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I have a character who has a super power that gives them what can be best described as perfect pheromones, and when in their presence, anyone will volunteer for anything they want. (Eg in existing fiction: Lucius Lavin)

The proposal need not be verbal, there is some telepathic component to it. Sitting next to someone in a bar while thirsty will make them buy them a drink. They think it is their idea to do so while doing it, and for the weeks that follow.

The effect works through walls, it doesn't need line of sight but is faster with it, it has a range of about 10m, and it takes only a few seconds to start working. It won't work over the phone or internet, nor does it persist in an area after they leave.

The effect lasts forever when presence is maintained, but wears off slowly when separated. Someone they just met may stay under their spell for a few weeks. Someone they've been intimate with for a year might take 2-3 years to wear off.

After the affect wears off they soon realise they didn't want to do that and were tricked, or under a spell of some kind. After recovering, they're not immune, a second exposure and they're back to being completely a submissive "Yes-person".

What seems like a gift in their horny teenage years quickly becomes a curse, as they realise everyone they've truly loved is really just in love with the pheromones. Several times they've had what they believed to be consensual sexual encounters, only to find out months later that they never consented. They can't get arrested or convicted of an offence (as the police/courtroom falls under their influence).

The character has tried online dating, talked over webcam for hours with someone and agreed on what they wanted to do online before meeting up. Met up. Had a great night. And found out weeks later they wanted to withdraw consent halfway through, but the pheromones suppressed the no.

This character isn't a bad person at heart, they don't want to become the world's worst serial rapist. They have a sex drive, but want their partners to consent to sexual activities.

How can someone with this superpower ever hope to get informed consent?

Extra info from comments:

  • Effect has started at birth. They were a spoiled child and are only realising what damage their pleasure has had now, in their early twenties.
  • Not every sexual encounter has been rape in hindsight. But as the main character become aware of their power and its consequences, they've realised even one rape is too many.
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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 8 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ How does the victim know/decide what the Super wants? If the victim is under pheromone influence, but the super is far away, does the victim use all his mental power to guess what the Super would want? If this is the case, then the Super just has to convince his victim he will only be happy, if the victim does what it wants, irrespective of the Supers wishes? $\endgroup$ – Falco Sep 8 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Have you looked at the Jessica Jones TV series? One of the bad guys has something like this. Just so you recognize him, his name is Kilgrave and a major factor in why Jessica's PTSD is so strong. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Sep 8 at 21:26

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They don't want to become the world's worst serial rapist. They have a sex drive, but want their partners to consent to sexual activities. How can someone with this superpower ever hope to get informed consent?

Obviously they cannot. They can't get consent because, when it counts, the partner isn't able to validly consent - they have no free will.

But.

This looks like a XY problem. They don't actually want "informed consent". They want to have - let's call it "moral sex". Something the partner won't regret. And normally this entails informed consent, so they want informed consent.

So the solution is simple, if difficult to implement. Inform fully the partner of what is going to happen, demonstrate the loss of control phenomenon - "Try to not give me a $5 bill with 'I told you so' scribbled on it. You won't be able to." - and wait until the effect has vanished, then enquire again - via telephone.

Most potential partners will run for the hills. Most potential partners that thought they wanted this experience will also run for the hills. But be assured that someone will actually like the idea and agree to it (it is called an "Ulysses' pact" - something you do now, that binds the "future you" even if they won't want it).

The only thing is, they will have to take frequent leaves of absence from their partners to allow them to change idea about the whole relationship.

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    $\begingroup$ Testing the waters with a demonstration of them losing their free will is a really clever idea. I like it. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 7 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ Things get interesting when a character wants to make a permanent Ulysses' pact despite not loving the protagonist. E.g., a character who decides that happiness trumps free will or a character who is leveraging mind control to mitigate a health issue (depression, addiction, chronic pain, etc.). $\endgroup$ – Brian Sep 8 at 14:27
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A simple answer would be it is not possible to get informed consent at all for 2 reasons:

  1. Consent must be given at the time of the event, not some time before the event. This is especially important for sexual consent in our society.
  2. The person who consents should maintain the ability to revoke consent at any moment.

Legal strategies described in other answers are unable to secure and guarantee consent at all times.

