It looks like a meme. An adult man and woman kiss. She says “I’m horny” and he replies “me too”. They get into bed, take off their clothes. They are comfortable. They are interrupted by the voiceover from Big Brother who asks them “please remember to give consent”. It looks like a meme, but it’s a reality show.
The first thing: consent is only for those people involved in the sexual encounter as long as it is free, informed, conscious and clear. “40 million Argentines are going to be watching us,” the participant had said about what that “first time” would be like. It is true: there are cameras and there is an audience. I’m not sure if that’s enough for someone outside the couple to have to give permission or not.
A rape complaint: the antecedent to the consent clause
It is a rule and is part of the contract that each of the reality show participants signed before entering. Before having sex, those involved must make a signal to the camera together expressing agreement. It doesn’t matter if you’re an established couple or if you’ve had sex before, you’ll need to express it every time.
The same thing happens in sex outside a television set: in each encounter, consent is revalidated. Having said yes once does not mean that we have said yes forever and in any circumstance. But the reasons for reality are different.
In Spain, a trial is still awaiting a date for a complaint of rape that occurred inside the “most famous house” in November 2017. That is: in front of the television cameras and the producers of the cycle who did nothing but continue recording.
Action and omission of Big Brother in the face of abuse
It is known as Carlota Case. “We were having a party at the house, one of many. The normal thing was that they provided us with alcohol. I remember that I was worried because we barely had food and the effects could be greater. And well, it made me feel bad, just as it could have made other people feel bad. The last thing I remember well is being in the kitchen,” Carlota Prado said in one of the few interviews she gave after the fact.
What she does not remember was that while she was lying in bed, her partner in the cycle approached, slept with her and there was sexual activity, despite the fact that she said “I can’t” and made rejection gestures with her hands. Big Brother did not say anything until the next day, when he decided to kick out the male participant (José María López) and summoned Carlota to the confessional. Without warning or restraint, they showed him the images of the previous night. Of course, they also recorded her crying.
only yes is yes
Last year, the organic law for the Comprehensive Guarantee of Sexual Freedom, better known as “Only yes is yes”, was approved in Spain. The rule says: “It will only be understood that there is consent when it has been freely expressed, through acts that, in view of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the will of the person.” The objective is that those who have suffered a sexual assault no longer have to prove that they mediated violence or that they offered resistance.
The law -which was not exempt from controversy in its treatment and approval- was a response to the well-known case of an attack on a woman in Pamplona that occurred in 2016 during the San Fermín celebrations. The courts of first instance questioned the victim that when she found herself cornered by five men in a doorway, she let them do it to save her life.
The sexual contract signed by the participants of the Argentine edition of Big Brother has one more clause: it prohibits under any circumstances the possibility of having sexual relations if there was alcohol in the house. It does not matter that those involved give their consent to the camera. Will there be a protocol to avoid breaches? Will they enter the house to interrupt a couple who does not comply? Will they do a breathalyzer test?
In favor: the new rule puts the concept of consent on the screen and with rating peaks. It was not so long ago that sexual relations were considered a “marital duty” and it is still difficult to understand that rapes occur within a couple. And they happen. If the reality show was always a trigger for conversations, then it is good that this topic is talked about.
Against: the dramatization of consent leaves a confusing message. It seems the materialization of the macho jokes that proposed that a woman sign a paper before having sex to protect herself against possible false complaints later. And it is important to say it: neither a thumbs up nor a signed paper nor a condom on. No matter how far you have gone, consent can always be revoked.
Actually, it is more fair to say that consent is renewed all the time during the sexual encounter. It can be “no” to one practice, but “yes” to others. In an established couple, in a casual encounter or on a reality show. As in life itself.