The Faults of Verbal Communication

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s a saying that’s been around for ages. It’s a pretty simple concept to understand too. Compared to the word “park,” the picture provides a lot more information. What kind of park is it? Are there trees, and if so how many? What’s the weather like? What time of day is it? It would require a ton more words to try and describe every detail that can be captured in that picture. Therefore, that picture is worth a thousand (give or take) words. But in today’s world, there’s something even more valuable than pictures. Videos. Most TV, movies and the like are played at 24 pictures per second, with some higher end productions getting up to 48 even. Assuming you’re watching a one minute long clip, and it’s playing at 24 pictures per second, that’s 1440 pictures, or the equivalent of 1,440,000 words. That’s a whole lot of words. And that’s only a minute! The point is, in a lot of situations, words may not paint the entire picture by themselves. Which is why I find it so crazy that people ever tell me that me and my partner shouldn’t be allowed to have sex because he can’t verbally say the words “I consent.” So today, I’m going to show how stupid words can be, and prove that words shouldn’t be the be all end all when it comes to consent.

Let’s start with a simple way that words are fallible. Lies. It is possible with words to just say things that aren’t true at all. Lies can be easily used to take what would otherwise seem consenting and turn it upside down. For instance, if someone says “I got STI tested, and I’m all clean” while knowing that they’re infected with something, and then proceeds to have contraceptive-less sex on that premise, even though both parties consented to the act, even if they specifically both said “I consent,” the words that that foundation is built upon are already spoiled. The person knowingly putting the other person at risk is putting the other person into a position where they don’t have the ability to consent to the risk. All while still using words.

Here’s another example. Say that there’s a person hooking up with another person. The first person has had a crush on the second for a long time, and so when the second started flirting, they were really excited. But then, the second says they want to engage in a kink, something like flogging. The first really doesn’t like flogging, and doesn’t really want to do it, but feels like they need to if they ever want to have a shot at building a relationship with the second. So when the second asks “Do you like flogging? Do you consent to being flogged?” the first says yes, even though they don’t really want to do it. Maybe they’re nervous, and feel uncomfortable saying no. Maybe they feel pressured into it. Or maybe they just don’t feel like they have any other shot of making the sex happen. In this situation, there is consent that’s being given, they can say the words, but in reality not all parties are actually enjoying the action. This, in my opinion, isn’t really consent either. The person subjecting themselves to the flogging may have been willing, but if it’s because they felt uncomfortable saying no, then the consent isn’t really real. Similarly, I would argue that the person doing the flogging also isn’t really consenting, considering that the situation was based around the first person being interested, and so if they really aren’t they don’t fully understand the situation, and therefore can’t fully consent. Once again, words have failed us.

Let’s look at one more example. This one gets talked about the most in the media, but I still think it’s important to cover. Say that person A and person B are at a party. Person A has a crush on person B, and so throughout the party is flirting with them, although Person B doesn’t really seem interested and ignores Person A’s advances. Person A leaves for a while and comes back, and now person B has had a bunch of drinks and is drunk as a skunk. Person A flirts again, and this time person B is receptive. So persons A and B go off and do their thing, both eager and willing participants. In the morning, person B comes to, realizes what happened, and regrets it. Even though at the time they were consenting to it, and said that they wanted to do it, there was an additional factor at play that modified the way that consent was able to be given. I think it’s pretty obvious, but the take away here is that this is another place where just looking at the words isn’t enough to actually define whether or not consent was given for the action.

And that brings us to memes. A bit of a rough jump there I know, but we’ve got places to be. Memes, for anyone that doesn’t go on the internet, are pictures that are used to convey a complicated idea that would take too much time to explain in words. Typically, it’s an emotion or feeling, often used as the premise for a joke. Let’s use Surprised Pikachu as an example. Surpised Pikachu is just that, it’s a picture of a Pikachu looking surprised. Typically, it’s used ironically, to convey that you’re sarcastically pretending to be surprised at something that you actually thought was completely predictable. So in some online chatroom, you might post a picture of Surprised Pikachu with the caption “my face when the world didn’t end in 2012.”

The point of the meme to go along with the text is to convey more information more efficiently than with just text. The picture is communicating the metaphorical thousand words that then make the joke work. If it was just the text, it wouldn’t make any sense, or at least wouldn’t be as effective. We see a picture, and we get an idea of what the picture is trying to tell us. In fact, the picture tends to supersede the words. The picture itself conveys more than just the words by themselves would. Memes are such a popular way of communicating because it’s easier than words. And it’s pictures. It’s images of things, and we as humans look at that and understand them. The words on top just reframe the image.

So, let’s talk about how animals consent. They don’t use words, but they communicate with us all the same, using actions. Body language. They show us what they want, instead of telling us. In the same way that when my partner wants pets, he’ll drop his head down directly onto my hand, if he wants me to touch other parts of his body he knows how to get me to do so. Male animals will become aroused, they’ll mount, they’ll pay special attention to the area they know gets penetrated. They’ll clearly be eager and engaged in the situation. My partner is frequently the one asking me for sex, and he can be persistent. Females have their own ways of requesting sex too. They’ll perform an action called flagging, where they stand in front of their prospective partner, raise their tail, and then look back to make sure that you’re paying attention to what they want you to be paying attention to. They’ll also sometimes rub themselves up against you, specifically using their bits. Obviously, different individuals and different species have their own unique ways that they communicate, but the point is that generally speaking, it’s pretty easy for an animal to communicate that they’re an eager and consenting partner.

To be clear, I’m not saying that verbal communication is a bad thing. There are definitely some advantages to being able to speak in more detail with someone. My point is just that using a verbal “I consent” is by no means ultimate form of determining what is and isn’t actually consentual. And that’s not even getting into the fringe cases like mute people, people that don’t speak the same language, and play involving gags. Instead of focusing on a few words, it’s more important to step back and take a look at the full picture. Because a picture is worth a thousand words. And if that picture is of a girl in heat with her tail raised, those are some pretty great words indeed.

Article written by Tarro (December 2022)

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