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Consent Culture: Why Valentine’s Day Misses the Mark

With Valentine’s Day behind us, stores are selling off heart shaped chocolate at discount prices and flower shop sales have returned to regular prices.

What we usually don’t equate with Valentine’s Day is the idea of consent, and what it means to have a safe, healthy, emotional and physical relationship with someone – whether it is just a one-time affair or a long-term situation.

The Western socio-cultural norm for Valentine’s Day is to get your special someone a gift, or take them on a date – maybe both. But the parameters of the holiday usually end there, with no discussions of consent culture.

As I was browsing through magazines and newspapers in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, all I seemed to come across were articles about what to buy your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, or where to take them on a date. There was a disappointing lack of discussion about consent culture and how crucial that is in any type of relationship.

Creating consent culture is an important way to establish a greater understanding of what it means to appreciate someone special, by acknowledging and respecting their personal physical and emotional boundaries. Consent culture believes that positive sexual relationships always begin with an enthusiastic “yes,” and that only “yes means yes.’

Consent culture “is a culture in which asking for consent is normalized and condoned in popular culture [and] believing that you and your partner(s)  have the right over your own bodily autonomies and understanding that each of you know what is best for yourselves.”

Blogger Jaclyn Friedman writes:

“Consent isn’t a question. It’s a state. If, instead of lovers, the two of you were synchronized swimmers, consent would be the water. It’s not enough to jump in, get wet and climb out — if you want to swim, you have to be in the water continually. And if you want to have sex, you have to be continually in a state of enthusiastic consent with your partner.”

Consent culture is significant because it works to change the current cultural framework of rape culture in our society. According to Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), rape culture is a term coined in the 1970s to “show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.” Rape culture normalizes non-consensual relationships, and as author Emilie Buchwald states, “it is a society where violence is seen as sexy, and sexy is seen as violent.”

When it comes to rape culture, this Valentine’s Day also coincided with the release date of the 50 Shades of Grey movie. While the popular book turned film had many heading to theaters to get into the “romantic” mood, the storyline is troubling  as it portrays unsafe ideas of BDSM sex, and relationships in general, which in turn is marketed as sexy and desirable.

The book and film perpetuate ideas of rape culture, and the fact that the film was released in accordance to Valentine’s Day only promotes the idea that non-consensual relationships and abusive behaviors are romantic.

Valentine’s Day is a time of year where many people are thinking about that special someone, or how to meet that special someone. So why is it that our cultural discourse about a holiday that celebrates love overlooks the importance of what healthy relationships look like?

Flowers and chocolate are definitely nice gifts to receive on February 14th, but consent culture needs to be talked about all the time. By bringing consent culture into context with Valentine’s Day, we can begin to create a dialogue about what it means to truly impress that special someone.







Fourth year Political Science and English Literature Major at UBC. Vancouverite/South Asain/ Canadian. Lover of coffee and Beyonce.
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