On Consent

July 30, 2014 In The News Comments (0) 421

I’m not sure if this needs a trigger warning, but I’m putting one here just in case.


We’ve been over this.

And yet lots of you still aren’t getting it. I read this article, about some shitbag who took advantage of a vulnerable young woman at a Keith Urban concert, and in the comment section I still find a bunch of men saying things like “we don’t know all the facts,” and “women are fickle,” and “she’s probably lying to defend her image.”

So yeah, misogyny and patriarchy and all that. We, the males (I am one, after all) are still failing. Miserably. But here’s the topper, and just because I’m quoting one crapface doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens more who posted variations on this argument:

“Have you honestly never gone from kissing someone to having sex without directing getting concrete consent? …the point being stands that sexual activity once begun is interpreted as acceptance if continued and ‘lead to believe’ until one party claims otherwise. With zero acknowledgement that the continuation of sexual activity should stop, and thus continued, how is one to know what is or is not wanted?”

Ugh. No.

Why is this so difficult for people? How is one to know? Well, one could ask.

One in five American women will experience an attempted rape in her lifetime. They’re mostly not being attacked by strangers–most of them are abused and exploited by people they know and care about. Often, apparently, by men who still don’t understand the meaning of consent. That statistic is crazy high. Really unacceptably high for a society that wants to believe we regard women as equals. So wouldn’t it be great if we could bring that number down? Down to, like, zero?

We can do it, guys. Because here’s the thing: We’re the ones doing almost all of the raping.

We’ve talked about consent before. I know we have. You’re just…you’re just not getting it. Consent is not “she didn’t tell me to stop.” LOTS and LOTS of rape victims don’t actively stop their rapist. It happens all the time. There are a lot of reasons for it–the victim may fear for her safety, or she may not want to admit to herself that she’s being raped, or she may be under the influence of a substance that clouds her judgment or impairs her speech. In all these cases, rape is still rape.

Point is, the onus is not on the victim to fight back, it’s on the perpetrator to obtain consent. Do you still not understand what consent means?

Here, let’s try it this way:

Consent is when you say “yes, please.” Sex isn’t the only place we use the term. When you want cable installed, you sign a consent form that says, “Yes, cable man, please drill a hole in my wall.”

When you go on a reality TV show, you sign a consent form that says “Yes, TV network, please record me on video and exploit me for your television program.”

“When you go in for surgery, you sign a consent form that says, “yes, doctor, please cut me open and fiddle around with my organs.”

The cable man doesn’t get to drill a hole in your wall until you tell him to stop. The TV network doesn’t get to exploit you until you shove the camera men away. The doctor doesn’t get to cut into you until you fight back. And when you want to have sex with someone, you don’t get to go about your business until they say ‘hey, cut it out.’

Consent for sex is never implied. It’s not a part of the Terms of Service for dating you, you aren’t Facebook. Consent is an affirmative statement. It’s opt-in, not opt-out.

Imagine your potential sexual partner is signing up for your email newsletter. Maybe that’ll help. Not only does she have to provide the initial sign-up, you actually have to follow up with her so she can verify her consent for a second time.

Because many of you, apparently, apply a higher standard to what winds up in your Gmail box than you do to where you would put your genitalia. So here’s a hard fact:

If your criteria for having sex with another person is “they don’t actively stop you,” there’s a pretty good chance you’ll wind up raping someone. You might have done it already.

Think of it this way: Pretend the sex you’re about to have is like sending a marketing email. Would that email be spam? If so, then you don’t have consent, and you’re about to rape somebody.

That might still be a little complex. Let’s face it, if you’re about to have sex you probably don’t want to work through complicated analogies. So here’s a simple test.


Before you have sex with someone, ask a simple question:

“Do you consent to sex with me?”

If that feels too dry, you can maybe phrase it a little differently:

“Do you want to have sex right now?”

…and while you’re at it, keep in mind an expression, one I’ve heard from Dan Savage, though he may not be the originator:

“Consent is really too low a bar. Don’t settle for consent. Hold out for enthusiasm.”

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