“This reads to me like an attempt to control, manipulate, and cow another person.”
Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice columnist, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, revealed in a podcast released Wednesday how a woman’s attempt at awakening her husband to the joys of affirmative consent led to a nightmarish scenario wherein he now refuses to sleep in the same room as his wife, lest she accidentally touch him while they’re in bed together.
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“At first, he decided that he didn’t want to engage in any physical intimacy without explicitly discussing consent and parameters each time,” the advice-seeker wrote. “And I was on board with that thinking it would improve our connection. However, he recently decided that he doesn’t want to have any physical contact whatsoever without discussing consent first.”
Eventually, the man moved out of the couple’s shared bedroom because he feared nonconsensual “incidental contact” during the night. He also began to refuse any physical contact, including handholding, hugs, or kisses. The letter-writer described an instance where her husband blew up at her because she tapped him “very lightly” on the shoulder while he had headphones on. Insisting that his wife should have texted him to get his attention before initiating contact, the man said he “felt physically assaulted.”
“Of course, the right of any person not to be touched, at any time, for any reason, overrides anyone else’s desire for affection,” she wrote. “But sleeping alone every night and asking my husband if I can hug him is not what I had in mind for our marriage.”
The couple is on a months-long waiting list to receive marriage counseling.
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Ortberg was disturbed by the behavior of the advice-seeking woman’s husband, which he rejected as a true representation of what the “language of consent” looks like. Instead, he said the woman’s description of her husband’s actions resembled “a parody of what a troll thinks consent is.”
While not outright dismissing the notion that the man might be suffering from some latent trauma that could be treated through therapy, Ortberg was skeptical. “This does not read to me like someone who is currently trying to work through trauma and is panicked,” he said. “This reads to me like an attempt to control, manipulate, and cow another person.”
“He is attempting to turn your marriage into an incredibly tense, fraught place where you feel like you have to ask his permission to hold hands,” Ortberg added. “And that feels like a real red flag because that could absolutely get pretty emotionally fucked up pretty fast.”
The concept of affirmative consent has become ideologically fraught in recent years. Progressive and feminist advocates argue that structural power imbalances between men and women in a patriarchal society necessitate a “yes means yes” model for sexual encounters. Meanwhile, critics of the notion claim it is impractical and ineffective.
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