Consent culture and fitness

In gay fiction, the nerd/jock romance is a very common trope. In the standard take, the jock is an attractive closeted high school boy with homophobic friends. The jock archetype works well in these stories, because he’s an object of desire that comes with a source of conflict and character arc for free. The jock archetype is emphatically not the same as jocks in real life.

I recently had occasion to read a gay romance (see review) that was allegedly true and autobiographical. So while it might be described as a nerd/jock romance, he’s a real jock, not the fictional archetype that I’m accustomed to in this context. He is not in high school, he does not have homophobic friends, rather he just spends a lot of time working out and being concerned about his appearance.

I was shocked how disagreeable it was to me, and why. The sticking point was that jocks (in the novel) do not observe consent culture.

When I talk about consent culture, I’m not talking about sex. I’m referring to a broader set of values around respecting other people’s choices rather than making assumptions about what they want. Consent culture is not just about asking people’s permission, but also giving ample space for people to say no, giving them an out without negative social repercussions. It’s about not hitting on people while they are trapped with you on an elevator.

The opposite of consent culture, which I will call “pressure culture” for lack of a better term, is when people pressure each other to do things because they “know” they’ll like it in the end.

Consent culture is extremely important to me, not just as an ace, but also as a certified disliker of popular media. I’ve spoken before about my disidentification with geek culture, primarily because when I think about geek culture, I think about people relentlessly pressuring me to try their favorite sci-fi/fantasy franchise. The geeks I grew up with were observers of pressure culture, and that’s why I don’t like Star Wars. But that’s not to say that pressure culture is uniquely a geek problem, geeks are just the group I had personal experience with.  Maybe it’s more of a White masculinity problem, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Do jocks follow pressure culture? I’m sure jocks are as diverse a group as any other. However, the book made a compelling case for a connection between working out and peer pressure. In the book, the characters spend a lot of time working out. When they work out, the pressure each other to go further and further, beyond their perceived limits. They openly complain about being pressured. But then, after the workout, they admit that it felt good. They are glad that they were pressured into a more intense workout.

And then, since their value system revolves around working out, they follow the same pattern of behavior in the rest of their lives too. They pressure each other into academic success, into wearing nicer clothes, getting up at earlier hours, and trying activities that they would normally stay well away from. (And yes, sex too.) I don’t like it.

But, I don’t want to be unduly prejudiced against people with different perspectives on life, so I naturally wonder, maybe there’s some sense to it? I mean, it at least makes sense for the workouts, right? I’ve heard plenty of people say that they struggle while working out, but afterwards they feel good about it. Maybe peer pressure helps some people get over the hump.

I can’t say that I have ever felt that way about a workout, and I find it very demotivational to hear that’s how it works for other people. Exercise is an unpleasant activity that people often say is worth it because of a supposed psychological reward. But that psychological reward has never been bestowed upon me, which naturally has me wondering why I should bother in the first place. Now these days, I do have a regular exercise routine, albeit one that’s more popular among women than men. What motivates me to exercise? Honestly, I’m just not a very pleasure-seeking person. I will just do things that I don’t particularly enjoy, if I believe in their end goals.

Between pressure culture, and whatever anti-pleasure philosophy I follow, one might fairly say that maybe pressure culture is the lesser of two evils. If that’s how you feel, I’m not trying to change your mind! I can’t tell anyone that my way of life is better, I can only say that pressuring people into sex is probably bad. Although I find pressure culture deeply disagreeable and occasionally problematic, I’m open to the idea that it at least has some merit.

What are your thoughts on consent vs pressure culture? If you exercise, what do you do to motivate yourself?


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Consent culture is not just about asking people’s permission, but also giving ample space for people to say no, giving them an out without negative social repercussions.

    That smacked me in the face about forty years ago. I’m a smoker, but I always thought I was considerate, because I asked people if I could smoke in their house. People always said ‘yes’ back then. Until one said ‘no’. I was a bit shocked at first, but it occurred to me that perhaps people sometimes say ‘yes’ when they really don’t want to, because societal pressure (smoking was still largely ‘OK’ then). I never asked again. I just assumed non-smokers didn’t want me stinking up their house.

