The Missing Lecture: Navigating Consent
The myOptions Team
Whether you got “the talk” during health class in high school or during an awkward conversation with your parents, it likely extended to contraception and STI’s. It seems that most schools, parents, and doctors forget to educate teenagers about the fundamental rule to practicing safe sex: consent. Now, there is a lot of controversy over this word. Here we will expose 11 myths associated with consent and sexual assault.
Myth #1: “Did you see her short skirt? She was asking for it.”
This is the most common form of victim blaming. Suggesting that a girl’s choice in clothing has any relevance to sexual assault implies that the girl held responsibility in the violation of her body. This notion is not only incredibly false, but it also leaves us with another myth: that men can’t control themselves when they experience lust or sexual desire. (THEY CAN). Rape isn’t even about sex; it’s about exerting control and power over another human being. Wearing “sexy” clothing does not put you at risk for being raped, but being in the presence of a rapist does. (Side note: the idea that someone is “asking for it” is implausible. The definition of sexual assault states that she was NOT, in fact, asking for it).
Myth #2: “Don’t flirt too much. You don’t want to give him the wrong idea.”
This goes along with the way we teach our girls to embody certain characteristics in order to “prevent” anything bad from happening to them. These harmful concepts express that rape only happens to girls that are “promiscuous,” “easy,” or “slutty.” Flirting is an action that does NOT, in any way, equate to consent. Flirting may mean that an individual is romantically interested in another, but it is not an invitation to anyone’s body. When we connect these actions to consent, not only are we blaming the victim, but we are inappropriately suggesting that women’s actions are inherently sexual. (This is called hypersexualization).
Myth #3: “She didn’t explicitly say ‘no,’ so…”
Some people think that silence or “maybe” can be interpreted as consent. The key isn’t to wait for your partner to say “no.” The key is to make sure the other person is comfortable and okay with everything that is happening. That means making sure the other person says “yes” willingly. When engaging in intimacy, it is important to make sure everyone is safe. Consent is included in that. It should be treated the same way you would suggest using protection or discussing STI’s. All it takes is a quick, “Hey, are you sure you’re okay with this?” and then you will have your answer.
Myth #4: “We were both super drunk, but we really wanted it.”
Adding alcohol to the mix can create confusion to understanding consent. So, let’s break it down. When you are under the influence, it’s challenging to communicate consent with honesty and clarity. You cannot fully and truly give consent when you are drunk or passed out. Many state laws hold that a person who is cognitively impaired due to the influence of drugs or alcohol is not able to consent to sexual activity. Because you are not physically capable of making strong, informed decisions, drunk consent is not valid.
Myth #5: “She kept saying 'no,' but eventually she gave in and said ‘yes.’"
This is called coercion. Convincing people to have sex is not a thing. If they say no, that means no. If they say yes, it means yes. In that sense, it’s pretty black and white. It is not consent if there is badgering, persuading, or guilting someone into doing something they don’t want to do. That is utilizing force and manipulation to take advantage of another person. That is rape.
Myth #6: “You’re a guy. Guys can’t be raped.”
1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. It doesn’t matter your sexuality either. The majority of male rape victims and their rapists are heterosexual. This emphasizes the point that rape does not have to do with lust or sex; it has everything to do with power and control.
Myth #7: “We’ve been dating for a year, so I can have sex with her/him whenever I want.”
Consent should be thought of as an ongoing conversation. People tend to assume that because they are dating, or because they are in love, that it means sex is always a green light, go. This is not the case. You can’t just ask for consent once, you have to treat it like a continuous process. For couples who are dating, sometimes a partner might give in to sex out of obligation or pressure. If there are ever any underlying threats, force, or sense of obligation, then it means that the sexual encounter is not considered consensual.
Myth #8: “It was a miscommunication! I didn’t know that she didn’t consent!”
If you’ve ever followed court cases that deal with sexual assault, you’ve likely heard this one. This myth emphasizes that an entire encounter was a huge misunderstanding. Perpetrators will report that there were “mixed messages” and that they “didn’t know” the other person didn’t consent. But let’s get real for a second: when someone wants to continue and pursue a sexual encounter, the onus is completely on them to make sure the other person wants to as well. Just because someone is not screaming or fighting back doesn’t mean that they are giving consent. Giving consent is saying one word with three letters: yes.
Myth #9: “She’s lying. Victims always lie about sexual assault when they regret having sex.”
This myth is a common one. People tend to overestimate the number of false reports of sexual assault, when in actuality, they occur no more than false accounts of other types of crime. (Typically between 2-8 percent). If you were about to be mugged and held at gunpoint, no one would ever question whether or not that really happened to you. Sexual assault should be treated just as seriously as any other crime. If a friend or someone you know has the courage to come forward and say they’ve been assaulted, the single most supportive thing you can do is believe them.
Myth #10: “Well, at least he didn’t go all the way! It could have been way worse.”
Unfortunately, there are a lot of ideas floating around the world that suggest that some experiences with sexual violence are more trivial than others. People typically think of sexual assault as rape by a stranger in a dark alley, when in reality, most sexual assaults occur with people we know and trust. And often times, if a victim’s experience doesn’t fit into that particular mold, everything is put into question. But one truth is certain: If you feel violated, then you were violated. It doesn’t matter if it was with a friend. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t “go all the way.” If it made you uncomfortable, and you didn’t consent, that is sexual assault.
Myth #11: “Why are you so upset? You said you had a crush on them!”
I want to stress the importance of these last few myths because they have a lot to do with the way our society excuses perpetrators from any responsibility for what they have done. Thinking someone is attractive, or having a crush on someone does not mean you want to have sex with them. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not compliments. The real impact of this myth is that it leads victims to question and blame themselves, and it makes them less likely to report crimes or even talk about what has happened to them. Through these myths, our society has created an environment that silences victims, leaving them to deal with the pain in isolation. And that, THAT is the truest tragedy of them all.
Hopefully now you realize that consent is not as complicated as it seems. If you still find yourself confused, here is a link to a video from the UK Thames Valley Police Department explaining consent in the most British way possible. (Complete with a tea comparison). By holding ourselves to higher standards when it comes to sexual conversations, only then can we guarantee honest, unanimous sexual experiences. And by educating others on the gravity of sexual violence, we will come closer to solving a problem that affects millions of individuals, girls and guys alike, all over the world.