids, intentions, meaning, and health, from the body up.
It’s not just a "safer sex talk."
It is a path towards attunement.
Much love and blessings,
Feel free to reach out to me, I would love to keep in touch via Instagram @SexMedDoc and @MakeTimeForTheTalk, via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/evelindacker/ and via email at email@example.com