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July 24, 2014 / Randall

California Liberals Pass Bill to Regulate Sex… [COUNTERPOINT!] AKA Consent 101

Image source and the article in question:

There’s a bill making its way through the California Senate known as SB 967. It basically mandates that students on state-funded college campuses who want to engage in sexual activities with another person must receive “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”

Sounds like a no-brainer to me – it’s trying to combat sexual assault and rape culture by moving from a “no means no” to a “yes means yes,” consent based sexual ethic – but some conservative news outlets like this one are making a mockery of it.

Take this paragraph:

While the bill appears to be motivated by the noble intention of addressing sexual assault on university campuses, it can lead to an absurd dating environment and over time, criminalize most people who have sex.

Here’s what’s absurd. The author, Kevin Boyd, seems to think that preserving the status quo of rape culture is more important than trying to foster a learning environment where all students can be protected from unwanted sexual acts.

This idea of an “absurd dating environment” highlights some common misunderstandings of what consent is and how it works.

First off, let’s define consent. Scarleteen defines it this way:

What is sexual consent? An active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone. When there is a question or invitation about sex of any kind, when consent is mutually given or affirmed, the answer on everyone’s part is an enthusiastic yes.

Now obtaining consent might sound like a intimacy mood-killer, but seeking consent (when done well) can be an alluring invitation.

  • May I [do whatever sexual thing]?
  • I’d like to [do whatever sexual thing]: would you like to? If not, what would you like to do?
  • How do you feel about doing [whatever sexual thing]?
  • (See the Scarleteen article for more consent-based, invitation-based questions.)

This kind of explicit, verbal consent is especially important at the start of a relationship where people might not be familiar with the other’s cues. However as a relationship progresses, consent can take non-verbal forms:

  • Nodding, yes
  • Laughter and/or smiling (upturned mouth)
  • “Open” body language, like relaxed, loose and open arms and legs, relaxed facial expressions, turning towards someone
  • Sounds of enjoyment, like a satisfied hum or enthusiastic moan
  • (See the Scarleteen article to find more non-verbal cues.)

The bottom line is, consent isn’t just one thing. Seeking and giving consent can take many different forms. But articles like this and this that are critical of consent-based laws flatten the idea of consent down to its most rudimentary, clumsy form. I mean, of course we should avoid the kind of clinical, contractual approach to consent depicted in this Chappelle Show skit

That’s NOT what people are talking about when they talk about consent!

Consent isn’t about a formal, contractual agreement. Consent culture is about curiosity. It’s about getting to know the person you’re with – what they want/don’t want and where they’re at in any given moment.

If the concept of consent is new to you, please do yourself (and your current/future) partner a favor and read through the Scarleteen article on consent.


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