Mrs. A was invited to a college classroom to educate undergraduates on sexual assault. She looked around, surveying her audience. Mostly freshmen and sophomores, some juniors, the professor had informed Mrs. A before hand. She proceeded to introduce herself, then asked, “Who knows what the definition of sexual assault is?”
A female student raised her hand, “It is when someone forces you to have sex against your will.”
“Good,” replied Mrs. A. “What is the definition of consent?”
Another female student answered, “It is when you let your boyfriend or girlfriend have sex with you.”
“So, what do you do when someone says no to sex?”
“You stop,” a male student answered.
Mrs A’s attention gravitated toward the middle of the classroom. A young man was fidgeting as if he had something to say but didn’t have the courage to raise his hands.
“You in the black shirt, it looks like you want to say something. Would you like to share?” Mrs. A asked him.
“Well…,” the student sat up. “When a girl tells you no, it means to keep pressuring her until she says ‘yes.'”
Interesting, thought Mrs. A. “Would you like to elaborate?”
“You see, a girl has to initially say no, even if she wanted to have sex. Society has double-standards. A guy can have sex with whoever and most of the time, he is praised for being a ‘player.’ A girl who gives herself up easily is called a ‘slut.’ In order to protect her image, she has to say no first before saying yes. When she does this and if she ends up having sex, she can tell people that she didn’t want it in the first place, but he wanted it, so she gave in.”
Mrs. A could see the logic in this young man’s explanation. Time to educate the class on the dynamics of sexual assault before someone uses this logic and sexually assaults someone, she thought.
Society and the media portray sexual assault as being violently raped in a dark alley with a masked stranger—sometimes tied up and gagged. More than not, sexual assault occurs in the home of the victim with someone they know and with little to no struggle (Read more of rape myths here). Someone may not even realize that they have been sexually assaulted.
So, let’s go back to what the male student in the black shirt said in the anecdote above: when someone tells you “No, I don’t want to have sex,” you pressure them. When someone reluctantly agrees to have sex after being pressured, does that mean consent is given? How do you know when to stop pressuring, or do you keep asking until your partner gives in? The key is to never pressure someone to have sex. No means no. No does not mean to pressure your partner. No means you respect your partner’s boundaries. No means you stop.
Consent is Sexy. When you listen to your partner, not only are you showing you care, but you’re also showing your partner that you respect him/her. You respect your partner’s thoughts, decisions—and most importantly—your partner’s rights to his/her body. So, what is consent?
To consent means to give approval and to agree by free will.
Consent is based on choice.
Consent is active, not passive.
Consent is possible only when there is equal power.
Giving in because of fear is not consent.
In consent, both parties must be equally free to act.
Going along with something because of wanting to fit in, feeling bad, or being deceived is not consent.
In consent, both parties must be fully conscious and have clearly communicated their consent.
If you can’t say “NO” comfortably, then “YES” has no meaning.
If you are unwilling to accept a “NO,” then “YES” has no meaning.
Not many realize that consent is based on active, fully conscious choice. Being pressured to have sex is not consent. Although that person may ultimately say yes in the end to your incessant pressuring/complaining/guilt trips, it does not mean that consent was given; it just meant you pressured that person into complying.
Let’s take a look at a controversial situation: the drunk girl who “had sex” at a party. Far too many times have I heard the comment: “She wanted it as badly as I did, so we had sex.” And when this drunk girl reports that she had been raped, many will say, “She had sex, but had regrets, so she is crying rape.” Let’s make this clear: When someone is intoxicated, under the influence, or has lost consciousness, that person cannot—and I repeat—CANNOT consent to sex. “She didn’t say no. She didn’t resist. She was leading me on with her sexual gestures earlier in the night. She wanted it as badly as I did!”
The absence of no does not mean yes. I cannot stress this enough. A person may be too intoxicated to realize what is happening or to say no. A person may be too intoxicated to resist. And a person can stop giving consent at any time during any sexual activity. You may be kissing, touching, fondling each other, or even having intercourse, but when the other person says no or stops you from going any further, that means there is no longer consent. If you force or coerce it further, then it will constitute sexual assault.
What should you do if you really like someone and really want to have sex, but he/she is intoxicated, under the influence, or unconscious? Don’t take advantage of him/her and wait until that person is fully aware of your intentions. And then, ask and discuss before taking it another step.
According to statistics from RAINN, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. One in every 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States has been the victim of either an attempted or completed rape. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please know that help is available. You may contact your local law enforcement agency or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).