Imagine a situation where your hero has a written contract (if you use legal means to obtain consent they will always result in some form of a legally binding written contract) specifying among other things consensual sex after dinner. Their date arrives and they go to a fancy place with great food, romantic atmosphere, everything. All is great, except one of the ingredients in the food triggers a migraine in your hero's sweetheart (yes, food can and does trigger migraines). Migraines are insanely painful and sufferers of them usually want to get in dark quiet places where they can be left alone and be comfortable. They would want to avoid any sex because it would only worsen the pain. Most medications are ineffective once migraine started. Your hero's pheromones and contract force the date to accept sex despite them struggling with migraine.

In this situation, you have contractual consent and you have consent forced by pheromones, but you do not have informed consent when it matters. There may be no legal consequences, but I would not consider the situation as morally clear and free of problems.

There are plenty of other problems associated with contracts related to sexual relationships, but I do not want to go into details here.

————

Informed consent may be possible if your character, indeed, has a superpower, i.e. they can learn to fully control it. If they can suppress their power reliably and stop affecting people around them, then getting informed consent becomes a trivial thing no different from the rest of the population.

If their power manifests like pheromones and fully bypasses consciousness, your hero may try to learn some meditation and emotional control techniques. This would take a lot of time and effort, would change their personality and lifestyle, but it might yield some results at the end. It would not guarantee free and informed consent from all people all the time, however. Even the most stoic and cold-blooded people feel emotions and form attachments to other people. If superpower is activated by emotions being next to someone the protagonist loves or hates would trigger those pheromones. And even if they manage to suppress their power it might be too late since the effects begin only a few seconds after exposure and last for days.

————— Edit —————

The way this entire discussion happens makes me really uncomfortable. Consent is much more than a legal agreement or a waiver.

Consent is a process, it is not a contract, obligation, or a promise. If someone agrees to have sex with you it does not mean that you can knock them unconscious or drug them and do whatever you like with them. That would be rape, not consensual sex.

Consent requires agency and free will. A person who has no control whatsoever is incapable of giving consent because they have no choice between allowing and not allowing something.

Consent requires the ability to express one's will. This is especially important when it comes to revoking one's consent. For anything to be truly consensual all involved parties must be in a position to say 'no' and stop whatever is done to them.

If any of these conditions are not satisfied we cannot talk about any real consent. Contracts and chaperones do not create consent, they just make rape legal.

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    $\begingroup$ I couldn't quite put my finger on why some of the other answers troubled me. This succinct answer brought clarity. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Sep 5 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Beta All three are not satisfied. You just need to be a decent human being to understand it, no law degree required. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 7 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ Consent requires the ability to express one's will. - and to be able to retract it any at any time whilst "in the act" - like a safeword. Problem is, while under pheromonic influence no one "will want to" retratct it - so strictly speaking its impossible. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Artner Sep 7 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ In other words, this solution must suppress the protagonist's superpower reliably. This can be achieved by the protagonist mastering control or by providing protection to the object of their desires. The former would be preferable since the latter places undue burden on the other party unless it is a form of inherent immunity. But then the solution would not be universal. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 7 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ "That would be rape" is accurate, but I would say "That IS rape". It happens so damn often in real world. $\endgroup$ – Blueriver Sep 8 at 3:19
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It resolves itself

The user finds out, and wants people to truly want it. So they have sex only when they consent.

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    $\begingroup$ @a4android it might not. Still I work with what I see, and I see nothing about the complexity of the wanting. He wants something and people tey to make it happen. He wants a drink, he gets it. He wants a drink from someone who can easily miss the money? Only that person does. He wants sex with consent that another truly wants to give? Or someone to stay with him of their own accord? He wants it, he gets it as I read it. The persons clearly still have their own thoughts that the want can use for complex wishes. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Sep 5 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ That's an interesting point, but they have been wanting this for a while, and it hasn't happened yet. Maybe "They don't truly want it" or something. I see this as them wanting someone to consent, so someone consents. But then they realise later that consent wasn't given freely. I think a fair analogy is: If I hold a gun to your head and say "Consent!", and you consent, it doesn't count because you were under duress. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 5 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash good point. Another to consider is that each 'complex' want is split into a want of it's own. Want sex. Want consent for it. One want might be stronger, so the sex happens. The person is only realising the lack of true consent, but might still grow into the idea and not want the consent enough at the moment. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Sep 5 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ The degree of self-control required to suppress all emotions and project only one desire, especially when it conflicts with sexual drives, is extremely hard to master. It would take years if not decades to get there. Mastering necessary techniques might be an emotionally traumatic experience on its own resulting in the flattening of the emotional range. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 5 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin there are shortcuts. If the person realises he/she might be raping people and possibly cause immense harm on multiple levels (like in rape victims getting orgasms, on top of getting raped), he/she might get appalled, horrified or get his/her own trauma. This will get them to a point that consent is way, way more important than the act of sex. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Sep 6 at 6:14
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Distance consent, safe proxies:

I have a character in a story who's a teenaged uncontrolled telepath, and has a similar problem. Fortunately, he lives on an isolated island in a society that is highly virtual. He finds a psychic love interest who is immune to his charms, but loves him for himself.

