A few weeks ago I contributed to the RLA post, Our Struggle is Real. My story discussed a negative experience I had related to the topic of consent. But the topic itself deserves further attention than my own personal account. I hope that this post will start a conversation where we can collectively begin to discuss the topic of consent, in all its importance and ambiguity.
Recently the idea of consent has sparked my interest and I have been trying to discuss and look into the topic further. Gaining a better understanding of consent has helped me to identify my past experiences and accept them for what they were. It has also forced me to look at myself and my own ability to ask for and respect the consent of others. I am mostly interested in the intense gray area that exists in its definition. I am believing more and more that not understanding consent is a contributer to rape culture and many cases of sexual assault. Better understanding it is important to helping prevent future cases of unwanted sexual activity.
BUT before we start discussing consent, let’s break it down a bit:
Statistics show that approximately 2 of every 3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (RAINN.org.). This, to me, shows how important it is to talk about consent with everyone, which goes along with a previous discussion in an RLA article about rape culture. In this article we discussed the importance teaching men not to rape, rather than solely teaching women how to avoid rape. If perpetrators had better understood the significance of consent, both what it is and how to appropriately gain it, I wonder if these statistics would be so high.
The fact is that the majority of sexual assault victims are women, but that does NOT mean that men do not deserve to be asked for their consent as well. It also does not exclude the fact that consenting queer sexual activity needs to be discussed too. A lot of times we have double standards for different groups of people but we are all responsible for gaining the consent of our partner(s).
I firmly believe that it is most effective to introduced and required this discussion at a younger age, as part of education. Statistics show that approximately 18.3 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Thats nearly 1/5 women! Additionally, 12.3% of these women were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 29.9% were between the ages of 11 and 17 (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010). This is also assuming that these statistics are accurate, most believe them to be much higher. This is a sad truth, but it shows that these discussions need to start at a very young age.
Better understanding consent can help to avoid sexual assault, especially in cases where the perpetrator was never taught to understand consent. This discussion could also help victims to better identify if they have experienced sexual assault and allow them take the necessary actions to report it and to heal.
Below are some facts and information gathered from the sources listed at the bottom of the page. They should be useful in legally defining consent, and also addressing its ambiguity.
- A voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement
- Consent cannot legally be given by someone who is intoxicated
- An active agreement: Consent cannot be coerced
- A process, which must be asked for every step of the way; if you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, just ask
- Consent is never implied and cannot be assumed, even in the context of a relationship–just because you are in a relationship does not mean that you have permission to have sex with your partner(s)
- Consent is about confident, open, real communication. And, respecting boundaries
The fact is:
- Once a person says “no” it does not matter if or what kind of sexual behavior has happened previously in the current event, early that day, or daily for the previous six months. It does not matter if it is a current long-term relationship, a broken relationship, or marriage. If one partner says, “NO,” and the other forces penetration it is rape.
Circumstances in which a person, CANNOT, by law, give consent (no matter what they might verbalize):
- The person is severely intoxicated or unconscious as a result of alcohol or drugs
- The person is mentally disabled
- In each state there are different laws addressing age limits in which a person can and cannot legally give consent
Non Verbal Communication (perhaps the greatest gray area of consent):
- This is something for you to explore with your partner
- Examples: Some lovers want to be asked every step, every time. Some make spoken consent a rule for the first few times, and once they’ve developed a trust and understanding – then relax into something more unspoken, more intuitive
- Whatever you decide – be gentle, go slowly. Particularly the first few times, until you know each other better. Be present and be sensitive. Never force anything. Be awake to small signals – if you notice that your partner might be tensing and resisting – then stop and relax
- Accept that things change – what you or your partner(s) wanted before may not be what is wanted now
- Remember – sex is making love – it should always be loving
The Perks of Consent:
- Asking for and obtaining consent shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner(s)
- Enhances communication and honesty, which make sex and relationships better
- Gives partners the ability to know and be able to communicate the type of sexual relationship they desire
- Can open conversations to discuss how to protect yourself and your partner against STIs and pregnancy
- Helps to identify your personal beliefs and values and respecting others personal beliefs and values
- Builds confidence and self-esteem
- Challenges stereotypes that rape is a women’s issue
- Challenges sexism and traditional views on gender and sexuality
- Promotes positive views on sex and sexuality –it is empowering
- Eliminates the entitlement that a partner might feel over another
- Sex is always sexiest when ALL partners desire it – without any feelings of pressure, intimidation or fear
The Consequences of not asking for consent:
- If you do not ask for consent, you are at risk of doing something the other person doesn’t want you to do. You might significantly disrespect and hurt someone. You are also at risk of breaking the law and facing criminal charges
- Touching someone’s – breasts, genitals or buttocks – without consent is sexual assault. So is making someone touch you. Any form of sexual activity with another person without their consent is sexual assault
- If you don’t have consent then you could go to prison for assault
I know, it’s A LOT of information. You may be gritting your teeth at this point, wondering if you have sought consent every time you have engaged in sexual activity. As I stated earlier though, throughout this exploration I have been reflecting on my own ability to seek consent in the past and my hopes to improve in the future. I have also been reflecting on situations that I have been in where I did not feel I was given an opportunity to consent. Better understanding this topic has helped me to identify the violence that has occurred in my own life, and from there, I can work to heal.
Being aware of our own struggles with asking for consent is important for us all to reflect on. It is a touchy subject and talking and thinking about it may bring forward a lot of guilt or pain. It is important to address these feelings so that we can work as a community to better avoid them in the future. I hope that we can use this space to start a conversation on the topic.
Some follow up questions to write about/think about/talk about:
How do you ask for consent? How do you give consent?
Do you assume consent? How you can allow your partner an opportunity to say YES, rather than assume a yes and wait for a NO.
What aspects of consent are difficult for you to grasp? How can deal with that in the future?
More information on sexual assault and sign a petition: