The Hard and Messy Truth About Consent 

If we want to stem sexual assault, we have to understand Consent.

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Let’s be honest: The concept of Consent has always suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. Sure, most of us understand the basics: “Yes” means someone’s interested in doing something, while “no” means they’re not. But venturing beyond traditional rules and etiquette is more of a necessity today than ever. This is especially true as many around the nation are heading back to school this week and entering the “Red Zone” — the first six weeks of college when freshman women are most at risk of being sexually assaulted.
What’s more, the era-defining #MeToo movement (its first anniversary is next month) also demands we confront how common sexual assault continues to be – and calls to our attention how little of our sexual education actually focuses on Consent. So, despite clear definitions, Consent isn’t black and white — nor is the cultural, political, emotional space around it — and the scenarios that arise IRL often leave us navigating through hidden (and not-so-hidden) landmines.
And those landmines have real consequences. Though we’re firmly in the era of “yes means yes,” every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. Research suggests that 1 in 3 college age men are more likely to admit to rape if they don’t call it rape, and a survey of 1,000 people revealed that 1 in 8 women felt like they didn’t have the right to withdraw Consent. These numbers reveal that many of us aren’t working from the same definition of Consent. Clever iPhone apps that attempt to define Consent in an instant don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

The first six weeks of college [are] when freshman women are most at risk of being sexually assaulted.

Consent isn’t just about “yes” or “no.” Consent requires us to get vulnerable before we get naked. It’s about undressing our preconceived notions of what sex should look like. It’s about making space for each other to decide and communicate what we truly want, even if that's unfolding in real time.
It’s “yes, and…”
It’s “no, but…”
It’s “less of this” or “more of that.”
And, yes, Consent is often “no,” “nah,” or “not right now.”
Consent should be firm and clear. It should also be sexy, playful, and liberating. The goal of obtaining it cannot and should not be just the absence of violence. It’s about being awake in the process of pleasure — real pleasure. And that requires us to not only know what we don’t want, but also know what we do want.
So, how do we get everyone on the same page when it comes to Consent? This sure isn’t our first conversation on the topic — and it won’t be our last. We’re taking a deep dive into the conversation and culture around Consent now, however, because college campuses aren't just a hotbed for these issues — they're ground zero. And, as the U.S. Department of Education under Betsy DeVos prepares to implement new policies regarding sexual assault on campuses that provide even more protection for the accused and less accountability of higher education institutions, fully grasping and implementing the concept of Consent becomes more urgent than ever.
Right here, we’re starting with the basics of Consent, but we’re also taking it further — by talking to scholars, college students, dominatrixes, even a romance novelist — all to help us process how Consent plays out in real life, what the future of it could and should hold for us all, and how we can feel more comfortable and better equipped talking about it.
Here's what we have coming up this week:
Sex & Consent: It's Time To Ditch The Rules by Jaclyn Friedman
In the decade since the release of Yes Means Yes, the conversation about Consent has become codified into rules. But it's really meant as a humanizing ethic of sex.
"You Up?": Navigating College Hook-Up Culture As A Survivor Of Sexual Assault
by Dani Blum
An examination into how sexual assault survivors navigate college hookup culture.
Cool Me Down: "Don't Get Too Excited For A Technician" by Alisha Rai
We're exploring Consent through erotic fiction, with a sexy short story by a romance novelist.
How To Make Consent Sexy, According To A Dominatrix by Kassie Brabaw
Mistress Velvet, a BDSM expert from Chicago, shares what everyone might learn about Consent from BDSM culture.
What Now? 3 Theories On How To Fix Consent by Kassie Brabaw
We're talking to three leaders in the Consent movement about what's missing in mainstream conversations about Consent right now, and where we go from here.

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