I think sex is the smallest of this character's problems. All they need to do is abstain. Every time he goes out, he would need to vigorously refuse any offer of anything free, and anything but prearranged contracts for everything would be highly suspect. It might be hard for him to make an honest living, as everyone around him would be desperate for his approval. The key is in the contract.

Your character needs to explicitly have potential romantic partners lay out a detailed contract making it clear what is and isn't acceptable. They need to know that once they are in his presence, they are no longer in control. It's not unlike the situation with bondage. There are people out there who gain a thrill from being out of control. The only problem is there's no safe word.

So to achieve the equivalent, the character or his date need to have a safe person, observing the relationship distantly and watching for violations of the contract. At any point, the safe person can call the shots on the date, ending everything. Traditionally, safe persons existed, regulating dates between young horny teens - it was called a chaperone. The safe person would be a close relative of the woman, usually, preventing undesired fooling around. Think of the movie "50 first dates" where the woman had to meet her love for the first time every day, and the intervention of her family was all that allowed the relationship to advance.

The relationship would probably need to be in a very slow motion, with weeks passing between dates, allowing the effect to wear off. At that point the person could agree to another date and another contract. If a safe sexual outlet were needed, we would need to know how virtual your society was. VR would allow some interesting options. The low-tech equivalent is a "handmaiden"-like arrangement with a prostitute, where the love interest is present but not directly involved. Otherwise sex is kind of off the table unless the character can find someone immune to his effect.

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    $\begingroup$ “once they are in his presence, they are no longer in control” - This. If a contract and consent can be obtained from a distance where this is known and understood in advance then things have a chance of working out. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 5 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ A contract that you describe creates obligations but does not create informed consent. For example, it may be stated in the contract that kissing of a particular type is allowed. However, it very much can be that the enthralled person does really not desire to have physical contact at this particular moment. They just want to talk and need emotional support. Not only they will be forced to accept the unwanted kiss, but the remote observer will not be able to see the violation of consent, because pheromones force submission to the desires of the protagonist. However, all obligations will be ok. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 5 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ I am also not sure that you understand how bondage works. If it is consensual all parties retain control. A person who is being bonded can always revoke consent and stop all activities. That is what 'safewords' are for. The other parties must oblige when it happens. If they don't it would be considered rape. There is never ever full loss of control. It is only a pretence. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 5 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin It's not my thing, but I'm not questioning that it exists, and that people are excited by it. Some of it is about pain and how much people are willing to endure, so if you exceed someone's tolerance, you need to be able to stop it. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Sep 6 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ There are still several issues: 1. Simply saying "I am able to psychically control other people" wouldn't create informed consent. The other people would have to truly believe this, and not think it was some put-on. 2. I don't think most people, especially women (the OP does seem to be avoiding gender-specific pronouns), would be okay with this. There's a difference between being willing to have sex with someone and be willing to irrevocably commit to sex. $\endgroup$ – Acccumulation Sep 6 at 2:24
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I notice none of the characters are gendered. Is the main character male or female or non binary? Was this intentional? I started writing a response using "He" but realised it isn't used.

Every jurisdiction I'm familiar with stipulates that when consent is removed during a sexual act, and it doesn't cease, it is rape. Your character could never guarantee that doesn't happen.

You would need to find someone who uses a different definition of consent - "I consent that this can happen regardless of what future me says". Can become: "I consent to subsequent non-consensual acts.". Or in colloquial terms: "Please rape me".

This statement being made is not a legal defence, and has no legal standing. But the legal issue seems secondary here, the character is trying to be judged by their own moral code, and by having a partner request this, they're supplying the partner what they request.

How many people out there will make that request?

The world is a diverse place, and ask enough people and you'll find every fetish has a community behind it. If you delve into the BDSM community, and then into the Edge Play / Risk Aware Consensual Kink sub-community, within that, you'll find Consensual Non-Consent. Here is an online community of 6700 members into CNC (signup required to view). There are also smaller groups on that site for people into CNC within a region or city.

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    $\begingroup$ Character is provisionally male, but I tried to use non-gendered language to keep options open. "Date within the CNC scene" is actually probably pretty plausible advice, and you're right about the moral code over legal I think. They'll need to repeat a fews time a "Warning this is really CNC and not just rough sex" disclaimer, but that is a good idea. +1 $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 6 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Moreso even than CNC, I imagine there's a lot of people in the hypnosis kink community who would fall over themselves to get to actively live out such a fantasy. You still have all of the same problems with consent, because you can't revoke it midway through, but that's mititaged somewhat if somebody is willing and able to give informed consent to being unable to withdraw consent midway through. You need the same protections around time and distance afterwards, of course, but I guess it's somewhat of a frame challenge to suggest 'find somebody who can sanely go without'. $\endgroup$ – Phoshi Sep 6 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ I thought all CNC was taken down in 2017? $\endgroup$ – Mast Sep 6 at 12:16
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This is quite a disturbing topic. I hope nobody takes this personally.

If the 'power' operates primarily on pheromone cues then in reality it's almost impossible for the target to realize that anything had happened unless the behavioral effect is contrary to a firmly held aversion to the act. Causing a dedicated pacifist to commit unprovoked violence against a stranger for instance. If the act does not cause a significant inner conflict, and if it is not 100% clear that the target was ordered into the act against what would normally be their will, then there is very little chance that the target/victim would be aware that they were manipulated.

Even if the act itself was normally abhorrent to the target there's an extremely good chance that they will internalize the responsibility for the act. Depending on the nature of the act they could suffer significant mental anguish and potentially radical self-image alteration leading to personality change or even psychosis. In short, the inner conflict could drive them insane.

If the act itself was something the person might choose to do under different circumstances then no such conflict should arise. If the target might have chosen to have sex with your protagonist without the influence of the power then they will almost certainly never realize that they did so because of external influence.

In this case the only chance the protagonist has of being caught out is if multiple targets confer on the strangeness of their behavior. A room full of court officials being manipulated to break the law for the protagonist who subsequently review the case and start asking questions would be quite likely to figure this out for instance. Video evidence that shows abrupt change in behavior would also help others to figure it out.

The same might be true of a telepathic influence operating on a subconscious level. As long as the target isn't confronted with clear evidence of manipulation they will continue to believe that it was their own choice to take those actions.

The only way they could work it out for themselves is if the power operates to supplant the ego of the target, leaving them fully aware during the activity that they are not in control of their own actions. Imagine being trapped in your own head for weeks while a stranger - one who is exactly like you in most respects but who is definitely not you - controls your every waking moment. You know what is happening but you can't do anything about it. You can't even look away from whatever it is you're doing because you have no volitional control over anything. All you can do is sit in the prison that is your body and watch. Over time as the control wears off the victim's own conscious mind would reassert control... and probably suffer complete mental collapse.

Either way is pretty terrible, but I think that being aware that you are acting against your own wishes and being unable to do anything about it would be by far the worst situation. Possibly the worst thing I can imagine happening to me, certainly. If it didn't break me it would set me on a path of vengeance against your protagonist.


Assuming that the "I know I'm being controlled" variant goes too far, there are a couple of other quite nasty social side effects that could happen once your protagonist's power becomes known.

As soon as anyone finds out that there's a mesmeric individual in their community, regardless of whether or not they know who it is, they will start to question all of their own past decisions and actions. For some this won't be a big deal, but for many it would be pretty damaging. A lot of people would start to lose confidence in the accuracy of their self image, which is a fundamental part of yourself that most people don't ever question. Some would go crazy without ever encountering the protagonist simply by knowing that such a thing is possible.

On the other hand, there will inevitably be those who will use the existence of such an ability to justify their own actions. "You don't understand, your honor, I was being controlled by that Puppeteer" will become the number one defense in court. And unless there's some way to prove them wrong... what do you do?

Eventually the society in which such an individual existed would be forced to destroy them or face destruction itself. The only alternative is to find a way to stop the effect, and there aren't many people who would be willing to take the chance that their society would survive long enough to get the job done.


What does all of this mean for your protagonist?

From the question it seems that they have a moral code that makes them at least try to do the "right" thing. In this case the most moral action I can think of (apart from suicide) would be complete isolation and study. Alerting the authorities would result in the protagonist being either locked away for study or terminated for the good of the society. Probably some agency or other would try to use the ability, with appropriate safeguards to prevent it being used on the agency itself.

