Chances are you know someone who has been sexually assaulted. If you don’t think you do you may be surprised. A recent study indicates that twenty percent of undergraduate women experience some type of completed sexual assault upon entering college (Krebs, 2009). The majority of the victims know the person who assaulted them. This number is likely much higher though, since most sexual assaults go unreported. Survivors of sexual assault face many difficulties when seeking help after an assault. They may not know who they can turn to, and University policies may not leave victims with many options. Victims who identify as LBGT are at an even further disadvantage.
“Why doesn’t she report it?” “What was she wearing?” “Where was she?” “Did she fight back?” “Did she say no?” “Didn’t she used to date him?” “Hasn’t she slept with him before?” These are all questions that can be asked of a survivor of sexual assault. Rape myths perpetuate the belief that it is the victim’s fault for having had this happen to them. Really we should be asking the rapist “Are you sure she wanted to have sex?” “How could you tell?” “Did you ask her?” “Had you been drinking?” “Wasn’t your judgment impaired since you had a lot of alcohol to drink that night?” Half of all rapes on college campuses involve alcohol (Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies, and Alcohol). The mainstream media popularizes the belief that it’s OK to get a woman drunk so she will have sex with you and repeatedly men’s masculinity is linked with drinking. This scenario is played out over and over in movies, TV shows, and commercials with no consequences ever shown for the young person’s actions. Commercials and movies that idealize alcohol and masculinity as they objectify women do not directly cause rape. Jackson Katz the director of Tough Guise says it best “Pop cultural representations create a set of expectations in both women and men that are at least conducive to sexual assault.”
The burden of preventative measures such as, don’t wear too short a skirt or top, carry mace, and cover your drink have all been placed on women. Gaining consent applies to whoever is initiating the sexual contact man or woman. While the hot and heavy get it on without talking may be great for the movies it is often more fantasy than reality. Over time having your significant other of several months or years asks to kiss you every time may get old, it can be a great way to start a relationship. People don’t always feel comfortable being touched, in the beginning of a relationship this can be difficult to judge or express. Consent is not the same for all people and will change throughout the relationship. Perhaps asking for a kiss in the beginning of a relationship becomes asking to nibble on your ear a few months later. If you are unsure about the best way to approach consent, talk with your partner as they may be able to give you some ideas.
I want to make something clear though, just because a person has consented to kissing or something further does not mean they have consented to sex. Once a person has consented to sex they may reach a point where they are uncomfortable and they still have the right to refuse consent. The important thing is for couples to talk about what feels good to them. When you can share with your partner what feels good instead of them fumbling blindly it can become more fun for both parties.
FAQs About Consent
How can I always be sure that sex is consensual?
Asking your partner “Can I (insert action verb) kiss (insert where you want to touch) your neck?” Is a great way to make sure that each step of your sexual journey is consensual. Also have a conversation about sex before you have it, talk about what you both like or dislike, what is considered acceptable, and what is not. Talking about it beforehand can make your experiences that much more intimate and intense.
What if I have asked the other person to have sex with me over and over and they finally say yes?
Then it is not really consensual because they have been coerced. Pressuring and manipulating someone to have sex is coercive not consensual. It is also not sexy.
What if we have both been drinking?
Then you have to decide if the other person is capable of consenting to sex. This means even if the other person wants to have sex but they are drunk, it may not be appropriate to have sex because the person is not really capable of giving consent. This might be contrary to what you have heard before, but how can you be sure the other person is really consenting if you or your partner won’t remember it the next morning? If you have also been drinking it is important to consider that you may not be able to accurately judge your partners response, and you also should not have sex. The best way to make sure you have consent is to ask before moving on sexually, and to be sober so you can be absolutely sure the other partner has given consent.