    Of course, I should have realized that much earlier.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    As for exercise: If I can get in four fairly intense 30 minute cardio sessions in a week, it leaves me physically and mentally relaxed, and much better able to cope with stress, for the whole week. The two hours of discomfort* is well worth it.

    *It’s not pure discomfort. There’s some satisfaction as the sweat pours off, and I get into a nice rhythm (music helps).


    My husband and my friend since high school give me a constant study in maleness and pressure. Both were small as children, although they ended up about average height, and both are quite social. My husband doesn’t pressure anyone, while my friend, now a retired army officer, has it so baked in the cake that he is not fully aware of it I see that pressure is not essential to maleness (not easy to see if every male you know is standard issue). I also work out in a small group of women doing strength training with a coach. Coach does not promote competition, we all support each other at whatever level each can individually achieve. Yet I also see that competition inspires many people. Don’t know how to reconcile all this.


    On fitness: I started working out after a heart attack. At first it was trying to climb back to reasonable health. After seven years, the change in my body is so dramatic that being able to exercise is a joy that overwhelms any temporary discomfort. Seeing your ailing heart on a live angiogram is truly motivating.

  5. Allison says

    I guess where I’d draw the line between “good pressure” and “bad pressure” is whether the pressurer has actually made the effort to listen to and understand and make common cause with the pressuree. Is the pressuree actually going to feel better or happier if they give in, or are you just assuming they will? You mention examples of people getting pressured to exercise more, or whatever, and being happy with the result, but I suspect that in a lot of cases, the pressuree drops out and disengages from the pressurer, and the pressurer gets to dismiss the failure as being the pressuree’s fault. That’s at least what happens to me.

    I’m thinking of a doctor I had (and eventually left) who kept pressuring me to lose weight. Like most doctors who rag on their patients to lose weight, he had no interest in actually finding out why I wasn’t losing weight and simply assumed it was because I didn’t want to lose weight or was lazy or some other character flaw, so he didn’t need to do anything or think any further. It was the main reason I finally dropped him as my doctor.

    By contrast, at another practice, I had a doctor exploring ways for me to lose weight, including medications, and she also referred me to a nutritionist, who listened to what I was doing in life and suggested various things. Even though I didn’t lose weight from their actions, I didn’t feel pressured. (As it turned out, what did the trick was me retiring — I conclude that the overweight was due to stress eating.)

    Most of the time when I feel like someone is pressuring me, it seems like they are pressuring me to make themselves feel better, and whether I am happier as a result is beside the point. It kind of invalidates/erases me; I become just a conquest to prove their rightness.

  6. Katydid says

    Gym and sports culture can be terrible. Like clockwork in the USA, we get regular stories of high school or college sports teams that abuse teammates under the banner of “hazing”. It’s not limited to men–a few years ago, a young men’s magazine model secretly filmed an older woman who was just going about her business in the locker room and posted her online while snickering and making remarks over the woman’s average older body not being as young and camera-ready as the magazine model’s.

    As for doctors dismissing and blaming the patient for anything they can’t or won’t diagnose correctly: this is absolutely a thing. I struggled with worsening knee pain for about 20 years whenever I ran or played soccer. I sought help for years. GPs, orthopedists, and a couple of sports medicine doctors were stumped and decided I must be imagining the pain and/or crazy. Through a freak chance, a friend of a friend at a wedding saw me limping, said he was a chiropractor, and asked me to come in for a scan of my gait (took two minutes of walking across a sensor built into the floor) Turns out one of the three arches in my foot had collapsed and the foot problem was causing a torque in the foot which then impacted the knee. A $40 arch support in my shoe, and a month later, and I was pain free for the first time in decades.

  7. Katydid says

    @Allison: stress is so, so bad for our bodies in so many ways…and doctors don’t seem to want to address that. So much easier to blame the patient for being non-compliant, lazy, or stupid. Especially if the patient is a woman.

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