Clearing The Confusion Around Consent

By Irene Gould

Let’s face it - words are confusing. We spend years in school learning vocabulary so that we are not confused by the meaning of words. That being said there are some words and concepts that we do not understand because we are not exposed to them growing up.

One of those concepts is sex. Despite the fact that most people will have sex in their lifetime, sex-ed is limited in scope compared to the other types of education across the world. In fact, many families, schools, and communities shun any conversations related to sex, leading to ignorance rather than abstinence.

Even in the cases of communities with schools that offer sexual education, some students are not supported in these studies at home. I, for one, lived in a school district where sex-ed was a part of health class. However, my family is conservative and did not talk about sex. Since I didn’t talk about sex at home, I assumed it was dirty and ignored everything discussed in class.

This did not stop me from having sex. Instead, when I finally had sex, I didn’t understand what was happening. I assumed that the concept of sexual consent meant that once I decided to have sex with someone, whoever was having sex with me could do whatever they wanted to me. I didn’t have a say in it.

Of course, later I learned what sexual consent actually meant. To clarify the meaning of sexual consent, I googled both terms:

  • Sexual (adj.): Relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.
  • Consent (n.): Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

Simply put, sexual consent means that a person cannot sexually do whatever they want to another person. There has to be mutual agreement for each action. Yes, every action. Consenting to sex means consenting to each individual piece of the sexual experience. Not the other way around.

Yet, some people are still confused by sexual consent, especially when they are in a relationship or are having sex with friends. Since there is a close relationship involved in these instances, many assume that once sex is agreed upon and if a person does not verbally say no that all sexual acts performed are acceptable. This is not the case.

I know this because my best friend violated my consent and took advantage of me when I could not speak up for myself. One night I went home with him, and we had sex. It was consensual, and, afterwards, I fell asleep feeling sore but safe with him.

A few hours later, I woke up with his dick grinding against my thigh. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he penetrated me. He never asked if this was okay, or even bothered to check if I was fully awake. He just fucked my body while I was semi-conscious. Then, he apologized for having sex with me while I was half asleep because in his words he “needed to have his needs met.”

Despite feeling used and being in physical pain, I said nothing. He acted like everything was normal and fell back asleep. I chalked up my unease and discomfort up to this being my first time sleeping with a man, fell back asleep, and even had sex with him again the next day.

It wasn’t until later that I began feeling uneasy about what happened and had a nightmare about someone taking advantage of me in my sleep. I brought it up to one of my friends who told me that what he did to me was wrong.

When I confronted this man about how he hurt me, he said that everything he did to me was fine because I never verbally said "no." He didn’t understand how he violated my consent and took away my agency. Since this man was otherwise intelligent and still could not grasp this simple concept, I realized that some people just do not understand sexual consent.

For them, I offer this analogy: think of Mario Kart. A person can be in a one-on-one race with another person or go multiplayer. As long as all parties involved decide to race and agree to all of the rules, the game is a lot of fun.

Once the race starts, the race does not stop - even if the player’s controller disconnects. It continues with that person’s kart veering around the track. When this happens, there is a clear choice: take advantage of the situation by lapping the player who lost control of their kart or restart the game to ensure fair play.

Sex is the same. If someone loses control of what happens to their body, they can be taken advantage of. Unlike Mario Kart, when someone is sexually taken advantage of, there is no reset button. Instead, the person is left with very real mental, and sometimes physical, scars that last a lifetime.

In my case, I will have to live with what that toad did to me for the rest of my life. After being sexually assaulted, I decided to use a proverbial blue shell of knowledge to torpedo the hell out of the confusion surrounding sexual consent so that it is a crystal clear concept. If you want to get in the driver’s seat and have sex, make sure that you and your partner(s) have each other’s consent at all times.

The rules of consent are as follows:

  1. Consent is choice.

  2. Consent is comprehension.

  3. Consent is consciousness.

Does each party have all three? If yes, you have the green light to get it on. If not, wait it out because you’ll get that trophy eventually and be a better person for it.