↑ comment by HughRistik ·
2011-04-10T01:14:08.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Okay, so it's not a fundamental necessity, but it's not a noble lie either; it's a matter of ethics.
So it's an ethical necessity? Or something that's just a good thing to do but not ethically required?
The consequences of misunderstanding, probabilistically weighted, are still serious enough that it's ethically better to maintain a habit of making a bit of sexy talk before hopping in bed with any new partner.
I lean in the same direction, but there are some things that make me uncomfortable about this argument.
The practice you advocate is only one point along a continuum of certainty over consent. Why does a "bit" of sexy talk put you other the ethical cutoff, but those body language cues aren't good enough? Why not draw the cutoff line somewhere less restrictive, or somewhere even more restrictive?
If the costs of misunderstanding are so high, then why only make a "bit" of sexy talk? If you should ask once, why shouldn't you ask twice? If you should ask twice, why not ask three times? If you should ask three times, why not give a week-long cool-off period and see if you two still want to have sex? Why not have consent forms? Actually, to completely avoid any probabilistic costs, why not stay home?
To make up some numbers, let's say that the body language cues I mentioned give a conditional probability of 95% person that someone is communicating consent to sex, and verbal communication gives 96%. Meanwhile, even more extensive communication could get you up to 99%. Lawyers could get you up to 99.9%.
Until we identify the moral principle behind picking a point on this continuum, there is no way to avoid a reductio ad absurdum.
The other factor not present in your comment is the benefits of sex, and the costs of attempting communication. Your comment only recognizes the probabilistic cost of abstaining from verbal communication. Recognizing the costs of various forms of verbal communication could explain why we aren't bringing in consent forms and lawyers. But if you say that those extra measures aren't necessary, or that they are costly, then why is explicit verbal communication necessary over the forms of nonverbal communication I suggested? Why does just a bit of sexy talk just happen to hit the sweet spot of costs vs. benefits of communication?
Some people find communication over consent to be costly: not just to themselves, but to the other partner. If a sufficient fraction of the class of people you date find it undesirable when you attempt to communicate verbally about consent, then you must consider that possibility in your moral calculation about how to initiate sex with them. You must not only consider the cost of failing to communicate verbally when the other person wants you to; you must also consider the cost of communicating verbally when the other person expects you to initiate purely based on a nonverbal signal. Those costs are not symmetrical, but both most get some kind of weight.
You might hold that even if communicating about consent verbally is probabilistically costly, the expected value (to the other person) of communicating is still positive. I would agree, for the class of people that I generally date, and my skills and level of attractiveness. With pickup skills, I can take the potential attractiveness loss of sexual communication, or avoid that loss altogether by knowing how to frame my communication in an attractive way.
I don't find basic communication over consent around sex to be too costly, but I do find other sorts of sexual communication to be costly. For example, asking someone what they want to do sexually, or how I can please them, usually results in women looking at me like I'm an alien (they prefer that I just initiate something, or that they do so, "spontaneously"). So I've stopped asking that question unless I am sure that the other person would enjoy that sort of communication.
However, I am uncomfortable taking what works for you and me, and ethically requiring it of other people. If you are trying to date a population of people who absolutely hate verbal communication over sex, then resorting to strong nonverbal signals might actually be way to initiate with the highest expected value. If you did attempt communication, you might simply be discarded as a mate in favor of people who are even less scrupulous than you, and who are more likely to harm others. In such a (sub)culture, the ethical strategy (at least, from a consequentialist standpoint) might be to do everything in your power short of verbal communication to confirm consent.
I'm uncomfortable with people like you and me (who are probably psychometric outliers) taking our preferences and defining them as the "right" way to do things, while the preferences of others are defined as "wrong," without them getting any say. And then we go and demand that everyone initiate in the way that we say, or they are being "unethical." If we are going to make a demand like that, we better be damn sure that we are right.