Consent is black and white: either you have it, or you do not.
Simplistically, it is an agreement between two partners to engage in a sexual act. The topic of consent is not filled with complexities and loopholes; it is a straightforward concept.
While consent itself may be straightforward, there is no one-size-fits-all definition. This can create confusion and frustration for those trying to understand how to give and get permission.
However, many people, especially college students, find it difficult to talk about. It conjures up images of rape and violence, making the subject weirdly taboo.
It is a module you learned about in your high school sex education class and in the flyers your school gives out at orientation, but it does not seem to be open for conversation.
However, talking about consent is exactly what we need to do. Sexual assault is an epidemic across college campuses, and despite efforts on both sides, many people are afraid to talk about what consent means, how to give it and how to get it.
If students are afraid to talk about consent, they cannot reasonably expect healthy sex lives or relationships
Consent is built on a foundation of communication and respect. You have to communicate with your potential sexual partner—both verbally and non-verbally—in order to establish consent, and you must respect their consent, or lack thereof.
"Consent changes. Agreeing to something one time may change the second time," Janet Brito Ph.D, a sex and relationship therapist, said. "Permission goes a long way, and creates feelings of trust, intimacy and safety."
Consent is not simply saying “yes” or “no.” It is not the way a person dresses, flirts or acts. It is a culmination of what they communicate to their partner, both verbally and non-verbally.
If students are unable to discuss and define consent it will be impossible to build a sex-positive future. There is a plethora of definitions of what consent is, so talking with our partners and friends about how they define it allows us to shape our views.
Ultimately, opening a discussion about consent will allow students to solidify a healthy definition of consent and apply it to their lives.
The reality is: many students do not have a comprehensive understanding of consent. Their understanding often does not go beyond “rape is wrong.” Lines are easily blurred, and boundaries are easily crossed.
Sex without consent is not sex, it is rape. Students need to be having these conversations to understand whether or not this boundary is being crossed, and how they can avoid crossing it.
If consent is not talked about, students will struggle to establish whether or not their boundaries were violated. This can be a huge issue in coping with rape and sexual assault. If a victim cannot even define for themselves whether they were raped, it will be even more difficult to heal from the attack
Silencing the conversation around consent also contributes to victim blaming If a person is sexually assaulted and there is no clear definition of was consent is, there is more room for the victim to be blamed for the assault.
Often, attackers will play off their violence by saying the victim was “asking for it” due to their dress and behavior. Obviously, this is not consent, but if a solid definition is not established between the partners, it is easy to cut corners and find “loopholes.”
Muffling the conversation about consent because it is awkward or boring is counterproductive and counterintuitive. It does not create healthy sexualities, but simply ends an opportunity to create a sex-positive culture.
Talking about consent might not feel sexy, but it creates an environment of safety and respect.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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