Let's say the CIA decides to take your poor puppeteer and use their powers to further the Agency's interests. Nobody could ever resist interrogation, lie to the Agency or go against the Agency's wishes if they were controlled like this. A medium-range anesthetic dart or a room full of knock-out gas to bring the protagonist down, then implant a radio-controlled poison capsule to ensure compliance. Of course the people in control of the activator for this would have to be kept clear of the asset, but that's minor stuff that a simple telepresence rig can cover. The CIA has been doing shady crap for long enough to figure this out in a matter of seconds.

So yeah, run and hide. Because if they find you, you're worse than dead. They'll study how it works, try to replicate it, then either dispose of you when they figure it out or force you to do their dirty work for the rest of your life.


And now, the bit that most people probably don't want to hear...

Consent is irrelevant here.

Not because it doesn't matter, not because anyone is justified in proceeding without it, but because under these conditions consent cannot exist.

Consent is necessarily either ephemeral or meaningless. Free consent requires the freedom to withdraw consent at any time, immediately terminating the activity consented to. (Yes, even CNC - that's why people invented safe words.) Your protagonist's sexual partners don't have that freedom, so by definition they cannot give consent for the activity.

If they realize after the fact then they are completely justified in retroactively withdrawing consent; a legalism that here simply means recognition of the fact that any consent given was never in fact valid due to the coercion. And you know what we call non-consensual sex, right? Right.

Even if they manage to gain some control over the power they will probably never be able to know for certain that consent was given without their subconscious "accidentally" nudging the other person.

As a moral dilemma, this one is a doozy. If they aren't fundamentally immoral then the only realistic outcomes I can see from this are complete isolation or suicide.

For an amoral person however... well, let's just say "power corrupts" and leave it at that.

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Use an on line dating agency. Meet someone for the first time and take them out for dinner. Then say they have to go away for a few weeks and don't explain the situation. Call them back a month later. If they are still interested when that call takes place then I would say informed consent has happened at least as far as practical. To make certain on the second date explain the situation in full and say you will call them in a month if they are still interested after that then away you go.

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    $\begingroup$ Difficulty is that even in loving relationships sex can happen without consent. How would they solve that? $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Sep 5 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ They did try online dating - their issue was someone wanted to withdraw consent halfway through the night. But still +1, dating slow and turning down offers over and over should solve the problem. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 5 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Would you say that if someone goes out for dinner with someone else and a month later they are still interested then no further consent is required for sexual intercourse? $\endgroup$ – Blueriver Sep 8 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes normally I would but in this case I think there might be a need for extra caution - I wonder if there are lingering effects at a low level? Also out for dinner and sexual intercourse are the two ends of the dating spectrum. They might consent to the former but not the later. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Sep 8 at 6:16
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Telepresence robot proxies

This person has a superpowered curse if they cannot control it. They simply cannot be in contact with other people.

So they don't. They live in a Fortress of Solitude, and have robots to interact with others on their behalf. Someone dating this person will physically go on dates with the robot, which is being mentally controlled by this person.

Depending on what kind of neural linkups are possible, this will have pretty big restrictions on the sort of activities they can do together. Can a 'robot me' actually eat food, and I can taste it like I was there? Can I feel the cold breeze when a date is a walk in the woods in winter?

The technology to do this is beyond what we have today, but mind-computer interfaces have been in the prototype-human-usage phase for decades now. So it's not that much farther into the future.

The courts can deal, the penal system as a whole probably can't

The effects of this person's powers will be well known and very well documented. If they are ever put on trial for anything, they will participate via teleconferencing. They will not be permitted inside the courtroom. Of course a few trials might have taken place before this becomes well established, but once the judge snaps out of it, the power quickly becomes common knowledge and incontrovertible to the authorities.

Actually sending this person to jail would be extremely expensive. Jails simply are not designed to house someone in the kind of isolation needed to keep things from going pear-shaped. So any sentence will probably be converted to home confinement and/or a fine.

Even if your person is the only known example of this sort of superpower-type thing, because people snap out of it later, its effects will still be too obvious to ignore.

The system will not be blithely unaware this individual has powers. They're likely swamped with complaints dating to the period of time where this person was unaware of the insidious nature of their ability.

Aside from the question of 'how responsible do you try and hold someone who had no reason to suspect anything was wrong', they'll also be struggling with the logistics of how to deal with them, just as the person themselves struggles to try and grapple with that themselves.

