Talking About Consent – Yes means Yes

I recently read this blog post “Consent: Not actually that complicated” that has been made into a stick figure cartoon. I think this video is a great way to explain consent. I think it should be shown to teenagers as part of sex education in school, or by parents at home (Perhaps though for a school environment censoring out of the couple of F-bombs dropped at the start). It’s a good way to get a conversation going about consent, to explain consent in a light but clear way, because consent really isn’t that difficult to understand, yet it seems to be so misunderstood.

That said, consent doesn’t have to be a stilted and awkward part of a sexual encounter. Consent can be sexy. Consent can be:

“Do you want me to do *this*?” “Is it okay if I touch you *here*?” “Would you like to do *this* together?”

Talking about sex is hot. Consent really is sexy.

I’ve been with my partner for nearly 10 years and we still both verbally confirm consent at basically every stage of every sexual encounter.

This is something I really wish I’d understood as a teenager.

My first experience with not giving consent was my first real boyfriend, at 14 years old, making out on the couch. He put his hand inside my top without asking me. I just froze. As it was a new relationship, I didn’t want to offend him by saying no. I didn’t know how to handle the situation at all. I tried to pin his hand down with my hand so he’d stop feeling inside my bra. It was really uncomfortable. But every time I released his hand he’d resume trying to get inside my bra. It was pretty awful.

So I broke up with him – because I just wasn’t comfortable.

When I was 15 I had another boyfriend. In that time I’d had my first orgasm (on my own) which made me want to have sex. That boyfriend and I had discussed at length how, when and where we would “lose our virginity” together. It was all very sweet. Until it came to the actual event. We got as far as putting a condom on and he said no.

I was upset, annoyed and yeah, I was offended – but I didn’t push him to do anything he didn’t want to do. As soon as consent was withdrawn that was it. It was over. Hands off. Clothes on. End of discussion.

So, I did understand how consent works when someone says yes and then they say no – at any stage, up to and during a sexual act. That made sense to me. It was something that had been talked about in health class at high school.

That “Yes” “Yes” “Yes” “Oh actually, no” = no.

When I was 17 I had a different boyfriend, who I was having sex with frequently, and on one occasion I told him that we could have sex later in the evening. We were drinking and when I was getting pretty drunk he told me to stop drinking, because if I had too much to drink we wouldn’t be able to have sex. I told him we could have sex anyway. And then shortly after passed out in my bed. Then he had sex with me while I was unconscious.

In the morning I confronted him about it and he told me that I had said that he could have sex with me.

While I was really uncomfortable with what had happened, I accepted his answer and believed it was a misunderstanding. We continued dating for a few more months until he broke up with me – though I was relieved when he did because, actually, he was a bit of a douche.

The thing I didn’t really understand until well into adulthood was that when I had apparently “pre-consented” to him having sex with me, I was already too drunk to give consent. And even though I said we could have sex later while I was sober, as soon as I had passed out consent was withdrawn by default, because an unconscious person cannot give consent.

It terrifies me as a mother to think that I didn’t understand what consent really meant and that it took years to realise that my discomfort with the whole thing was absolutely valid, that I wasn’t overreacting. That it wasn’t a grey area. That I hadn’t really consented.

The problem was my understanding of consent or not consenting had always been the line “No means no”, which doesn’t actually work, for many reasons. “No means no” is a very poor definition of consent, not in the least because it implies that in the absence of a verbal ‘No’ the answer must default to ‘Yes’. 

However, a shift to “ Yes Means Yes ” is happening; the idea of continuous, enthusiastic consent is consent. Rather than consent simply being the absence of no.

This is what I will be teaching my children; that while you can have non-verbal consent, that someone can respond in a way that could be interpreted as consent, it’s better to be on the safe side for both parties and to seek verbal consent at every progression of every sexual act – each and every time – because consent necessary AND sexy.

How will you be discussing consent with your children (now and as they get older)? What has been your own understanding and experience with consent?

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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