The end of 2017 saw the rise of a movement denouncing a culture of sexual abuse and harassment in workplaces.
The #MeToo movement brought an end to the careers of many prominent figures accused of serial sexual assault, some of whom had set up networks of enablers and complicit staff to assist their grotesque abuse of power.
The scope has since expanded.
In the early weeks of 2018, the #MeToo movement’s focus shifted from blatant sexual offenses to persistent and pervasive questions of consent — a discussion that is far more nuanced, but for many, more relevant.
This is a focus with great significance for dating life and hook-up culture, both of which are commonplace in college life.
Conversations about consent are not new but salient enough that we believe a discussion on consent is warranted and encouraged whenever stories like that circulate throughout the media.
Firmly, it is our view that lessons on consent cannot be reiterated enough.
Affirmative consent means a verbal and affirmative yes is required from a prospective sexual partner before sexual acts are started. Not only is verbal consent important, respecting a “no” after seeking that consent is as well.
Coercion simply has no place in the bedroom — or anywhere for that matter. Ask for consent, get the answer and accept whatever that answer is the first time it’s given.
If someone changes their mind from a “no” to a “yes,” they’ll tell you. Persistence is often portrayed as some type of romantic gesture in romantic comedies. But, being unrelenting can often undermine a person’s ability to make a decision on their own.
To say it simpler, if someone does not explicitly — and of their own accord — say yes to sex, you can not have sex with that person.
As easy as this seems, our culture has regarded it as foggy at best. In the heat of a moment, one can find they feel justified in accepting a nonverbal action or expression as an implicit invitation for sex.
But that is, quite simply, wrong.
It takes little research to find stories of romantic encounters that have gone awry because of misinterpreted signals. Often, a partner may find it hard to explicitly say no to an eager date and give in to an unwanted sexual experience. Sometimes, they may fear violence from their partner if they were to turn them down, and so they stay silent.
These stories can disseminate through the national media or emerge from someone within your inner circle. This commonality speaks to the prevalence and the gravity of the issue.
An unwanted sexual experience is unacceptable. Fear of violent retribution from a possible sexual partner is unacceptable. Both are completely avoidable.
An out-loud and earnest yes to the question, “Do you want to have sex?” is needed for sex.
It may seem awkward to stop an advancing moment and ask, “Do you want to have sex?” But, five seconds of awkwardness is minor sacrifice for safer, more respectful, better sexual relationships.
Affirmative consent is not just pertinent in hookup culture, but has implications for relationships, at least in early stages. Without a fervent and deep connection between a couple, it is wrong to assume you know the wishes of your partner. Communication is needed to cut out ambiguity.
In recent years, our culture — both collegiate and societal — has made strides in redefining healthy sexual relationships.
But we have ways to go until erroneous presumptions on sex are eradicated from our zeitgeist. Changes in our approach to sex need to occur.
We are not advocating less sex, or for an end to hookup culture. We are advocating for consensual sex. We are advocating for more respectful sex. We are advocating for better sex.
While laws and university policies have given a framework for changing attitudes and actions, complete change can only come from discussions.
It is important to seek out information on and fully understand affirmative consent. It is important to initiate conversations with your friends and with your organizations. It is important to hold your friends accountable, as well.
Nuanced discussions on sexual misconduct and on issues of consent are not easy, nor should they be. They can be uncomfortable, passions may run high, and personal experiences may be more pertinent than we’d prefer. But they are necessary to bettering our society, and that’s a task that starts by reaching out to those closest to you.
Our longing for better relationships rests on affirmative consent. It should be discussed, and it needs to be practiced.