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If the root of the problem is chemicals, the character might like to study chemistry and create some pheromone blocker. There may already be some on the market. Here's google for "pheromone blocker":

https://www.urinefree.com.au/faq/do-pheromone-blockers-prevent-future-soiling

Either a prevention of the creation of the pheromones on the character's end, or a blocker on the receiving end should do it. You can inform and get consent for use of the preventor/blocker with distance communications.

Otherwise - the super villain/ess (our hero's arch-nemesis?) has the unique superpower of hating everyone so much, that the pheromone power only brings them to mildly tolerate the guy. Start a wonderful relationship from there.

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  • $\begingroup$ The OP mentions pheromones but also says an element of telepathy is involved. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Sep 6 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ Not a bad idea though. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 6 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ @TonDay - telepathy blocker (aluminum foil hat)? $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Sep 7 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ If it wasn't for the telepathy then could they just date people with no sense of smell? Maybe needs a hand wave that what ever cause the lack of sense of smell also stops the pheromone's from being absorbed. $\endgroup$ – Rob Sep 7 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ The fact that this question is being posed at all presupposes that there is close enough to no effective way to suppress this superpower. Otherwise why all the fuss in the first place? It might be possible to devise a blocker, and some other superpowered individuals might be immune or resistant to it. But no tinfoil hat is going to block something explicitly described as working through walls. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Sep 7 at 12:44
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First of all, I would place a single source for this superpower, either telepathy or pheromones but not both.

Your character may be a powerful telepath unconsciously manipulating the minds of everyone around her.

Or his power may be pheromon-based (even though your characters may think it to be telepathy). This is not as detailed language, but your character finds that they can actually send much more messages than you'd have thought. So his pheromones may send "I'm thirsty", "I would like you to please me", "I want sex". So you couldn't say in pheromones "Provide me your credit card number and CVC" but they would be enough to get invited by the other person (of course, a detailed wish, plus the pheromones adding a pretty please would probably work). This can also cause some peculiar situations, such as the character entering into the bar thirsty and someone automatically buying him a whiskey, while he would have preferred a soft drink.

This would allow that some people with little to no olfaction were immune to your character. He may have one best friend (likely his only real friend) with no smell ability, which would at least give him a friend. He may be less convincing when people have a cold and a runny nose. On a book with a similar setup, a pizza company happens to always send one guy -which happens to have no olfactory sense- to one place (with people like that), since the other always "forget" to get paid.

The situation of your character is similar to those in a position of wealth/power in that she cannot really trust people around her. You will find they know a lot of people, yet have very little friends, often from a long time ago. Is this guy inviting her just trying to be sympathetic, or will he want some kind of benefit? Does he want to marry her or her money?

At least for them, those people are being submissive yes-people with the option to say no,* unlike with your character. Even worse, when she refuses to e.g. have sex with him (even though she would really wish to), in order not to (potentially) rape him, he will feel very hurted by her rejection, even though he wouldn't want to if he wasn't under the influence of her pheromones!

(*) If nothing else, in theory. You might not consider a viable option saying no to the company owner. But you actually can (and for certain kinds of requests you should).

Basing this effect on pheromones, it could be avoided by, for instance, wearing a diving suit (you mentioned walls, but not necessarily, depending on ventilation and people movements, which may make it look like it crosses walls). Not the best attire for a romantic night though (or almost any human interaction, maybe COVID-19 pandemic makes somewhat acceptable that he wears a suit like that?).

On the other hand, if you use telepathy at the root of the superpower, we have less scientific evidence on what would work. Would tinfoil hats prevent him from messing with other people's minds? It turns out a concrete wall doesn't block it, but perhaps bamboo does?

An interesting possibility that arises in both cases would be that you character found a partner with the same power. Would that confer them some protection against the other? Would one affect the other but revoking the consent would mean that the other person would unconsciously make your character to no longer be interested?

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We already have informed consent apps

Your superhero has a team of talented programmers in India — with the assistance of an international team of attorneys — build an informed consent app that can't be activated or used within whatever radius of his person (e.g., his own cell phone) is necessary to get people outside his influence.

The app will gently remind people that they've been... er... propositioned by said superhero, that he swears on the proverbial stack of bibles that he'll never take advantage of them,1 and that if they'd just consent he guarantees a night they'll never forget.

