The Blurred Lines of Consent on College Campuses
Though middle school is often crowned the most awkward phase of our social lives as we come to know them, college is arguably a close (if not Lauren B-style Bachelor snatching) second.
As if trying to spread your wings in new environments isn’t enough, navigating the tricky waters of self-discovery in young adulthood gets that much more complicated as sex and dating begin taking the main stage.
Of all the culturally trending topics, “consent” is one that’s particularly found its way into the conversation of sex on campuses across the country. Although sensual exploration has always been a thing when large populations of young people come together under the guise of academia, the issue has become increasingly more prominent in the last few years alone.
I have seen some headlines, but how serious of an issue really is it?
A shocking reality to start with is the apparently stark difference in social sexpectations among guys versus gals. Surveying students around the nation, one study found 45% of the college-aged men expected to have penetrative sex if they bring someone home after a party…as opposed to only 31% of the women who thought the same. It also found almost 25% of guys agreed that “women usually have to be convinced to have sex” (contrasting the 11% of women) and 28% said “many” sexual assaults are just cases of ‘buyer’s remorse’ by females regretting sex after it happens.
Another study found 61% of its male participants admitted to interpreting a women’s consent through her body language; whereas only 10% of female participants said that’s how they actually give it.
So where’s the disconnect? And what can be done about it?
In response, many schools, activists and students are turning to the idea of “affirmative consent.” Defined as the mutually understood and continuously voluntary decision between both parties to engage in any kind of sexual activity, affirmative consent has become a commonly promoted standard of how all types of sex should be treated.
In other words, it means “yes” is the only thing that means “yes.” Not just a lack of saying “no,” not just saying nothing at all.
As of today, more than 1,000 higher education institutions have some kind of affirmative consent definition outlined in their sexual assault policies. California was even the first state to enact an overall standard, followed by New York and a handful of others.
With countless initiatives raising awareness and supporting legislation to combat the issue, swarms of research have been hugely inspiring of the administrative change, too.
The Association of American Universities found schools as a whole are increasing spending, training, and hiring to counteract sex assault on campuses. Especially once additional studies a few years back revealed more than 20 percent of female undergrad students have been victims of sexual assault and misconduct of some kind.
But it doesn’t take a scientist to realize changes in theoretical policy don’t always go noticed (or even truly adopted) by the population itself. Rarely does anyone actually read the token “handbook,” or look at welcome packet pamphlets full of stats, factoids, and stock images of brooding models.
So here’s where the importance of conversation comes to light.
Of course there’s an endless supply of shocking and troubling data that academics and admins love throwing around at conferences and in trade magazine editorials; but where’s the value in collecting all of this information if no practical change is ever seen on the ground itself?
At the end of the day, it’s genuine awareness, discussion, and action among peers that can help make the largest difference. So while mass-produced fliers and study hall lectures may not do the trick alone, they can certainly help kick start the conversation at a time that’s never been more critical.
Progress’ biggest potential boils down to informed social discourse — where practical application of these ideas and practices are not only understood, but also made a reality.
So in the end…
It’s not about stripping the passion from sex or making each romp in the sheets feel like a socially awkward game of 20 questions. Rather, it’s about ensuring we’re all on the same, enjoyable page when it comes to our most intimate explorations.
It’s the basic principle of consent in need of resurrection on campus. And by advancing the public discussion, individuals at all levels can help reinstate everything that sex is collectively meant to be: expressive, hot and most importantly…fun!
Here at SWE, we always say communication is the greatest lubrication. So whenever you find yourself in a sultry situation, never forget to trust your gut, speak your feelings and above all—always listen.
Alex Anderson is an LA-based lifestyle designer proactively raging against the cultural grain. By day she works in television production, and by night enjoys writing, sewing and seeking guidance from the stars. She also finally has an all black kitty named “Cher.” You can follow her website (www.alexjanderson.com) and on Instagram (@AJAndMore)!