Consent is “Yes.” Consent is not “not no.” Consent is not a short skirt. Consent is not too many tequila shots. Consent is not “we’ve had sex before.” Consent is not a pass that never expires. Consent is not being too afraid to say no. Consent is not contingent on how much you spent on dinner. Consent is not “maybe.” Consent is not “just this once.” Consent is not “nobody needs to know.” Consent is not able to circumvent unfair power dynamics. Consent is not “convince me.” Consent is “yes.” Consent is an enthusiastic, non-coercive, informed, revocable “yes.”
The prevalent dialogue surrounding sexual assault in contemporary times frames consent as a “modern issue.” The “#MeToo” movement causes many individuals to believe the conversations about consent as a modern, “trendy” conversation, brought about by third-wave feminism and pussy hats. Conversations about consent and sexual violence create a space for survivors to share their stories and allow for the general public, especially young people, to be educated and informed on the shocking relevance of assault.
Consent, at its roots, comes from bodily autonomy. Anyone, regardless of gender, intoxication, sexual orientation, relationship status or any other extraneous factor reserves the right to decide what happens to their body. There are no “blurred lines” or “what ifs” about it. At the end of the day, if there is not “yes” given, it is not consent. Consent is a human right that has existed since the beginning of time.
Conversations about consent and sexual violence often inherently place the responsibility of consent on one party. Perpetrators of rape culture have complained “asking for consent ruins the mood.” There has been a counter-movement popularized by The Good Men Project titled “Consent is Sexy.” The idea is that asking for consent doesn’t ruin the mood, but can be made sexy and erotic. This is dangerously flawed. Consent is not “sexy,” consent is mandatory. If ensuring that your partner is comfortable with the acts being performed during sex has sex less enjoyable, there is a violent and unhealthy power dynamic in play. Consent is more important than romance or lust or “the mood.” Normalizing conversations about consent is one way to confront sexual violence. It is imperative that both parties feel safe enough to say “no” and know that “no” will be respected. It is the responsibility of all people involved to ensure that consent is freely given and discussed. It should not be something that only comes up after the fact, when a boundary has been crossed and someone has been violated.
In an era of heightened accountability and visibility about consent and sexual violence, some individuals claim to be confused about consent, presenting it as this abstract, newfound, complicated “issue,” which often is used a defense when accused of sexual assault. The burden of defining consent is often placed on women, to victim-blame and forgo responsibility for one’s own actions. Consent is simple. If it is not a “yes,” it is a “no.” If it is a “no,” it is a “no.” No questions asked. There is no place for coercion or convincing in consent. “No” was likely most of our first words, and it is long past time we start respecting it.
Kat Ward is a Junior Middle Grades Education: Language Arts and Social Studies major.