January 10, 2013

An Incomplete List of What Sexual Consent Is Not

HEADS UP: This article frankly discusses the topic of rape.
  • Five "no"s and one "yes" is not consent.  You cannot pester someone until they finally cave and have sex with you -- well, technically you can, but it would make you a rapist. This is one of those really really REALLY bad ideas being reinforced again and again and again by the media. Think about the movies and television shows you've watched: there's a scene where a girl is sitting on a bed looking uncomfortable, she tells her boyfriend that she does not want to have sex with him, he's nagging at her with pleadings of "c'mon..." and "don't you love me?" and "why not?!" Pretty often, she gives in. More often, the audience is prompted to laugh at this behavior. We really ought to think about what this is teaching young people -- teaching them that their "no" is not good enough, that they must explain their "no" or it is not valid ("but WHY won't you fuck me?!") and, simply, that their own desires on what is to be done with their body do not matter; that it is okay to put this sort of pressure on their peers and that it's okay to ignore what they want. It isn't. 
  • Dating/being married to someone is not automatic consent. This is the mindset that leads to date rape and marital rape; just because someone has agreed to go out on a date with you, to be your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, or even agreed to marry you, this does not mean you have the right to help yourself to their body. No one ever owes you sex, and just being in a relationship with someone does not revoke their right to say "no". 
  • Someone who is drunk/otherwise under the influence cannot consent. Yet another scene we're used to seeing in movies: the characters are going to be attending a party that night, one character rejoices in the fact that there are going to be "so many drunk chicks!!!" there that night, presumably because drunk girls are easier to fuck. This sort of predatory behavior -- of actively seeking out partners who are not in the right state of mind to deny you -- is a rapist's mindset. Rapists know that a victim who has been drinking is less likely to be taken seriously; her behavior ("why did you go out to a party by yourself?!") is what's going to be scrutinized. The rapist knows it, and his victims will probably know it too; which might even prompt them to never even report a rape
Asking for consent is not difficult.
  • If it's not "yes", it's no. Unless it is made obvious to you (you've asked them like in the example above, they're enthusiastically reciprocating your touch, or they've blatantly told you "yes, I would like to have sex") you've gotta take it as a "no". If they're silent, it's "no." If they're being completely still, it's "no". If they're not kissing you back, not reciprocating, it's "no". If they say "I'm not sure...", "I don't know about this...", "wait...", or some other hesitant response, it's "no" -- and you have to take their answer as final, because as discussed in the first bullet, you also can't beg someone til they cave. If they end up changing their mind (on their own, without you pushing them to do it), I'm sure they'll let you know. But for now, you have to back off and leave them alone. 
  • It's not consent if you make them afraid to say "no". This goes for the obvious things, such as rape at gunpoint/knifepoint, but it also counts if you intimidate them without the use of a weapon. Twisting their arm, backing them into a corner, telling them you won't drive them home unless they comply with your desires. Consent is given willingly; not pulled from someone out of fear.
  • Someone who is asleep/passed out cannot consent.  It's appalling that this needs to be stated, but there have been many times when a rapist has taken advantage of someone who is unconscious. Putting your hands on someone who is blacked out on a couch at a party is rape. Sneakily putting your hands on someone who is asleep is rape. If they're not, you know, conscious, there's no way for them to say "yes, I want this", and that makes it rape. 
  • Just because you received consent from someone once doesn't mean you have consent forever. Consent is active; it must constantly be reaffirmed. Maybe they slept with you that one time at that one party, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to put your hands on them forever and always -- because, hey, maybe they only wanted it to happen once! Consent is never something that, under any circumstances, can be assumed, and it can also be revoked in a moment's notice -- even in the middle of a sexual act. It's also important to remember that just because someone has consented to one sexual act does not mean they've consented to every sexual act. If you want to try something new, you must ask. 
  • Someone's outfit does not imply consent.  If you want to hook up with someone, you have to ask them, not their mini skirt. People often make the mistake of assuming that a person who is dressed in provocative clothing must want to have sex, but this is a product of sexism; it's a women-are-my-property mindset that leads rapists to think "if they're dressing this way, they're dressing this way for me". It doesn't even occur to them that this person could be wearing the low-cut dress because they like it.

You'll notice that this article is an "incomplete" list -- because this is not the final word on what consent is not, and sometimes these things need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Sexual consent is something that is enthusiastic; given freely without any pressure or fear. Consent is listening to your partner, taking note of their body language, and asking, "Is this okay? Do you like this?". And sexual contact without consent is rape. If you're unsure of whether a person is consenting or is able to consent, then stop.


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