By Miriam Aliberti —
Prom night is wrapping up and everyone’s hanging out at an after-party. You’re double dating with your friend Grace who has been with her boyfriend Aaron for 6 months. He’s told her he thinks they’ve waited long enough to have sex and the big night should be tonight. She’s not sure she’s ready. You see them head up stairs together. Aaron tells Grace he might have to break up with her if she keeps making him wait. They make out and Aaron unbuttons her pants. She hesitates, but he keeps taking it a step further. Grace doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to break up and Aaron thinks her silence means it’s okay to keep going. He pushes forward and they end up having sex. The next time you see her, she’s in tears.
Did Grace give Aaron consent? Nope.
The lack of a “No” does not mean a “Yes.” Silence is not consent. The idea of consent can be confusing, but in the end it’s all about communication. It’s an agreement that two people have to engage in a sexual activity with respect for the boundaries of both individuals. Consent should happen every time two people have sexual contact. It may not always be verbal but there shouldn’t be any doubt that there is an agreement. If there is doubt, the best way to clear it up is to talk about it. If you’re like Grace and you aren’t sure how you feel, it’s okay to say you want to stop—at any time.
RAINN (Rape, Incest, & Abuse National Network) offers these examples of what consent is and isn’t:
Positive consent can look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level.
It does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no.”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more.
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state.
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol.
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation.
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past.