April 8, 2022

Does Feeling Physical Pleasure Mean You Consented? An Interview with Professor Michael Salter

Does feeling physical pleasure while being abused equate to implied consent? In this episode, Alan and Prof Michael Salter this often taboo question.

It might be assumed that victim experiences of sexual violence are characterised by fear and pain, and while this is true for many, this is more complex than we like to think. Increasingly, sexuality research is recognising that people can desire and have a positive regard toward sexual encounters that they do not consent or agree to, however there is limited scholarship examining victim experiences of pleasure or arousal during sexual violence.

Alan and Michael discuss :

  • How victim arousal or pleasure in the context of non-consensual sexual activity is often conflated with consent by victims, perpetrators and bystanders.
  • Victims whose experiences of sexual violence are complicated by pleasurable physical or emotional dimensions can experience significant shame and self-blame, which inhibits disclosure and help-seeking.
  • Sexuality education and sexual assault prevention strategies should recognise and address the distinctions between arousal, pleasure and consent.

The discussion is based on a research paper prepared by Prof Salter and Hyun Ji Shin which draws on a thematic analysis of 50 posts describing the experience of arousal and/or pleasure during sexual violence drawn from Reddit, the popular online discussion board. The findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between physiological arousal, psychological pleasure and consent, and the significant shame and self-blame of survivors who feel that an aroused or pleasurable response implicates them in their own assault. The paper closes by reflecting on the importance of distinguishing between consent, arousal and pleasure in sexual violence policy and practice, and recognising that arousal and pleasure are features of non-consensual as well as consensual encounters.1

Only by discussing such a difficult and sensitive subject might we be able to fully understand what consent means, and how damaging misconceptions and ignorance of the issue can be.

  1. Shin, H. and Salter, M. (2022) Betrayed by my body: survivor experiences of sexual arousal and psychological pleasure during sexual violence, Journal of Gender-Based Violence, vol XX, no XX, 1–15, DOI: 10.1332/239868021X16430290699192

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