All photography provided by Kaila Skeet-Browning.

What is sexual consent?

an Informed, Enthusiastic Yes. 

This video puts consent in its most basic form:

Video by ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios

How do you define consent?

For some couples, consent is a verbal, enthusiastic yes from both parties. Others believe any sexual activity has to be a voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement. Another common standard of consent is "yes means yes and no means no". 

WHATEVER YOUR DEFINITION, CONSENT IS ALWAYS ACTIVE, POSITIVE AFFIRMATION FROM ALL PARTICIPANTS FOR THE ENTIRE DURATION OF THE INTIMATE MOMENT. 

Download this worksheet to complete with your partner to see what you both want to do.

Long term relationships can often use forms of nonverbal consent; this is absolutely okay. Nonverbal communication only works if there is already established mutual respect and understanding between partners. 

Consent should feel good! It means both you and your sexy partner are ready to dive into the sexual encounter

Consent isn't...

  • Coercion
  • Silence
  • Implied or assumed
  • The decision of one party
Ask before you proceed. A good lover is a good listener. A bad listener is at best a bad lover, and at worst a rapist.
— University of Georgia Sexual Consent Workshop

Photo by Mike Tracy of Sharon, Vermont

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Why does it matter?

Consent is a must. There is no situation where it is acceptable to continue with a sexual act when active consent from both parties is not present. When it comes to sex, lack of consent is not only illegal, but severely damaging to your partner both physically and psychologically. 

Sex is like boxing. If one boxer did not fully agree to participate, the other is committing a crime.
— John Oliver, the Last Week Tonight show

Reasons why consent is wonderful (and non negotiable): 

  • Demonstrates mutual respect between partnership
  • Makes sex enjoyable for everyone
  • Allows you to satisfy unique sexual needs of your partner
  • Builds confidence and empowerment
  • Enhances communication and honesty in relationship
  • Makes it easier to discuss STI's and contraception
  • Challenges sexism and traditional views on gender and sexuality
  • Eliminates the association of sex with dominance and control
 

Values- Think about yours

Values are the deepest set of rules that guide one's decisions. 

Values help determine what's right in an ethical, moral or spiritual sense. They have to be chosen freely from alternatives after careful consideration of the consequences. They also must be prized, and acted upon consistently and repeatedly. 

Nothing, especially when it comes to sex, is value free or value neutral. Issues with consent can happen when one participant acts as if their values are relative.  

Value relativism is used as an excuse to escape responsibility for our choices, for being too scared to admit what our values really are, or for simply being too lazy to really figure out what values are at work in a given situation.
— Al Vernaccio, Author of For Goodness Sex

Thinking about what you value in life, like safety, equality, compassion, vulnerability, or anything else, can help create a solid framework to how you approach your intimate relationships. 

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Consent Myths

1. Sex is silent because its like that in the movies! 

Silence is actually not common place at all! In fact, verbal communication is SUPER important in a sexual encounter. Media often shows intimate moments happening completely in silence, but silence often leads to miscommunication and confusion. Obviously, you and your sexy friend can enjoy a mutual, healthy sexual encounter and use forms of non verbal communication, but silence should not be the standard. 

2. Women are "naturally" submissive and/or silent during sex

False! No gender identity is inherently anything because of that identity. Everyone has their own preferences and desires during sex, but it certainly is not true that all women enjoy being dominated or passive. Making this mistake could mean committing a crime against your partner. SILENCE IS NEVER CONSENT. Ask ask ask!

3. Men are supposed to be in charge and dominate

Again, men are not supposed to be and/or do anything based on their gender, AND sex is not inherently about domination and submission. Dominance and role playing situations can be used in a positive, healthy, consensual way, but that is the choice of each individual and should not be considered the basic dynamic in a heterosexual intimate relationship. 

4. Men always want sex so there's no need to ask for consent

Men do not always want sex. Every human is different! And it is equally important to ask male partners for consent as it is for any other gendered partner. This myth stems from societal ideas of masculinity and should be enthusiastically ignored! 

5. No can sometimes mean yes, and maybe always does

As obviously wrong as this seems, it is a prevalent myth, especially in the midst of the hookup culture. Maybe and no never mean yes. There is no situation in which a maybe or a no means yes, nor should you attempt to turn a no/maybe into a yes. Just don't do it. Wait for the consensual sex! 

Rape Culture

The United States is faced with a rape epidemic, in which a vast number of women, men and children live in fear of or have experienced rape and/or sexual assault. 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 American men will experience rape in their lifetime. 1 in 4 college aged women will experience rape while on a college campus. 

Rape culture is defined as the systematically rooted judgement towards rape victims and society's acceptance of sexual assault. 

Rape culture is reducing rape to an 'alcohol fueled situation'. Rape culture is raising boys in a society that teaches them that they must be dominant over women, and raising girls to believe they are not worthy of anything. Rape culture denies the reality of rape; that most rapes are committed by a trusted acquaintance, and that most of these are never reported to the authorities. Rape culture is blaming victims and doubting them from the start, when the issue of false reporting is merely a deflection argument from the real issue. 

Why are we looking at rape culture as if it is something we should just accept? Why are we changing our lifestyles to avoid?
— Brynne Thomas, TEDX Youth

Some facts: 

  • 82% rapes are committed by a non stranger
  • More than 80% of rapes are unreported
  • Only .2% of forcible rapes culminate in a conviction
  • False reporting of rapes account for only 2 to 10 % of all reported rapes
  • Several university fraternities have recently been cited for chanting slogans such as "no means yes, yes means anal" (Yale University) and producing pamphlets such as the flyer,"How to get away with rape" (Miami University)
  • Sexual trauma victims often react by either hiding from all forms of intimacy or engaging in dangerous, indiscriminate sex
  • Rape is extremely confusing in addition to being intensely psychologically distressing; victims often interact with their rapist after the fact, and/or blame themselves entirely for what happened. 

How to counter rape culture

The best way to counter rape culture is to constantly challenge and question our daily assumptions about societal expectations regarding gender, sexual orientation, and sex. 

Educate your friends about consent and rape culture! The best way to spread the message is from within our generation. 

Intervene when you see a non consensual situation. Bystander intervention, especially in party situations and/or with the presence or drugs or alcohol, can save someone from a traumatizing event, and demonstrate support for consensual sex. 

Respect, trust and care for friends who have experienced rape and/or sexual assault. Never doubt or blame a survivor. 

Practice consent yourself! make it a value. 

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