Asking for consent is far simpler than you think

What consent means and how easy it is to ask for it

File Photo of a sign saying "Yes is sexy" at Take Back The Night 2012: Karen Nickel/The Dialog

File Photo of a sign saying “Yes is sexy” at Take Back The Night 2012: Karen Nickel/The Dialog

The massive surge in demand for action on sexual assault that’s taken place over the past few years, has led to innumerable campaigns targeting harmful behaviours and attitudes.

Among the most widespread, have been consent-awareness campaigns seeking to set the standard for consent-aware sexual behaviour.

Unfortunately, gripes about the perceived unfairness and inconvenience of the concept have been equally widespread.

Consent-awareness is treated by some as an overly elaborate buzzkill rather than an assault-prevention necessity; fortunately, it’s a simple concept.

In a nutshell, consent means that:

A clear and enthusiastic approval of a sexual activity has been given.

There is a bit of a divide in pro-consent dialogue in regards to what an affirmative response is. Some say that an explicit verbal confirmation is necessary, while others prefer an interpretation that also encompasses clear nonverbal cues.

What all pro-consent perspectives agree on is that if you have to ask if it’s an affirmative response, it should be assumed that it isn’t. Silence or the absence of a strong “no” is never consent.

  • Anyone has the right to end a sexual interaction at any time.
  • Folks that are underage or are significantly intoxicated or impaired by a substance can’t provide consent.
  • Both parties have a responsibility to disclose any current sexual health risks they may pose and an obligation to respect a partner’s request for use of protection.

In other words, don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t clearly want to or isn’t in a state to know what they’re doing, and don’t lie about your health status or refuse protection when it’s requested. There are actually people who find this unnecessarily complex!

Consider it for a moment, some people actually get upset at the notion that they should be able to do whatever they want to someone unless they ask them not to.

Imagine the results if we applied that selfish logic to other aspects of our lives.

There’s plenty to be said when addressing complaints about all of these aspects of consent, but in this piece the primary focus is on the complaints around the inconvenience of asking for consent.

Some complain that confirming consent is an interruption to the flow of a sexy evening.

We’ve grown up watching movies where attractive heroes wordlessly enthrall one another with their combined sexiness and get it on without any discussion. It’s no wonder that we’re primed to expect a similar kind of magical scenario for ourselves.

The reality, as any sexually-active person can confirm, is that the reality is far less cinematically elegant. More often than not, belts need to be awkwardly undone, bras will get caught on something, and protection needs to be dug out of the recesses of the bedside table drawer.

If opponents are afraid that they’ll crack their impenetrable veneer of coolness, guess what? They probably don’t look that cool putting on a condom either, even if they’re wearing sunglasses. It doesn’t matter. Part of the fun of sex is the awkwardness.

The “inconvenient” excuse is often used by whiners that don’t want to use condoms when asked to by a partner, and they are frequently (and correctly) criticized for their selfishness and carelessness. Why don’t we treat the establishment of consent the same way? After all, it takes less time and effort, doesn’t cost a thing, and is far simpler than most people expect it to be.

It’s as simple as asking “Is this okay?” or “May I…?”

It’s likely that many expect the conversation to be awkward and are intimidated by the potentially uncomfortable interaction with someone they may not know very well, but consider the absurdity of that for a moment.

You’re literally flopping around naked and handling each others’ junk, how can you expect a question so simple to have a greater potential for awkwardness than that?

More importantly, is it really more important to avoid a minor inconvenience to yourself than it is to be certain that you aren’t sexually assaulting someone?

One would think that the idea that potentially misinterpreting someone’s intentions would be enough to motivate them to simply ask.

A truly empathetic person should find the mere possibility of assaulting someone else horrifying enough to overcome whatever nerves they have around establishing clear consent.

This is just a brief introduction to the concept of consent but is by no means exhaustive. For more thorough information visit sexualassaultsupport.ca or sexualhealthontario.ca, both of which are good places to start.

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Asking for consent is far simpler than you think