Let’s Talk About Sex and Enthusiastic Consent!

 Protesters demand justice for rape victims. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters demand justice for rape victims. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Sexual violence prevention on college campuses is all over the news, which is wonderful for the millions of people in college who deserve safety from violence, and support services if they’re victimized. But what about the millions of people who aren’t in academic spaces? Those people deserve a voice in the conversation too. I challenge you to take discussions of enthusiastic consent off of campus and into your homes, churches, and PTA meetings. Bring the conversation down from the ivory tower of academia.

Here’s a brief guide for your next discussion about enthusiastic consent:

Enthusiastic consent is the only acceptable standard. 

Most people have heard, “No means no” as a standard for consent, but challenge people in your life to start thinking in terms of, “Yes means yes.” Yes means yes, or enthusiastic consent, approaches sex from the assumption that everyone, regardless of sex or gender, has a right to enthusiastically voice their sexual desires. It dictates that you should only have sex with someone who eagerly engages. Enthusiastic consent requires having conversations before, during, and after sex about what feels good and what doesn’t. And enthusiasm isn’t just verbal, it’s non-verbal cues confirming your partner, or partners’, enjoyment (think vaginal moisture, erections, fluttering eyelids, heavy breathing). If your partner(s) not enjoying sex just as much, or more than you, it isn’t worth having.

The takeaway: If sex isn’t explicitly agreed upon, it’s rape.

You don’t own sex to your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or intimate partner(s). 

If someone takes you out to dinner, do you owe them sex? Unequivocally, the answer to that question is, “No!” Sex, unless you’re a sex worker, is not a commodity. It is not something you owe anyone for any reason, ever. And just so we’re clear: sex workers have every right to sexual boundaries, and can disengage from a commercial transaction at any time, “I’m done, here’s your money back.” The end. Also, a marital contract doesn’t entail ownership of bodies.

The takeaway: Someone who claims you “owe” them sex, is a rapist.

Sex today doesn’t mean sex tomorrow. 

The video Tea Consent does a great job illustrating the absurdity of rape culture with an analogy using tea for sex (I highly recommend you watch the whole video):

“If you say, ‘Hey, would you like a cup of tea?,’ and they hem and haw and say, ‘I’m not really sure,’ then you can make them a cup of tea or not. But be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it.”

Tea Consent will make you laugh, but it might also make your cry because of the ridiculousness. One of the most salient points in the video is that someone who agrees to tea today doesn’t agree to tea on Tuesday. And just because someone wants sex today, doesn’t mean they’ll want it tomorrow. You always have to ask for sex before you do it–even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.

The takeaway: Prior consent doesn’t apply to bodies, so if you have sex without asking, it’s rape.

Consent to one sexual act does not mean consent to another.

Most sexually active adults understand this, it’s what prevents us from going straight from something like vaginal penetration to anal penetration without asking. I use that example a lot in presentations and conversations, and everyone nods enthusiastically. Well, what’s so different about going from kissing to hands down the pants without asking? Answer: there is no difference. And no, you don’t have to robotically ask for consent–anyone who claims that’s the goal of enthusiastic consent as a framework is attempting to derail the conversation. There is a sexy way to ask for consent. Imagine whispering, “I’d like to {insert sex act here} to your sexy body. Is that okay with you, baby?” Asking gives your partner a chance to decline, and it gives you a chance to do exactly what they want during sexy time. How hot is that?

The takeaway: If you start a sexual act when you don’t have permission, it’s rape.

Conclusion

Enthusiastic consent isn’t a difficult concept, but it challenges some closely held cultural beliefs. So prepare yourself for an onslaught of frightening challenges, and a scary glimpse into the sex lives of people around you. But don’t back down (unless you feel unsafe), because these conversations are critical, whether it’s on college campuses, in homes, or any other venue. Talking about consent is one of the best steps anyone can take to end sexual violence. It also happens to be the key to unlocking some raucous, satisfying sex.

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