Two ways to read "Consenting Adults" and why we should celebrate the phrase

There are at least two ways to read the phrase "consenting adults," and I think it matters which approach we take.  First, there's the breezy approach to the phrase and that can be either mocking or light.  Social conservatives mock the phrase sometimes as an "anything goes" approach to sexuality.  But others sometimes use the phrase in a joking manner, too, as in "Hey, whatever consenting adults choose to do..."  A chuckle is supposed to follow the "..."

But there's another way to read the phrase and I'm influenced by being an ally of the bisexual community where there is a great deal of discussion of sexual assault.  In fact, I think you can't miss the discussions of sexual assault in any forum focused on the bisexual community.  After spending a great of time learning all I can to be a better bi ally, I think the way to read the phrase is "consenting [long pause] adults." 

Why the long pause between the two words?  The long pause brings to bear the struggle of victims of sexual assault and the long, sad history of using sexuality for neither love nor pleasure but for violence.  It is a reminder that sexual assault affects every community, particularly gender and sexual minorities. 

"Consenting adults," given that history, is not some libertine phrase.  It is the antithesis of abuse and assault and coercion and force.  It isn't "anything goes" and it isn't fodder for jokes.  It is basic to any real sexual and interpersonal ethic. 

Consenting...adults--let's give it the joy and dignity it deserves!

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