Consent Culture

12 Apr

by Tiffany Sun

Consent is an important part of healthy sexuality and both people should be involved in the decision to have sex. It must be verbal, affirmative, voluntary, and continuous with each new act.

I’ve always thought of myself as independent and outspoken – never afraid to say “no” and never embarrassed to say “yes.” Naturally, the grayness of mutual consenting sexual activity always seemed somewhat removed from my life. Even amidst Georgetown’s strong hookup culture, I was pretty sure I could take care of myself and put the brakes on anything if I ever felt uncomfortable. However, I slowly began to realize that this was not the case; the lack of a consent culture, a culture in which mutual consent is the principal narrative of sex, on campus affected my daily life a lot more than I thought.

For one, I was frustrated with the fact that my hookups were usually quick to jump to the conclusion that my initial consent to making out with them was also an OK for them to do more. I was frustrated with people not respecting my “no” by trying to convince me otherwise. And most of all, I was frustrated with myself for not always knowing how to say “no” because I didn’t want to ruin the moment; wanted to avoid awkwardness; and wanted to please my partner. The bottom line being, the lack of a culture of verbal, affirmative, voluntary, and continuous consent made me feel vulnerable to sexual assault.

So how do we change this and create a safer environment, one that focuses on preventing sexual violence and promoting healthy sexual relationships?

First of all, participate in active consent! Ask your partner before each new act and respect his/her answer! In fact, you’re probably already doing it just by asking: “can we try XXX,” “is this ok,” “can I kiss you,” and “what do you want to do?” By giving him/her the agency and the chance to voice what he/she likes or wants, there is less room for miscommunication and you don’t run the risk of doing something your partner may not want to do. Basically, you’re looking for enthusiastic consent, “Yes! I want do that!,” that is, consent that is unambiguous, voluntary, informed, and without hesitation. As Erin Riordan previously said here, “consent is not the absence of a no; it is the presence of a yes.” Anything less is not consent and you should stop what you’re doing and accept their decision gracefully. Eventually, once you know your partner and his/her preferences well, you can begin to rely more on passive consent (although active consent is still encouraged). Secondly, when you witness nonconsensual sexual activity (such as when an individual is intoxicated or being pressured), put a stop to it! Step in and make sure that both parties are consenting adults. And finally, incorporate consent into your daily life outside the bedroom! A big part of creating a consent culture has to with asking about and respecting others’ boundaries. For example, try asking someone if they would like a hug before hugging them; don’t force/pressure a friend to try something if they don’t want to; and in general, accept that “no” means “no.”

Ultimately, while asking for consent may seem unsexy, awkward, or inconvenient, it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially with new partners or practices. Besides, there doesn’t have to be any awkwardness because in all seriousness, what is hotter than knowing your partner wants you just as much as you want him/her?


If you find this post in any way triggering, please know that a wide range of resources are available.

Inspired by Tiffany and want to learn more? Participate in Georgetown University‘s Take Back the Night Week.

2 Responses to “Consent Culture”

  1. DRJ April 14, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    I’m a queer woman who has been told or sensed in partners many times that: “asking: “can we try XXX,” “is this ok,” “can I kiss you,” and “what do you want to do?” – is NOT sexy. If you were to ask mainstream heterosexual women what their opinions are about a date asking “what do you want to do?” many would tell you that they hate an indecisive partner. I’m also curious about whether the type of guy who is confident enough to non-verbally progress sexually with a date rather than asking for permission to progress is the type of guy who is most likely to show a confidence that many heterosexual woman are looking for. In other words, the type of guy who would feel it necessary to ask for verbal consent may be coming from the “what woman would want to have sex with poor little me?” mindset that usually repels women.

    Given that, I would love to open up the conversation about how to use non-verbal cues and non-direct language to communicate a strong desire for sexual activity. I mean, a girl has to get her ravage fantasy on without a clunky “May I touch your breast?”. One suggestion I’ve heard from the kink community is to have the consent discussion long-before sexy time as to not interrupt the mood later. This suggestion has it’s pros and cons because consent five hours or five days ago doesn’t imply consent right now.


  1. Socially Conscious Trolling (Or Why I Read Georgetown Confessions) | Feminists-at-Large - April 29, 2013

    […] women frequently lie and falsely report about sexual assault, that there is a fine line between consensual actions and sexual assault, that a man could “accidentally” sexually assault a woman, that […]

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