I don’t understand the confusion about consent. I really don’t. It’s not that hard of a concept, and it’s perfectly well understood in literally every other circumstance but sex. And yet we have to go over and over the concept of consent all the time when it comes to sex.
So here it is: Yes means yes. Anything less than yes is not consent. Plain and simple. In case you haven’t seen it (and it should be required viewing for anyone who thinks they may ever want to have sex), here is the video comparing consent to tea.
Like many things revolving around sex, dismissing consent has become normalized. So normalized that the concept of consent is debated and ignoring consent is defended.
Let’s explore some of the normalized dismissals of consent:
-Non-Verbal Cues. Basically a fancy way of saying body language. Your partner isn’t feeling comfortable and you can tell based on their body language, but it’s a non-verbal cue so it’s dismissible. If they were really that uncomfortable they should have spoken up! So if someone recoils at your touch, seems to freeze or tense up when you are around them, if their body looks uninterested in what’s happening to them but they aren’t explicitly speaking up then you are absolved of responsibility for their discomfort. I’m not a mind reader after all.
-“Gray Area”. This is sort of the catch-all of consent dismissal, from my understanding (because I don’t believe there is a “gray area”; yes is yes, anything less is no, not “gray”). The “gray area” is the implied consent of a sexual situation. It defends situations where after a date you go back to someones apartment, and what did you expect to happen? It defends situations where you are engaging in light sexual activity, say making out or maybe some hand stuff, and what did you expect to happen? It defends the assumption of penetration sex without actually getting consent, because what did you expect to happen? It defends any unwanted escalation of a sexual situation because what did you expect to happen?
-Coercion. This is what you do when you ignore someones “No”. You have heard them well enough to acknowledge that they said “No”, but you aren’t settling for that answer. You are going to coerce them into giving you the answer you want. And with enough persuasion, that “No” can be “swayed” to an unenthusiastic “Yes”. Often times, these circumstances are described as being easier to just say yes and get it over with. Sounds hot, right?
-Playing hard to get. The concept here is that women don’t want to appear easy. Because wanting sex is, apparently, an unattractive quality. And so women are supposed to turn men down over and over before “giving in”. And therefore, men are not supposed to take “No” for an answer, they are supposed to keep pursuing. This is problematic for several reasons. One, it keeps the whole concept of sex male centric. It promotes that a woman’s sexuality is all about pleasing and attracting men, not their own self expression. Two, it dismisses the current consent mantra “No Means No” by saying that sometimes “No Means Keep Going”. It takes “No Means No” to “No Means No But…”.
-Boys will be boys. This is my personal favorite. This idea that absolves boys of any responsibility of their actions and places all of the blame on girls. If you did’t want it to happen you shouldn’t have even been in their company, because after all, boys will be boys! Back in the Christian days of my youth I went to a church camp where they got all the girls together and said that boys can’t help themselves, so if you have premarital sex you are sinning (because premarital sex is a sin, so not only will your consent be disregarded but now also your soul) for the both of you. And just to be perfectly clear, this is actually just as insulting to boys as it is to girls. The implication here isn’t just that boys are absolved of responsibility for their actions, but that they don’t care about anyone but their own dick. Many a man in my life is just as offended, if not possibly more, by the “boys will be boys” phrase. And they should be.
So why is this “coercive sexual experience where non-verbal cues are ignored and implied consent is good enough” such a problem, you may ask. Why is consent so quickly dismissed? Why is a persons enthusiastic participation in sex not a priority? Continuously asking for consent ruins the moment! For who? What is so unsexy about checking in with your partner to make sure they feel comfortable, that they want things to continue they way they are going, that they are interested in what is happening to their body?
Sex is about trust and communication, and consent is a prominent key factor to that experience. Sex with anything less than enthusiastic consent is, at best, masturbating with a body, and at worst is rape. That’s why coercive sexual experiences where non-verbal cues are ignored and implied consent is good enough IS A MAJOR PROBLEM. You aren’t creating a sexy or safe environment, you aren’t being spontaneous and living in the moment, you are creating a dominant and predatory environment where you have made your sexual partner too uncomfortable to speak up or enjoy their experience.
If you aren’t comfortable or confident enough to ask your partner for consent in sexual activity, you should not be engaging in sexual activity with another person.
Sure, you may get an orgasm out of it, but at what cost?