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Consent Isn’t Sexy

consent is sexy(Gina Faldetta)– The other day, a first-year friend of mine mentioned that the word “consent” became something of a joke after the first-years were bombarded with it during orientation presentations. This was familiar to me – the same thing happened when I was a freshman last year. People joked around, asking each other for consent for every little thing, or simply dropping the word to get easy laughs.

So, sure, it’s only natural that something that’s repeated so much during orientation – and a word that most were probably not too familiar with before coming to college – would turn into a joke shared by the entire freshman class. But this also indicates a problem with the way consent is being discussed and presented to incoming first-years, and the student body at large. Consent is not something that should be turned into a joke, and the problem lies in the alienating nature of the word and its usage.

“Consent” is not a word you hear much of before coming to college. I never heard it discussed once in my high school health class. Granted, I went to a Texas public school, but I think this holds true pretty much across the country. So when first years are taught about consent and why it’s important, it’s pretty much the first time these students have thought about consent in any real, pressing way (which is a problem in itself, but not the point of this article).

When students are told to ask for consent, or loudly and proudly give it during hook-ups and sexual encounters, the real reason why consent is necessary remains murky. When you’re told to “ask for consent” while getting it on, it’s easy to imagine that you’re being told to whip out a clipboard and ask your partner to sign a waiver. I, the undersigned, do hereby certify that I consent to this boy putting his hand up my shirt. A lot of students end up feeling that asking aloud for consent, or verbally giving it, would be awkward or uncomfortable during a hook-up.

But this idea that asking for consent is awkward indicates an overall misunderstanding of what consent really is and why it’s so necessary. There’s a real difference in the meaning that comes across when you change the language used to explain consent. Simply using the word “consent” in the place of saying “make sure you’re partner is okay with what’s going on, make sure they’re into it, give them a chance to voice any concerns, and show them that you care about how they feel in that moment of intimacy,” alienates us from what consent truly entails.

And then, of course, it’s easy for consent to be a joke. It’s just some dumb word that didn’t even exist before you came here. But it’s not so easy to make a joke about the importance of confirming that your partner feels safe and happy with what’s happening between you.

It seems unlikely that a simple “is this okay?” would ruin the moment, and it would definitely be less uncomfortable than the idea of not knowing whether the sexual encounter you had with a person was one that they wanted to have, or potentially one that will stay with them as a traumatic memory for the rest of their life.

In an effort to dispel the notion that asking for or giving consent is awkward, the administration and campus groups have been pushing the tagline “consent is sexy.” My thoughts on this can be best explained by a Tumblr post I came across a while ago: “consent is sexy in the same way that not shitting on people’s doorsteps is sweet and neighborly.”

The message that consent is sexy implies that, conversely, sexual activity without consent is merely unsexy. But this completely undermines the very importance of consent. As Angie Epifano said during her orientation visit, “consent has to happen for it to even be considered sex.” Sex without consent is not bad sex. Sex without consent is rape.

Consent isn’t something you can use to just amp up your sexual pleasure, and it also isn’t about checking something off a list or following a trivial instruction. Consent is about showing your partner that you care about their feelings in a moment of intimacy. Asking for consent shows that it matters to you whether your partner is into what’s happening. It’s being considerate, which is nice, but it’s also being considerate in a moment when to be so is your only morally defensible option. This is what the administration and student health organizations should be stressing to incoming classes and the student body as a whole.

About Gina Faldetta

You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing.

11 comments on “Consent Isn’t Sexy

  1. Anonymous
    October 23, 2013

    It was made pretty damn clear during orientation that sex without consent is rape, be it a head nod, movements of hands to certain areas, or a verbal “yes”.

    Also, I couldn’t disagree any more with your “consent isn’t sexy” line. Consent IS sexy. If/when my parter for the night says “I want you to do this”, the hookup undoubtedly intensifies.

    So what was(is) the college supposed to to? Put up signs saying “don’t rape people”? That’s pretty self explanatory. Yes, Amherst has had its issues with this “self-explanatory” fact, but I definitely think the administration and the SHE’s did a great job this year.

    • Tess
      October 24, 2013

      I think you’ve completely misread this article.

      • anon22@gmail.com
        October 24, 2013

        Tess, instead of telling anon that they’ve “completely misread this article” in a condescending manner, how about you explain to them why you think that. It makes for a much more effective reply than just basically “I think you’re wrong”.

  2. Sam Trinkaus
    October 23, 2013

    I am unconvinced that the “Consent Is Sexy” campaign intends to deter people from committing or condoning sexual assault SOLELY on the basis that sexual assault is “unsexy.”

    I took the “Consent Is Sexy” shirts as a tactic by the administration and student body to foster a culture which was positive about sexual respect in a visible way. I took it as building on that SHE skit showing how phrases like “Oh yes!” and “HOT DAMN” show how consent doesn’t have to be as awkward as many people think–increasing the likelihood of asking for/conveying consent comfortably.

    Although the shirts do not inherently imply that consent is ONLY bad because it is “unsexy”, you raise a great point about why the student body and the administration can definitely do a MUCH better job of fleshing out a clear definition of (and intelligent moral case AGAINST) sexual disrespect.

