More Than Yes: The Ins & Outs of Affirmative Consent

large-2Consent. A seemingly simple concept that, for many reasons, is largely misunderstood. How can something as easy as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer be so misconstrued, so often? Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not always bliss. You may think you know when there’s consent, but unless you’re 100 percent on the same page as your potential sexual partner, the actual act of sex with them remains strictly a possibility.

dont-rapeRape culture is a very real thing in this day and age; it’s not just a bunch of people making hooplah for no reason. We as women are taught how to fight back, how to avoid these situations, or how to keep ourselves from being seen as only objects of lust, when no one seems to be telling the men… anything. Why is my outfit to blame when someone harasses me on the street? Why do I need to carry pepper spray to walk myself home in the moonlight? Why are women the ones getting lectured for just trying to live their lives? Instead of the current state of which we find ourselves in, there are people and organizations working on a new culture, a consent culture, because consent is the standard.

Most of us have heard the saying “no means no,” but does that mean that as long as there wasn’t an actual, clear-cut “no,” it’s an automatic yes? NO.

Consent has to be affirmative, so if she’s not saying f*ck yes, then it’s a f*ck no.

yes-means-yesThankfully, state legislatures, such as New York and California, have begun initiating sexual consent laws on college campuses, evolving “no means no” into “yes means yes,” and “enough is enough.”

As defined by New York’s “Yes Means Yes” law, affirmative consent  is: “a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.  Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

This means that an affirmative, conscious, and un-coerced yes is the only way to freely give and receive consent in any sexual situation. Seems easy enough to understand, but before you go telling everyone that you’re a consent professional, you have to know all the parts involved…

Consent is more than just a yes. Your partner could be saying yes to kissing, but not to sexual touching. Or maybe they are saying yes to oral, but never agreed to penetration. Whenever the level of sexual activity is elevated, both partners need to re-give consent. This is not to say that on your next sexual encounter, you need to be constantly asking if your partner is okay every two seconds, but that there needs to be a distinction on exactly what your partner is consenting to and that things aren’t taken too far.

being-drunk-is-not-consentConsent is more than just a yes. Your partner has to know every intention, every aspect of what is going on. Maybe they had one too many margaritas, or delved into other kinds of party favors, so they’re feeling good, but aren’t entirely aware of themselves. In these kinds of situations, a “yes” may be uttered, but don’t start undressing just yet, because that was not actual consent. Both partners need to be in their right mind to freely consent to sex. How many times have you done something regrettable after a night of serious intoxication? For most of us, at least a few. Again, we all have our drunken hookups, but taking advantage of someone in an altered state is never okay.

Consent is more than just a yes. Understanding consent is knowing it is not set in stone. Once consent is given, it can completely be taken away at any moment. So if you’re partner starts to feel unsafe, insecure, or is downright no longer in the mood, all sexual activity must come to a halt. It’s not something you can pretend you didn’t hear and then carry on with your business; you have no idea why someone may want to stop having sex in the midst of it all. There might be a history of sexual trauma resurfacing, or maybe they realized they weren’t ready for whatever was being thrown at them. Regardless of the reason, if someone says no after they’ve said yes, the latter sets the new precedence.

rape-and-consent

Photo Credit: Alli Kirkham

Consent is more than just a yes. You may have had completely consensual sex with someone once, but consent only goes as far as that one encounter. When you let someone borrow your car, they do not all of a sudden have permission to use it whenever they please. I don’t even let people borrow my car, but if I had, and then three weeks later, I came out to my driveway, seeing them get into my car… Let’s just say, things would NOT go down well. The same goes for sex; it can be a yes one day, and a no the next. The barrier may have come down temporarily, but that puppy goes right back up after the excursion is over. No one owes you ANYTHING, even if some lost souls think that you do.

Photo Credit: Alli Kirkham

Photo Credit: Alli Kirkham

Consent is more than just a yes. Consent is just as much about giving as it is receiving (just like every sexual practice), meaning consent has to be informed. If you are HIV positive, at risk, or have any other type of STD/STI that could be transferred, you must make these things clear to your partner. If you keep them in the dark, you could be putting them at risk for contracting diseases as well. And, when you’re HIV positive, you actually have a legal obligation to be upfront about your situation.

Hopefully, the blurry fog that covered sexual consent is beginning to disperse, and you’ll be ready when the time comes. Remember: consent goes both ways and must come from both partners, regardless of gender or orientation. Sex should never be one-sided, so why would it start that way? It’s time to embrace the consent culture entirely, leaving the outdated and outrageous present culture far, far behind us.

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Want more on consent? The hot new web series F*ck Yes is bringing the sensual side of consent to the masses, showing you that an enthusiastic “YES” is not just a mandatory part of sex—it can also be a HUGE turn-on. Check it out here

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