After a recent trip to the dentist, Kate Spencer* writes about consent, and the importance of knowing that granting your permission, even for the smaller things, can have a big affect on yourself and the life you live.
Last week I went to the dentist to schedule a date to get my wisdom teeth removed. I took the morning off college but was in a rush to make it back to an MCQ in the afternoon. Hastily ignoring the gory details of the impending operation, I made a quick dash for the door when things seemed to be wrapping up, but just before I could make it out the door, my dentist caught me by the arm and held me back. Startled by this sudden action, I realised I had forgotten to fill out one of the documents, my consent form.
Really not in the mood for anymore surgery talk, I just told him to tick it himself, that it would be fine. But after he explained the underlying (covering their own ass) importance of my understanding of what was going to happen to me, what was going to happen to my body under anaesthetic, it occurred to me how ignorant I had been in that moment.
I, like so many another person my age, was ready to heedlessly ignore consent. To me the consent form stood in the way of what I wanted, to get the hell out of that dentist’s office without another word of tooth extraction. But lets get out of the dentist’s office, and move to the bedroom (figuratively speaking, of course). What is consent standing in the way of there.
This got me thinking, what would happen if I hadn’t signed that form? What would happen if my dentist decided to pull out a couple of extra teeth while he was at it? If I hadn’t signed the consent form would he be allowed to do that?
Or maybe, what if:
- If I got really drunk before the operation and passed out, could he do it then?
- Or if it’s Hallowe’en and I’m dressed as a sexy patient?
- What if I drunk texted my dentist arranging to book the appointment?
- Or if he keeps asking me to let him do and tries to convince me I’ll feel great with an extra few teeth missing. Is it acceptable then if I eventually agree?
- What if I’m too scared to say something because he’s holding a drill so I just let him do it
- How about if my dentist heard I’m a big slut and he knew no one will believe me if I talk about it later?
- What if this dentist has already operated on me, can he just do it as much as wants to me now?
- What if I woke up half-way through the procedure to change my mind but he keeps going? What would happen then?
Obviously I’m using a metaphor here, but I’m sure you can understand what I’m saying.
I realised that day that consent is not something that can be decided for me by someone else. I can’t dash off because I have more important things on my agenda and let the box be ticked for me. Consent is not an obstacle. It is not a hurdle to overcome for sex. It’s verbal, enthusiastic, sober, unequivocal, never forced, and not assumed. Consent isn’t something that carries over from one act to the next. It’s an ongoing conversation, an open line of communication about what you like and what you want to do right this second. Consent can be boring or awkward or not really sexy, but consent is mandatory. It must be asked and never assumed that the box will be ticked for you.
While my dentist with the tooth fetish could hypothetically be prosecuted for violating me without my consent I ask myself is that enough? The gap in my missing teeth that he left behind remains void even after he is branded for life. It leaves a gap in my smile, my personality, the way I used to look and interact with people. My real tooth will never grow back and anything that covers the gap will always be fake. That is the true consequence of what happens after rape.
*In the interest of anonymity, a pseudonym has been used.