@DWKraus points out that I forgot about the persistence. That's gotta be a Frame Challenge — unless our superhero wants informed consent so badly that he's willing to wait weeks to years to get it. Or he's able to decide that he wants informed consent before meeting said person, such as seeing them from afar or reading about them. So I'm ignoring it.


1Right up until someone realizes that they're always under his spell when near him — then an endless stream of lawsuits blaming this guy's superpower for every bad decision made by every person on earth begins. This dude really needs that international team of lawyers. Hope he's rich. Of course, that's not a problem, is it? Dang! Another lawsuit!

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    $\begingroup$ Since his effect on people can persist for a considerable time after, the app would need to track time since last contact as well, and it wouldn't stop the person from ignoring the app or deliberately circumventing it to get to their "beloved." Tough challenge. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Sep 5 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ You're right on the "Everyone blaming him for every bad decision.". This won't get past the problem of withdrawing consent under the heat of passion, but an app may be a really good approach to this. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 5 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus That's a good point and I'd forgotten it. It's also a deal-killer for the superhero. I updated my answer. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 5 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash How can someone withdraw their consent under the heat of passion when your superhero's power is completely preventing that? $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 5 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I can't think of a way either. It's a wrinkle but I think it is unavoidable, hoping someone may of been able to spot a way. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 5 at 15:42
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Here are the options I have (to make this easier to read I am referring to the protagonist as a he):

Get Help From Other Super Powered Individuals

Is the protagonist the only person in the world that has super powers? If not then he should focus on trying to find someone who can suppress other super powers much like Eraserhead from My Hero Academia or Leech from X-Men. It may be awkward having a third person present or who has to maintain eye contact on the protagonist the entire night, but it would work.

Find a Technical Solution

As the one who is building the world, you can choose to include a technical solution in the world for your character to find. As such if the power is mental based, does there exist any medication that can interfere with the protagonist's thought processes in such away that it prevents the super power from working? Does the protagonist have any kind of kryptonite weakness that they can leverage that limits the super power?

Change One's Subconscious Desires

Currently the protagonist's desires consent while their subconscious desires sex. What the protagonists should be focusing on is that they desire to know what others want more than anything. Instead of focusing on what they can get get (in this case sexual gratification) focus on how they can help others. Thus his powers should influence others to tell him how he can help them, or what they truly desire. If that desire happens to involve sex... well congrats to the both of them.

As such doing this would be incredibly hard with no guarantee of success, but he can setup a situation by which he can tell if he has been able to achieve this:

  • Protagonist needs to find someone that he finds attractive and wants to have sex with
  • Said person wants to keep their relationship strictly platonic and is willing to help the protagonist train his superpowers on themselves.

At this point the protagonist knows that there will never be consent so if the other person starts to give consent verbally or starts making moves that would imply a desire to have sex, then the protagonist needs to back off. The goal would be for the friend to be able to be in the presence of the protagonist for extended periods of time without sex coming up.

Outside of that controlled test, protagonist should be observing if people approach him asking for help versus people coming to him offering him their help. Once people can reliably say no and disagree with the protagonist does the protagonist know that he is finally in control of his powers. At that point he needs to maintain that level of focus over his powers constantly and frequently use of long distance communication to confirm his powers are still in check. Much like former addicts constantly fight temptation he would need to constantly fight his own subconscious to make sure it stays in line with what he desires.

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Frame challenge:

All consent is "in the moment" and influenced by circumstances. We all have moments in our lives that - seen with some distance especially in time - don't seem as terrible or as pleasurable anymore as they did in that moment. We all have moments where we did something we don't fully understand later, but in that moment seemed right.

It is also common, without any superpowers, that people change their minds or remember events differently, including consent given or not.

I dare to say that in any sense of the word, as in use today, both legally and commonly, your character does have consent, at that moment, and that is what matters. "I changed my mind" and "he seemed to cute but now not anymore" don't get sympathies nor legal standing.

HOWEVER - that is what you're after. You should not worry about consent, but about manipulation. Your superpower is simply a super version of powers that exist - sweet-talking, charm, or the tricks and deceit of seduction. There actually are people in the world who are very charming, not manipulative, and end up with fans and lovers all the time that they don't actually want. Beautiful women likewise are rarely short on people who'd sleep with them if only they'd say "ok", but often miss close friends, especially of the opposite sex.

As a story, exploring such topics with your mentioned superpower as a metaphor can be powerful.

