One of things I’m very passionate about is sexual literacy. People should be equipped with all the tools they need to have safe, healthy sex lives. To me that means going beyond the talk of pregnancy and STD prevention to a discussion of boundaries and consent. When people don’t understand consent, bad things happen–see Genarlow Wilson. Today I came across a great article about consent (please check it out!) that got me to thinking about how my own views on the subject evolved.
To the outside world, I’m a bit of a prude. Part of that is a genuine expression of my feelings. I have never liked hugs from strangers, and I prefer greeting new acquaintances with simply a smile. The thought of strippers (male or female) in my vicinity makes me very uncomfortable and if my bachelorette party has a Magic Mike moment I WILL leave the room. No thanks. But, instances of sexual harassment in middle and high school increased my need for personal space. If we’re not cool like that I need 12-18 inches and will keep backing up until you get the picture, and if you sneak up behind me you might get chin checked. This made for some very interesting conversations with boyfriends past and present. I have never had a problem making it clear what kind of touching I will/will not allow. It’s never caused any problems, but when Tex and I started dating he surprised me. I was used to saying no. Hands would wander and get firmly pushed aside. Puppy dog eyes and pleading were met with no sympathy.
I didn’t go through any of these shenanigans with Tex. We were friends before we started dating and yet, after a month of lengthy phone calls, dates and dorm room visits he had yet to do anything more than hug me hello and goodbye. The fact that our hugs became briefer in direct proportion to how much skin my outfit was exposing was a testament to the fact that he was actually attracted to me. But finally I just had to ask, “Are you gonna kiss me or what?” He looked at me and said yes. “Well why didn’t you do it already?” He responded quite calmly, “You didn’t ask. I don’t want you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”
My mind was blown. That was a novel concept to me. Boyfriends were off limits until I was 15, solo dates until 17. My mother thought that even calling boys you were just friends with was borderline “fast.” My job wasn’t to ask for anything, it was to vigilantly police the limits of our sexual interactions. Well, you can imagine my surprise when it finally went down for real. Permission was asked at e-v-e-r-y step of the way. When I asked about it later, he laughed and said, “I’m a black guy who grew up in the suburbs. You know what happens when you don’t ask permission? It’s called rape and you go to jail! If she doesn’t actually say “yes,” that means it’s a “no” as far as I’m concerned.”
Now, humor notwithstanding, Tex hit the nail right on the head.
- A voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement
- An active agreement: Consent cannot be coerced
- A process, which must be asked for every step of the way; if you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, just ask
- Never implied and cannot be assumed, even in the context of a relationship. Just because you are in a relationship does not mean that you have permission to have sex with your partner
Up until that point, I thought his actions were completely unromantic and a bit of a drag on things. Sex was supposed to be like romance novels, where you kissed passionately and then things just happened. Let your bodies do the talking and all that jazz. But at that moment, I decided that there’s nothing sexier than a partner who respects you enough to ask permission. Do you know what that means? It means that you are not an object to be used for their pleasure. You are an autonomous human being who has the final vote on what happens with your body. I think that much of the gray area surrounding consent could be erased by adopting the following principle–anything other than an enthusiastic “Yes!” is a no. “No” doesn’t mean “try harder” and “maybe” doesn’t mean “yes.” If she (or he!) is intoxicated, do not pass go– sex is better when you can remember all the details anyway. Regardless of how much they date was, who started it, who took their clothes off first, if at any point somebody pumps the brakes then that’s it. G