In the past couple of weeks a bill about affirmative consent has come before the Connecticut state legislature that would create a blanket reform across all Connecticut universities regarding consent. It would require that consent to sex be affirmative. Joe Biden just pushed it at the Oscars. Everywhere in America, college campuses are making a move toward affirmative definitions of consent. So what, exactly, is affirmative consent?
You’ve probably heard the often repeated “no means no” catchphrase of previous legislation. This is part of a culture that places blame upon the survivor of sexual assault. By saying, “no means no” we turn to the survivor and ask them to put up red lights, stop signs, and the like when something gets uncomfortable for them. This kind of law waits until the situation has already entered a gray area that can get murky. Instead, the proposed “yes means yes” legislation asks the initiator to ask for permission, rather than be granted forgiveness.
This alleviates a lot of pressure from the potential survivor, but also the initiator. On the survivor’s part, they’re being asked permission about the next step. Instead of making assumptions, there’s a clear answer in place about what’s going to happen. It’s like the DTR talk. You want to know where this is going, if anywhere, and you’d rather be asked than told. On the initiator’s part, obtaining affirmative consent is just easier. Instead of the awkward internal dialogue of “do I go for it? Are they into it? Is this too far?” you don’t have to wonder. You just ask. Seriously, just ask.
Alcohol or drugs is always the big question mark I see when I talk to people about this kind of thing. Now, I think it’s pretty clear to most decent, upstanding people that you do not try anything with the person who is passed out on the couch at the party. That should be your affirmative negative response, in case that needed clarification. Moving past that, if the person you’re flirting with at the party can barely walk straight, that’s also going to be a hard no. If they’ve puked, that will also be a hard no. If they’re dancing, having a good time, have a couple drinks under their belt but seem in that happy zone, you’re in the clear as far as alcohol goes. Basically, they need to be able to wake up and remember your name.
Okay, so let’s address the thing I hear a lot about alcohol from people who probably own a meninist t-shirt: what if (assuming this is a heterosexual relationship) the guy is intoxicated and the girl isn’t and she takes advantage of him? Newsflash, anatomy lesson, sex ed secret: if he’s totally trashed, there won’t be a whole lot of ways a girl can take advantage of him. Not to diminish men’s sexual assault, as it is a completely valid and real issue, but as far as this question is concerned, it can’t happen in that instance. And if that’s the state this guy is in, leave him alone. He can’t consent to anything besides a lot of water and a couple of Advil.
Previous consent does not equal consent in general. I don’t care if you’ve been dating a year or met them twenty minutes ago: yes means yes until it doesn’t. If at any point someone changes his or her mind, you stop. You just stop. Hit the stop button. Like right now. I’m sorry if that wasn’t your plan for the evening but their plan changed, and in order for this to be any fun for anyone involved, your plans have to be the same.
If you’re still lost, take a moment to Google the cup of tea video on consent. It’s funny, comes with a little cartoon, and breaks down consent into a very simple scenario.
Yes is an empowering word. It implies permission being granted, rather than that opportunity being taken away. Consent is sexy. It makes the situation clear, easy, free from stress for both parties. Nothing says sexy to me like clear and easy.