    <3 <3

  3. Liz Mutter
    October 23, 2013

    While I agree with your reaction to the phrase “consent is sexy” as you interpret it, I’d like to offer a counter-interpretation, one that matches the way I view it when I put “consent is sexy” stickers on condoms as a Student Health Educator: “Consent is sexy” is meant to counter the notion that consent is awkward, and that to verbalize your intentions/preferences is a potential moment-ruiner. I agree with you that viewing consent as awkward “indicates an overall misunderstanding,” but the fact remains that some people sometimes view consent—especially explicit verbal consent—as somehow forced or unnatural. So, in an ideal world, one would see or hear the tagline “consent is sexy” and not only get a reminder that consent is a must-do, but also stop seeing consent as something that is so formal you’d better shine your shoes for it. Your suggestion—“Is this okay?”—is a great example of how to verbalize consent in an organic, non-stuffy way. I think “consent is sexy” just takes it one step further by saying that getting consent can definitely be as sexy as any other part of the intimate encounter, if you want it to! Example: “Oh yeah, [name], I want you to touch my _____ right there, like that.” Or, “Can I suck your ____?”

    Fact is, many people are uncomfortable talking about sex—and this can include talking about sex during sex. Having a tagline for consent helps to get people more comfortable talking about it. I’ve heard many conversations begin with jokes about the administration’s abundant focus on consent (or race or class) during orientation, but then turn into a serious conversation about these important topics.

    Also, while I much prefer your explanation/definition of consent—“make sure your partner is okay with what’s going on, make sure they’re into it, give them a chance to voice any concerns, and show them that you care about how they feel in that moment of intimacy”—it doesn’t exactly lend itself well to a tagline (or fit on a sticker). And believe me, I wish we lived in a world in which giving consent was so entirely obvious and natural that we didn’t need a tagline to get the word out.

    Finally, we’re always open to suggestions for an alternative tagline! Just shoot us an email.

    • Anonymous
      October 24, 2013

      +1. This article is totally pointless and the author’s interpretation of “Consent is sexy” is too literal and way off-base.

      I mean, come on: “The message that consent is sexy implies that, conversely, sexual activity without consent is merely unsexy.” Seriously? You seriously think this is the implied message?

  4. William Herman
    October 23, 2013

    People joke about death. Does that mean they can’t take it seriously?

    • annacse
      October 30, 2013

      Death or murder is not something people systematically are taught to ignore or devalue when it happens to them or people they love. Rape is. Making jokes about rape helps create a culture that devalues the trauma and the experience. Talking about a hot girl and saying, not seriously, “I want to rape her” is so much more damaging than getting mad at someone and saying, again not seriously, “I want to murder them.” If you murder someone you will probably be reported and punished. If you rape someone, statistics show you probably won’t be.

  5. Anonymous
    October 23, 2013

    Did you really not have anything else to write about- why try to add more contempt to this campus? Granted the administration is not perfect, but if we start hating on the better things, what are we left with? There’s no perfect answer as to how to fix the issue of the frequent awkwardness of a hook-up culture, but this article doesn’t help us reach a solution as far as consent-getting.

  6. Louis Hunt
    October 24, 2013

    Gina — thank you for this article. Like Liz who commented above, I also work as a Student Health Educator on campus. I think your points regarding the slogan are substantial, and I’m personally taking your criticism very seriously.

    I would like to respond directly to the author of the anonymous comment posted above. I’m interpreting your comment as offered from a defensive stance — in your referring to Gina’s opinion as, “hating on the better things,” I’m inferring that you support the SHEs’ intention in trying to frame consent in a way which would facilitate discussion and positive reinforcement on campus. I personally feel appreciative of your support, but at the same time, I’d like to offer a few thoughts about the manner in which you’ve expressed it. While I’m sure this was hardly your intention, I feel as though you’re employing a similar tone to that which has served to marginalize the issue of sexual respect in college campuses across the country. I’m concerned that those wishing or willing to speak out against rape are far too often deterred by the fear of “adding contempt to campus.” The dialogue regarding consent should not be silenced, and it certainly cannot be one-sided. It is conversation that allows for genuine understanding and empathy; it is conversation which the SHEs are trying to promote. In my mind, Gina is offering a tremendously valuable opinion regarding how the conversation surrounding consent should be framed and how it can become more meaningful.

    Thanks again for your thoughts, Gina. You’ve got me thinking.

  7. Anonymous
    October 29, 2013

    Although “consent is sexy” may be misinterpreted to mean that consent is just sexy but not mandatory, it does not actually imply this. A statement does not imply its converse.

    The question is whether the phrase (along with accurate explanation and discussion) is an effective way of getting through to students and convincing them to get consent. Of course, “consent is mandatory” is more accurate, and is the best message a perfect world, but would it get across?

    Is it possible that students joking about consent has some positive effects? The idea sticks in their minds. Maybe they are more likely to remember it when the time comes, whereas “consent is mandatory” or “don’t rape anyone” would be more alienating to those who need to hear it most, and they would brush it off and forget it. Again, in a perfect world everyone would just do it because they actually care, but that’s just not the case.

    What is the ultimate goal here? To prevent as many unwanted sexual encounters as possible? What is the best way to accomplish this? I don’t believe their is a clear right answer. I also don’t think, unfortunately, that saying accurate and true things is enough. Some people need to be convinced that it is in their interest to do the right thing for others.

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by in Amherst College Losses, Gender and tagged , , .
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