Doesn't answer your question. There isn't an answer, really, because you are looking for consent independent of the moment while consent always is a thing of the moment. You are thinking "what if... without this power", but that's like asking if elephants could fly if it weren't for gravity - it's pointless to ask not just because gravity doesn't go away, but also because so many things would be different without it that the question probably wouldn't even make sense anymore.

Your character has been shaped by this power for all his life. He probably can't really imagine a different world.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really feel like this answer misses the point. With a power so comparable to drugging someone the person is not really choosing to say yes. This is not just regretting it afterwards but completely being unable to decide at the time. What they want is fully beyond the influence of anything but the mind-control; a person who sees a beautiful stranger might want to have sex, but if they find out that the stranger is just awful they can choose not to. And seduction involving deception is also known as rape-by-deception or rape-by-fraud. It is not a good comparison to make the questions seem ok. $\endgroup$ – MegaCrow Sep 7 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Pheromones and hormones are closely related, not just in name. The self that is constantly in control is an illusion. The difference between seducing someone because your body emits pheromones and seducing someone because you're intensely beautiful is academic. Drugging someone is different not because of a difference in chemistry, but a difference in intention. That's the point. $\endgroup$ – Tom Sep 8 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ I think we might end up talking past each other. Whilst I will grant that the idea of a constant self in control is not true, consent still exists. You say that the difference between pheromones and beauty is academic, I disagree there, but even then, these aren't pheromones in the real-life sense. These are magic hand-wave mind-control "pheromones". You can say that the difference in intention is the problem, but if the person from the question goes around without doing anything about their power, they are effectively choosing to use it, now that they know what it does. Still violates consent $\endgroup$ – MegaCrow Sep 8 at 11:05
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Simply phrase the question so that it is not in terms of yes or no. For example, you could say “I would like to do x, what would you like to do?”

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  • $\begingroup$ It's subconscious. They get what they want even if they don't ask for it. The person they're talking to would respond with "x!" $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 6 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ How does it resolve if the asker wants the asked to chose a particular option, but also wants the asked to choose the option they want to choose? Or if the asker wants to be denied the thing they want? $\endgroup$ – lowtex Sep 6 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ They'd choose the option the main character wanted, even if it wasn't mentioned. "Do you want A or B? And I want you to pick whatever you truely want!", if the main character even slightly wanted C over B or A, they'd get C. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 6 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, how about a form then. The asker says “will you fill out this form?” And then hands the asked a form with the question on it. This is similar to using a proxy in a way, but doesn’t involve a third party. Would something like this work? $\endgroup$ – lowtex Sep 6 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ If the main character was even slightly aroused, they'd write "sex" on the form. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 6 at 9:58
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Answer Find some plausible way to locate a second character who can say NO! to your superpower.

To quote the existing literature:

Always two there are, no more no less. A master and an apprentice
Some green froglike chap, not from around here, and not recently.

That misses the "opposite" requirement while carrying the idea of exactly "two". Consider sciencing it up with Newton's Third Law which states that

for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It follows that your character's superpower has come about without intent or planning or effort. So why did it focus on your character? Perhaps there was an equal-and-opposite focus on another character, who has the superpower of being "un-charm-able" or impossible to coerce.

Maybe they were born in adjacent rooms in the same hospital at the same moment and some inexplicable reason that created the main superpower also created its opposite in the nearest unformed mind.


There is no reason these two characters have to like each other, or be attracted to each other, or even compatible genders. There's a lot of scope for creating conflict though the story after they become aware of each other, which resolves to a satisfactory conclusion, whether that be

"lived happily ever after" or a struggle where one murders the other.

Summary: How does the protagonist FIND their soulmate/antithesis, when the set is vanishingly small, and what happens when they do meet.

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The character's entire life they've been taking away everyone's ability to consent to them. After a lifetime of having everyone submit to the character's will they will need to put themselves in a situation where they are at the mercy of everyone/someone else's. Only by removing their own will can they become aware of someone else's.

Unfortunately any physical barriers, such as restraints or removing the ability to speak will not be effective here as the ability is telepathic. So it will be necessary to restrain the character mentally.

Sedatives, hypnosis, or even going so far as to damage their own brain could produce the desired effect. And if being able to remember and feel these situations is important there are definitely drugs capable of producing this effect. I know personally I have taken medications that made me feel as if I was an unwilling participant in my own life and I remember the experiences I had during those times.

Its a dark path to take but I believe at this point the only way the character can truly know whether or not a person cares about them is to put their lives completely in the other's hands.

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