Something as important as consent should have one, clear definition — and it does. But there's still major debate on what really counts as consent.
As a new survey of 1,000 people shows, there's still some confusion about whether or not anything other than outright saying "no" counts as not giving consent.
The research comes from StudySoup, a company that posts study materials for college students, which set out to see how people defines rape and consent. When talking about consent, a 43-year-old Republican man defined it as "wanted sexual activity." A 25-year-old Democrat woman, however, defined it as, "enthusiastic agreement to participate in sexual activity."
Neither person is wrong, but the woman's response uses two very important words "enthusiastic agreement." When there are questions of whether or not a person gave consent, the arguments often hinge on the difference between "no means no" and "yes means yes."
Again, both of those statements are true, but there's subtle difference in how they shape the conversation around consent. Thinking that "no means no" leaves every word other than no open to interpretation. "Yes means yes," on the other hand, relies on the idea that anything other than an enthusiastic "yes" — which doesn't have to be a verbal yes, but can also be excitement for the sexual activity — means no.
"Enthusiastic consent would mean that someone was excited about the sexual activity they are engaged in," Terri Poore, policy director for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, told Refinery29 in August. "They're sober enough to make a decision; they're able to indicate that they're interested in sexual activity, and they aren't feeling coerced."
Yet, it's not just the "no means no" versus "yes means yes" difference that has people confused. The researchers data also showed that one in every eight of the women surveyed don't think they have the right to withdraw consent once sex has already started. For the record, you absolutely do.
While most of the people polled seemed to have at least a decent understanding of what counts as consent, this study shows us that there's still a lot of work to be done to make sure we're all on the same page.
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