The Sex Files #2: Consent is Sexy

Welcome to the Sexual Health blog, run by BCSSH!  Here’s the simple version of who we are: we’re a group of students who think that condoms are important.  For the longer version, see our website!

On most Fridays, I teach rape and sexual assault prevention classes to ninth-graders in Boston Public Schools.  In one part of the lesson, the students practice asking for consent for sexual activity.  Consent - choosing to do something completely of one’s own volition, with full awareness of, and enthusiasm for, the choice that is being made - is key to healthy sexuality.  Failing to get clear and enthusiastic consent can lead to rape or sexual assault.  Imagine my excitement when, on one particular occasion, a female student suggested this method for asking for consent:  “Aye, papi, let’s go, let’s make LOoOoOoOve!”

It is still the sassiest response I have ever heard for that exercise.  And, more importantly, it was a sign that she got it.  Eschewing the typical eye-rolling disinterest of her counterparts, this young woman embraced the realization I hope to bring to my students:  consent is not only critical for the practical, making-sure-you-don’t-rape-anyone reasons, but it can also be sexy and fun.  In fact, it should be.  Before we get into those sexy and fun approaches to consent, though, we need to understand just why consent is so important.

Why Consent is Important:

  • Getting consent for every step of sexual activity is the only way to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable.

Jaclyn Friedman explained it best on her "Yes Means Yes" blog:

...sexual consent isn't like a lightswitch, which can be either "on," or "off." It's not like there's this one thing called "sex" you can consent to anyhow. "Sex" is an evolving series of actions and interactions. You have to have the enthusiastic consent of your partner for all of them. And even if you have your partner's consent for a particular activity, you have to be prepared for it to change.

  • Underestimating the value of consent leads to victimization...

1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and college-aged women are four times more likely to be assaulted.

  • ...and victim-blaming. Which leads to further victimization.

Think about our own lives at BC: how many morning-after conversations have we heard--or even participated in--about the drunk girl in a little dress who should have known better? How many times over the years have we uttered: “well what did she expect?” or “next time she’ll be more careful”?  But the fact of the matter is, only a rapist is to blame for rape. So when we joke and judge and make these kinds of excuses, we foster a culture in which sexual assault is acceptable. But it’s not, ever.

How to Tell Consent:
It all comes down to this:  it is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to get consent from the other person for each increasingly intimate sexual act - regardless of gender, relationship to the person (yes, a person can be assaulted by a partner), previous sexual history, clothing choices, etc. 

The rules are simple:

  • No always means no.  -- Duh.
  • Saying nothing means no.  If it’s confusing or difficult to understand, it means no. -- If you’re not hearing clear agreement from your partner, you’re running the risk of making assumptions about what he or she is comfortable with--assumptions that can be wrong.
  • Hesitant or uncomfortable body language may mean no. -- If a person squirms, pushes away, or seems uncomfortable, it’s likely he or she just isn’t into it.
  • Yes when the person is under the influence can mean no.

This one is tricky.  We would be wrong to tell you that as soon as a person starts drinking, consensual sex is out of the question.  (That would be frightening, considering the typical BC weekend.)  It’s all about knowing your limits.  Are you the type of person who usually makes clearheaded choices even after a few drinks?  Or are you the resident poor decision-maker of your friends?  If you’re the former, maybe you would be more comfortable with pursuing sexual activity under the influence.  If the latter applies, maybe not.

The problem is, even if you know your limits, you don’t necessarily know someone else’s.  Not all drunken hookups are sexual assaults, of course, but pursuing sexual activity when sober is safer than pursuing them when under the influence.

  • Yes under threats of any kind means no. -- A person can’t be tricked or coerced into giving consent.
  • Yes means yes when consent is given freely, enthusiastically, and with a clear head. -- See? Simple!

Ways to Get Consent
As promised, we at BCSSH will always put the positive in sex positive.  Sex is supposed to be fun, after all.  So what can you do to practice and promote enthusiastic consent?

  • Talk openly before engaging in sexual activity.

Start a dialogue with your partner about what you like and what you are and aren’t comfortable with, encouraging your partner to do the same. Set boundaries and discuss taking things to the next level before you actually do. Communication is vital to any healthy sexual relationship; having these conversations in advance allows for honest sharing, rather than hasty or pressured decision-making. It also promotes mutual respect. Yay!

  • Make it sexy.

As I tell my students, asking for consent doesn’t have to ruin the mood or sound awkward.  Try these:  “Can I _____  your ____?”  “You know I love _____ing your _____.  Can I?”  “I’m dying to _____ you right now.  Will you let me?”   (Note:  we won’t judge what you choose to fill in the blanks.)  See?  Told you it could be sexy.

  • You can even make it kinky.

Have your partner describe step-by-step exactly what he or she wants (dirty talk that’s sexually responsible? yes please!).  Make sexy checklists or IOUs (including only acts in which you would be comfortable participating, of course) that your partner can select and redeem as he or she pleases.  (Tip: if you really want to have fun with it, leave these lists in unexpected places, like your partner’s class notebooks.  Just make sure the professor doesn’t collect homework.)

The options are endless, really, and limited only by your own creativity.  The important thing to remember is that whatever you choose to do, however you choose to do it, and with whomever you choose to do it with, everyone involved is comfortable and consenting.  So go forth, dear readers, and consent to (and only to) your hearts’ desires!

Peace, love, and lube,
BC Students for Sexual Health