Clearing up consent

Even though consent is really simple to understand, our culture confuses it by placing too much emphasis on the situation and the environment rather than focusing on the people involved. How often have you heard things like:

“I saw them making out, she was obviously okay with it then.”
“She was sure dressed like she wanted it.”
“What did he expect when he went upstairs with her?”

Statements like these make it seem like there could be confusion about whether or not the person was consenting. That’s because these statements suggest that consent can be determined from the situation.

But the situation or environment doesn’t speak for you – only you can give consent.

For example:

  • Just because someone was making out doesn’t mean they are consenting to anything else.
  • Just because someone is dressed in revealing clothing doesn’t mean they are consenting to sex.
  • Just because someone goes up to another person’s bedroom doesn’t mean they are consenting to sex.

The only thing that matters in consent is the people in the moment of sexual activity and whether or not each one of them is consenting.  Everything else – the environment they’re in, their clothes, whether they were drinking, what they said earlier – is completely irrelevant.  When we focus on just that person in that moment, consent is actually so clear and intuitive.

This video shows examples of people saying and implying consent and non-consent.  Some use phrases while others use gestures, body language or facial expressions.   A person doesn’t need to scream or run away to make it apparent that they are not consenting.  When we focus on the person instead of the situation, regardless of the way they communicate no, the difference between consent and non-consent is very obvious.

Even if the environment seems like one where consent is “expected” (for example, going upstairs with someone at a party) people still need to check in with each other.  If you are ever unsure if the person you are with is consenting, just stop and ask.  When we engage in sexual activity, we intuitively check in with each other on a constant basis.  This concept is far from revolutionary; it is the natural way we communicate.

As you can see, consent is a clear and simple concept, and the idea that people misunderstand consent is a myth.  So why does sexual violence happen?

In our rape-prone culture, people don’t take consent seriously.  Think about terms like “tease” or “playing hard-to-get.” Phrases like this reflect that our society often treats consent as a joke, and that “no” just means “try harder.”

But consent isn’t a game, and it isn’t funny. Ignoring someone saying or implying “no” is an act of violence. Disregarding consent is about gaining power over another person.  It’s about hurting another person.  It’s about controlling another person.

When consent is ignored, it’s sexual assault.