'Consent' is an easy word to grasp but a difficult concept to put into practice, particularly when it comes to something that is already as complicated as sex. Does your partner want it? Is what's being done something that they enjoy? Is what's happening going too far for them? Is the sex thought to be playful and the 'way it is' to you but causing harm and distress for your partner? In A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent, Chicago-based cartoonist Isabella Rotman shows us how good sex begins with an open discussion about consent, how to talk about it with your partner, and how they apply to all kinds of sex, from the most traditional to the most experimental.
Written by Isabella Rotman
Art by Isabella Rotman and Luke Howard
Lettering by Isabella Rotman
Published by Limerence Press (a subsidiary of Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group)
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Rotman focuses on making sure that everyone involved in sex is cognizant of what is happening or about to happen, is comfortable with these acts, and is proceeding at a pace that meets both people's mutual wants and desires. She wants affirmative consent to be part of the whole event. Through the wonderfully bouncy yet authoritative character Sergeant Yes Means Yes, Rotman outlines what consent is: the ability to communicate 'yes' with the full awareness of what it means. This may sound dry and limiting but Rotman wants to show how healthy, simple, and just plain decent sharing consent for whatever acts are to follow really is. When there is no true consent, then one of the participants is imposing their will on the other and that is a dark and dangerous path to follow.
Sergeant Yes Means Yes, our gender-fluid guide, presents their instructions in an impishly fun way. They are present to make sure that the best possible sex is possible while playing the role of conscience and advocate for the partners. They promote sex where both people are equals in the act. This may be one of the most obvious points of the book but also one of the ones that goes against what we've been trained to think and feel. Sex gets complicated because of how we've been conditioned to think about it thanks to popular media isn't always the most healthy way to approach it. We may think that being strong or forceful, but never crossing certain lines, is just the way to do it. Or we may believe that the roles during sex fall into defined gender roles but Rotman's views on sex are so much more open, fun, and healthy than that.
Walking us through the considerations and discussions that need to happen for true affirmative consent to be given by both sides, Rotman focuses mostly on sex as being between two people. Maybe it's just for the sake of simplicity on an already complicated subject, in her appendix she does suggest the possibility for multiple partners. And throughout the book, while she opens with a mostly relatable lesson with a man and a woman, she does demonstrate how these principles apply to all kinds of sex, such as between same-sex partners or even with partners who engage in more domination-based practices. Even while the sex may be different, the need for consent doesn't change.
These are difficult discussions to have but Rotman has an enjoyable, light touch to her cartooning that gives weight to the subject but never becomes pedantic or even accusatory. She recognizes that like in all things, asking for and giving consent is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Her artwork is attractive and sexy in ways that enhance the subject without exploiting it. This isn't a sex guide but just one small yet vitally important part of it. Her guide is inclusive, welcoming, and totally non-judgmental as long as you learn and take the lessons of it to heart.
A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent preview
Breaking down the dos and don'ts about consent, Rotman explains it as a clear, mutual, and continual process between those involved, but she makes it sound a lot more fun than that. It's an obligation of both partners that at first may be a bit awkward but is a skill like any other skill, to be practiced and honed. Its methods change as partners and relationships change but the final goal is always the same; the understanding and agreement of any sexual act. Rotman shows that you've got to work at asking for and for giving it.
In a better world, the ideas in Isabella Rotman's A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent would be second nature to us, a completely normal part of sex. It should be second nature but that's just not how it is. Rotman's book covers this topic that we are just not comfortable talking about but she presents it in a clear, easy, and fun way. He book takes the fear and uncertainty around this aspect of sex away, giving us both permission and the responsibility to talk about consent with our partners.