Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of columns discussing healthy relationships and sex lives from The Daily in partnership with the Gender + Equality Center, Goddard Health Center and Norman’s Adam & Eve. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.
However, it’s important to make sure that whatever actions are happening, it’s ok with every party present. This is done through consent.
The Daily asked Bliss Brown, program coordinator for gender-based violence prevention at the Gender + Equality Center, in an email about consent—when and where it applies, as well as what it looks like.
What is consent?
People often think of consent in the context of “no means no,” and while it is absolutely true that no always means no, I’d really like to see students begin to think of consent in the context of “yes means yes.” Consent is the presence of a “yes,” not the absence of a “no.” Consent to sex isn’t just any “yes”, though. It’s a very specific kind of “yes.” Sexual consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, coherent, and reversible “yes” to a sexual act or physical touch.
What does consent look like?
First, consent is voluntary. Meaning that it is “done, given, or acting of one’s own free will.” Consent is mutual decision in which everyone involved is a willing and active participant.
Consent is also enthusiastic. Meaning that when a person consents to sex, they are showing eager enjoyment, interest, or approval of that sex act.
For a person to give consent, they must first be informed about what exactly they are agreeing to. Therefore, consent is also coherent. A person is coherent when they are awake, aware, and in a clear and logical state of mind.
Lastly, consent is reversible. Meaning it is subject to change. Consent is reversed when a person changes their mind or when they no longer have the capacity to consent.
Consent can be communicated verbally through words, or nonverbally through body language and/or actions.
Does consent apply to situations even when they're not necessarily sexual or intimate?
Yes of course! Consent doesn’t only apply to sex. Respecting others’ boundaries is important in all aspects of life. Consent applies when your date says they don’t want another drink, when your friend says they don’t want to go to the party, and when your child says they don’t want to hug someone goodbye. Unless it is a concern for someone’s safety, it is never okay to try to manipulate or force someone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with.
What is the difference between consent and a coerced "yes," and what is coercion?
When you try to pressure someone into having sex, that’s called coercion. Rapists often use sexual coercion to make their victims feel guilty for not wanting to have sex. When someone is being sexually coercive, they use persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused. Sexual coercion is a form of sexual aggression and is a violation of OU’s sexual misconduct policy.
A coerced “yes” is not consent because a coerced “yes” is not voluntary or enthusiastic. It’s not okay to try to persuade someone into having sex when they’ve already communicated that they don’t want to. Consent is not negotiable. If someone has sex only because they feel guilty or powerless to say no, that’s not consent. You always have the right to say no to sex!
Can people change their mind after consenting?
Absolutely. You always have the right to change your mind! There are a million reasons why someone might not want to continue having sex once they’ve started, and every one of those reasons is valid.
Just like giving consent, the withdrawal of consent can be communicated verbally or nonverbally through body language. It is everyone’s responsibility to continue checking in with their partner during sex and to stay aware of what their body language is communicating. If at any point you notice you partner becoming still, silent, or uncomfortable… stop! Then communicate.