by Kat Kelley
As a sexual assault advocate, I am often asked about “consent expectations.” Many of my peers find affirmative, verbal consent unnecessary, or claim that it is awkward or feels forced. However, as a hyperaware feminist, I’ve found in my sexual encounters, that people are already verbally asking for consent- it’s standard. You’re probably already asking explicitly for consent, or verbally providing consent, without realizing it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “consent” in bed, however I’m often asked “are you sure you want to do this,” “is this okay,” “do you want/like this,” or “should I get a condom now?” -and I’m not only sleeping with gentlemen. Asking for consent doesn’t have to be pointed or procedural. Consent is sexy, and having someone enthusiastically consent- verbally confirming that they want you- is a total turn on. Plus, even if it feels awkward at first- I’d much rather risk a brief awkward moment, that risk hurting someone.
The push to rebrand consent as “sexy” is about changing the way we talk about sexual violence- changing the message from “don’t get raped” to “be certain you aren’t sexually assaulting someone.” The onus for prevention is put on the perpetrators.
However, as much as I love the “consent is sexy” movement, we need to address the consent expectation. Attaining “official” consent shouldn’t be portrayed as a great expectation. Ascertaining consent, or lack there of, isn’t difficult.
Our culture is terrified of the myth of false reporting. “Ruining their life” is more often used to describe someone who is falsely accused of perpetrating sexual assault, than to depict the traumatic experience of a survivor (despite the fact that the Department of Justice estimates that only 2-8% of reports are false, while 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men experience sexual assault). While there is no excuse for not asking for consent, and implied consent is not sufficient, this expectation should not be used to perpetuate the myth of “gray areas” in sexual assault. If you are sexually engaged with someone, and they look scared or uncomfortable, that’s a cue to check in. They don’t need to be kicking and screaming “no” to prove they aren’t consenting. In fact, one of the most common responses to sexual assault is to freeze up, and focus on survival, rather than fighting back. And I don’t know about you- but if I was sleeping with someone who was was frozen or not participating, I would naturally feel the need to check in, and determine if they were still consenting.
Verbal, affirmative consent is easy, it is standard, and while body language is not sufficient consent, the nuances of consent should never be an excuse for rape apologists. Consent isn’t confusing or ambiguous, it is not a gray area- if it is, then it is inherently not consent.
If you find this article triggering, please know that resources and support are available.