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Let's talk about consent, again

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SEPTEMBER 24, 2013

Toward the beginning of most consent workshops I’ve been to, we anonymously poll the participants. Two questions are inevitably asked: “Have you ever had your consent violated?” and “Have you ever possibly violated someone else’s consent?” At the last workshop I went to, about 70 percent of my peers solemnly responded yes to the first question. As for the second, only about 10 percent did.

Maybe consent is a new subject for you, incoming student; maybe it’s something you’ve talked or read about once and dismissed as hyper-politically-correct mumbo-jumbo jargon; maybe you’ve had mandatory discussions on consent every semester, as I have. In any case, I’d like to start off this semester’s column by revisiting consent, given how many people feel they have had their consent violated in the past. For the most part, I’ll wager that whoever violated their consent wasn’t some demonic-eyed, evil rapist; it could have been any well-meaning person — it could have been me or you.

Allow me to disrobe my anonymity. I answered yes to both questions. Though “yes” is a very strong, black-and-white affirmation, the situations that came to my mind were far more gray and nebulous. People often only associate these violations with male-identified individuals, but the perpetrator could be anyone, baby, especially in our age of assertive female-identified individuals who know what they want sexually — which is awesome, but potentially double-edged.

My story begins at a social gathering in which I had somehow had a little too much to imbibe. I was told the next day that I had flown around and kissed quite a few people. This horrified me, not because of a sense of personal dignity but because I couldn’t remember if any of my face-mauling had been consensual — intoxication was no excuse. Later, I chased down some of the people I heard I had given my “regard” to, and it seemed the general consensus was that it had all been totally consensual and in good fun — thankfully. But because of my memory’s inopportunely timed vacation, I earnestly can’t recall all the people I made out with that time. It was likely that at least one of these persons didn’t want it, that I made them feel uncomfortable, but perhaps they didn’t have the agency or forthrightness to say no.

Saying no is hard whether or not substances are involved. Your partner is really into it, and you figure it’s easier to go with the flow than to be honest. You go with the kiss. That night, that was all I did. But sometimes that kiss goes into a little something further, and you feel trapped because you felt like you “led” your partner on. You’d feel like a terrible asshole to stop now.

I’ve been there. A year or so ago, halfway through knocking uglies with a partner, I realized I really wasn’t into it. But I felt guilty for letting things get so far and didn’t know how to escape. I figured that it’d be easier just to plow on through though I was finding no pleasure in the experience. Result: a pretty shitty time, for both me and my partner.

Consent is messier than it seems. Most consent practices are nonverbal — a lusty smile, a suggestive touch. Most would assume that they’ve never violated anyone’s consent. “I mean, I was into it — weren’t you?” But therein lies the slippery slope. Nonverbal nudges can be misconstrued, and without overt communication, one party might be surreptitiously holding back on expressing their discomfort. Such dishonesty to yourself and your partner(s) will likely hurt all parties, though, either via damaging your relationship or by just leading to a terrible romp.

It’s important to remember that a violation of consent need not include sex at all or even a kiss. It simply means that someone has done something to invade your physical security in some way or form that was not wanted. It’s a moment in which you no longer felt comfortable or safe in your own skin.

Consent is holistic. It doesn’t refer to just getting or receiving permission at the beginning but also maintaining that consent throughout the entirety of whatever you’re doing with your partner(s). If you feel your consent is being overridden at any point in time, speak up! “I’m just not into this.” It’s OK, I promise. You can give permission to your body and take it away whenever you like.

Many think that asking for consent would ruin the “mood” or irrevocably dam the flow of things, but I think asking for consent is one of the sexiest things you could do. It shows your thoughtfulness and respect for your partner — what could be foxier? There’s also more than one sultry way to ask:

“Would it turn you on if I…”

“Do you want me to … ”

And, of course, the simplest “Can I?”

Remember, anyone can violate consent, including you good Samaritans. So let’s open greater communication so all parties can leave each sexual romp feeling satisfied.

Contact Vi Nguyen at [email protected].

APRIL 17, 2015