Consent in Episode Stories

Consent can be really tricky to talk about. In fact, sex as a whole can be such a tough subject! I don’t blame you if you saw this title and you wanted to run for the hills! We do need to talk about it, though. We need to be able to discuss sex if we’re going to write for such a romance-heavy app. It’s not something we can avoid! If we don’t think about the way we’re portraying sex in our stories, we can run the risk of sending out the wrong ideas. Sex sells, but we need to make sure we’re selling it properly.

Why is this so important? Well, there are thousands of stories on Episode, and many of them portray sex in a very uncomfortable and unhealthy light. They make non-consensual sex seem romantic and okay as long as your character did actually want it deep down, or if they loved the LI. No. That doesn’t make it okay. In fact, that just shows how many people think non-consensual sex can be okay if they show it from the “right point of view”. It’s worrying!

Most of the readers on the app are teenagers, which means you need to be able to write with a teenage audience in mind. They’re young and are just forming their own sexual identity. It is the worst time to give them bad views on sex because they have no normal sexual experiences to go by yet. That means that they run the risk of thinking that these stories are normal sexual experiences because they have nothing else to go by. That’s why Episode authors need to be smart. We have a duty to not normalise toxic behaviour.

What is Consent?

Well, broadly speaking, consent is about showing your partner that you want the sexual advances they’re giving you. If you tell them that you don’t want to do it, you’re not giving consent. This is true of most countries with sexual offence laws, but things can change a little bit. That’s why it is important that you know the law of the country you live in. You don’t want to be breaking the law! But on Episode, you also need to make sure you understand what the US law is since it is a US company.

I’m going to be focussing on the UK law in this article because I know the most about it. However, the UK law is very similar to the law in most US states, so this should apply to Episode stories, too.

Who Can Give Consent?

There are a few things that decide whether you’re able to give consent or not. These are here to make sure that no one is taking advantage of you or making you do something you don’t want to do. You can give consent if you:

  • Are of the age of consent (check where you live).
  • Aren’t under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication.
  • Are awake and conscious.
  • Are in a mental position to give consent.
  • Aren’t being forced or threatened.
  • Are actually choosing to give consent.

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But when you think about it, it’s not a lot at all. Basically, you need to be old enough and in a state to freely choose to consent. You need to be able to understand what’s going on and make the choice for yourself.

Why is There an Age of Consent?

Well, this is a sticky subject. It is vital to have an age of consent, but where that age is? Well, it varies a lot from country to country. In Bahrain, it is as high as 21 and in Nigeria, it’s 11. Some countries don’t have one at all! But the point of an age of consent is to roughly outline when most people are old enough to understand sex and its impacts, then make a conscious decision to have it.

Of course, most people do understand that teenagers all mature at different ages. That’s why there’s so much variation in the ages of consent over different countries! That doesn’t mean it’s okay not to have one at all, though. In my opinion, if you’re old enough to be having sex, you’re old enough to be obeying the law, but that’s just me. We all did stupid things when we were kids that we regret, and the age of consent is there to stop us from doing something we only think we’re ready for.

In a “Mental Position”?

Mental health is a tricky thing. It’s not just about not having a mental illness. It’s about being mentally healthy, just like with your body. So, from time to time, we can have moments where we’re not in a very good mental state to give consent. A breakdown is a very common example of this. And when things like this happen, you’re not really in any state to give consent. This one is hard to measure in a legal situation, but it is really easy to show as an Episode writer. Showing that a character’s mental health is good is a great way to make sure that you’re not accidentally showing a non-consensual relationship.

Does this mean that anyone with a mental health problem can’t consent to sex? Of course not! We all have our good days and our bad days, including those with health problems. On someone’s bad day, when they’re not in a mental state to consent, they can’t give consent in the same way that they could on a good day. Your characters should be able to understand when their love interest is in a good place to consent and not try things when they aren’t.

Why is Consent Important?

Well, no one wants to be forced into doing something they don’t want to do. No one wants to be taken advantage of when they don’t understand what’s happening. So, it is important that you get consent for sex and sexual activity to make sure that the person you’re with wants to do it. Otherwise, you are breaking the law of most countries. And even if you’re not breaking the law, you’re going against the person’s human rights. It is morally and legally wrong to have sex with someone without their consent. It is their body, and they get to decide what they do with it.

You need to make sure that all of the criteria fit when you’re checking if you have someone’s consent. Just because they’re old enough to have sex by law, it doesn’t mean they want to. It also doesn’t mean that they aren’t drunk or unconscious. You need to check these things! Sex and sexual activity are supposed to be enjoyed by both parties, not forced on them.

Does Gender Matter?

No. You need to get consent for anyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re a cis man, a trans woman or a nonbinary person. We are all human beings and we deserve to be treated like we’re equal. I’ve seen people say that men always give consent, but that’s really not true. Men can also be in a position where they can’t give consent, and they can definitely choose not to give you consent, too. If a man doesn’t want sex, it is just as bad to try to force them. Remember that in your stories because you could write about a man who doesn’t want sex and make a non-consensual situation seem romantic.

What is Sex Without Consent?

It is rape. Sex without consent is always going to be rape. If you’re underage, there’s a specific name for it: statutory rape. It’s not going to have the same punishments, but it is still rape by law. Having sex with someone who can’t or doesn’t want to consent is always against the law: in the US, UK and EU, as well as most other places.

And what about sexual activity? People still do need to give you consent to do anything sexual. That means a kiss too! If there is no consent, that’s either sexual assault or harassment. Again, these are against the law and are not romantic. There is no excuse for not getting someone’s consent.

Do You Have to Say “No”?

No. By UK law, even physically showing that you don’t want anything is enough. If any reasonable person would look at you and say “well they clearly don’t want anything”, it would still legally be seen as rape or sexual assault. That means pushing them away or crying as two examples. The problem is that it’s really hard to prove that someone didn’t look like they wanted it.

That makes it really hard to prove that anything happened against your wishes in court. In that case, the person doing the crime could say that they didn’t know you weren’t consenting. It is not your fault if you weren’t able to speak or react in a situation like that, but if you can, please clearly say no. It’s a lot easier to say someone ignored “no” than it is to say they ignored your body language.

Writing About No Consent

I am not trying to stop you from writing about tough issues if you want to. In fact, it is important to make people aware of them! It would be awful for us to pretend that sex without consent doesn’t happen. It certainly does and that’s something we need to deal with as a society. You need to be aware of what you’re doing, though. Writing about this well can be really hard. If you’re not careful, you could end up making it seem okay or romantic simply by the way you cover the issue.

The most important thing to remember is that things like this affect the victims, both mentally and physically. Using rape or assault as a random plot point is where you can really start to mess things up. You need to think things through properly when you choose to include this in your story and make sure you know why it’s happening. Do your research and ask people if you can. Make sure the effects are seen long after the assault and don’t just gloss over it.

Victims are strong people, but they are human. Showing their struggles is a great way to humanise them and show that you understand that they went through a lot. If you just gloss over the details or make your characters get over assault really quickly, it makes it seem normal or okay. That’s one of the worst things you can do.

Don’t Romanticise

The worst thing you can do is make rape or assault seem romantic. It’s not romantic. It’s not sexy. It is awful and profoundly affects people. I’m not going to shame victims who get Stockholm Syndrome because it’s a real problem. If you’re not showing the readers that the character is experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, though, it’s not doing anyone any favours. You need to find a way to show that what the victim went through is awful. Also, how about you don’t keep an abuser as a love interest? I don’t know who thought this was a good idea.

Don’t Hide Behind POV

I see all you writers out there trying to make assault or rape seem okay using the POV. You’re just making everything look so much worse! It doesn’t matter if the MC “loved him anyway”. If the abuser didn’t know that they wanted it, that’s still wrong. I mean, think of it this way: we might be seeing into the MC’s head, but all you need to do is switch it to the abuser’s point of view and it gets really disgusting. They have no way to prove that the victim wanted it. In fact, they only have proof that the victim wasn’t giving them consent, but they’re abusing them anyway. No amount of “well they really loved it” should explain that away.

So as a writer, you shouldn’t be using the point of view to make the rape seem okay. No clear consent was given, so it shouldn’t be happening! If the MC actually did want sex, they shouldn’t have been saying no (unless this is some sort of arrangement and there’s a safe word involved). If they’re saying no but think they want it, maybe they’re not emotionally ready for sex yet, even if it appeals to them. It’s not romantic for the abuser to take that choice out of their hands.

Why is it Important?

Rape and sexual assault shouldn’t be normal. They shouldn’t seem normal. We shouldn’t be teaching young people that it is normal for someone to abuse them. We have the power to decide what seems okay and what doesn’t in our stories by the way we write. If we choose to write abuse as okay, we’re adding to a huge problem that affects many people’s lives. The more a young person sees rape as okay in the media, the easier it is for them to start believing that. Why would you want to help a problem like rape to continue?

Be extra sensitive

Rape and sexual assault are really sensitive topics and they should be treated as such. They can affect anyone from any walk of life, and it is important that we show we understand and care about the survivors. That’s why it is important to include information on how people can get help in your story or in your social media afterwards. Stories can be a great way to raise awareness for issues, and using this to guide others to the help they need can be a good way to show your support and understanding.

If you are suffering from rape or abuse, there are many services aimed at helping both men and women. I have included a few below

UK

US

Including these in your story may be a good idea, along with any that will help people in your country in particular.

I hope this has helped you understand consent a little better.

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