Tag Archives: consent

Big Question: What is Consent?

In the spirit of our in class discussion, I wanted to revisit this question that is omnipresent in all discourse surrounding rape and sexual violence. In reading and discussing the articles in the DP, we found a myriad of anecdotal evidence to attest to the fact that both parties are not quite sure what constitutes consent. This is obviously problematic given that it directly contributes to the murky nature of defining rape. If rape is sex absent of consent, how do we define rape without first defining consent? Many factors contribute to our confusion. The microcosm that is the college campus filled with drinking, drugs, and partying only contribute to the complexity. I identify myself as a straight female on campus. Having heard many anecdotes from my peers—and perhaps this is an unpopular and bold opinion to voice—I would bet that every female on campus who is looking to date around and interested in partying with guys has found herself in a pressured situation alone with a man. This is perhaps too bold, but what I mean by pressured situation, I mean that at one point she felt uncomfortable, unsure or even scared at wanting to leave or needed to reject the male present.  Many times we assume that we were the ones who followed whoever to their rooms, and therefore we “owe” a certain courtesy to stay or humor a man. Leaving does not seem like an easy option.  I cannot begin to truly define consent, as I am personally unsure what roles drugs and drinking play in the scary web of blurred lines. However, I can say that one step towards improving the astounding statistics about sexual assault in the articles is to remove the stigma from simply “leaving.” Remove the assumption and remove the expectations. These can be innocent thoughts, as they are often not rooted in action or violence. However, I believe anybody should truly feel no inhibitions in walking out of a situation.

For what are they responsible?

When women are intoxicated, for what are they responsible? More specifically, are they responsible for their actions when they have a drunken sexual encounter? Many girls and women alike have reported cases of rape after a night of “blacking out.” Perhaps Urban Dictionary can define the phenomena best, in a way that it is known to the population: “when one consumes so much of a substance (typically alcohol) that one cannot remember one’s actions at a later time, be it later in the night or the morning after.” While blacked out, these women have been sexually assaulted or raped, and have little to no recollection of the experience but have proof of sexual assault, whether physical signs or, in some cases, documented proof. The accused male claims that the female gave consent at the time, but she has no memory of that situation. Is drunken consent actually consent? I believe that if a girl can remember her actions, she is responsible for them. If she is foolishly intoxicated to the point where she cannot function properly (i.e. remember her actions), it is easy to believe that someone could advantage of her. Some state laws agree, such as California’s, which says if “intoxication by alcohol or drugs impaired the victim’s ability to consent,” (statelaws.com) the sexual encounter is considered rape. Other states see it differently, saying that a lack of consent only occurs in certain situations, one of which is “mentally incapacitated.” This could only occur if the victim was intoxicated under a substance “administered to [them] without [their] consent, or to any other act committed upon [them] without [their] consent.” So, if a girl in New York got drunk upon her own decision and was raped, she would be less likely to win the case. In this way, the lines of consent are blurred and consent becomes a more disputed topic, with many states variating their definitions of sexual consent under the influence of alcohol. The fact that the qualifications for rape is debated is proof enough that our society is not a society that has the same morals; rather, the society that we live in is one that “condones and celebrates rape.” (hooks, 109).


hooks, b. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.;
Username: -___________-. “4. Blacking out.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, 10 Jan. 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blacking%20out&gt;.;
“California Rape Laws.” Findlaw. Thomson Reuters, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http://statelaws.findlaw.com/california-law/california-rape-laws.html&gt;.;
“New York Laws.” Article 130. YPDCrime.com, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article130.htm&gt;.


Spark Post: Poem on Rape


This youtube video from a recent poetry competition has been gaining popularity on social networking sites. The video features contestant Pages Matam, who composes a poem all in reaction to a single sexist comment he overheard from a man on the bus one day. The comment was simply, “You are too ugly to be raped.” This one comment struck his attention because it’s almost as if to say by looking a certain way, a person is asking to be raped. He goes on to describe the pain and helplessness of the many victims he’s known in his lifetime. In a culture where rape and sexual harassment are often a part of an unequal, sexist, exploitative relationship between men and women (Hooks 109), Matam also makes a point to mention boys as victims of rape as well as girls. Girls are generally the expected victims, but Matam mentions young people of both genders in his impassioned speech. Regardless of age and gender, his poem brings shame to anyone who dares suggest that rape was warranted by physical appearance and he moves the crowd with his heartfelt descriptions of the torment victims feel when they are not given the right to consent.

Hooks, Bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

For what are we responsible (when it comes to sex)?

When it comes to sex, safety and consent are two of the most basic (and most crucial) responsibilities. However, as Rachel Kramer Bussel points out, if one wants to have a fulfilling sex life, our responsibilities do not end there. In fact, she claims, “it’s our duty to ourselves and our partners to get more vocal about asking for what we want in bed, as well as sharing what we don’t” (Bussel 46). Doing so can lead us to more satisfaction, and allow us to avoid potential regret or shame. While some may think sex is something trivial to take so seriously, I think Kramer’s ideas on expanding beyond simple, legal consent to enthusiastic and informed decisions about sex are central to a fulfilling life. We are responsible for knowing what makes us happy and healthy and and what does not, and this very much includes our sexual experiences.

Rachel Kramer Bussel, “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process” (2008)

Big question: What should US schools teach in sex-education classes?

In “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process,” Rachel Kramer Bussel discusses consent that “isn’t concerned just with whether your partner wants to have sex, but what kind of sex, and why” (Bussel 44). According to Bussel—and I agree with her argument—couples need to openly discuss what kind of sex they enjoy. Unfortunately, I think this idea is largely ignored in American sexual educational. In my experience—and from what I hear, many others’ as well—sex-ed in the US is grounded in a basic principle: practice abstinence, but if you have sex, use a condom and don’t rape someone. This grossly simplistic foundation ignores dimensions crucial to relationships. Simply using a condom and having baseline consensual sex does not ensure that both members of the couple will be satisfied.

However, other countries take a more comprehensive approach to sex-education. In the Netherlands, sex-ed curriculum focuses not only on safe sex, but also on communicating effectively in a relationship about both sexual and emotional needs. The curriculum discusses sexual diversity, a topic barely if at all mentioned in my own sex-ed classes. I think the Dutch approach is a much healthier (not to mention effective; the Netherlands has one of the lowest unintended teen pregnancy rates in the world) approach to sex-ed, and the US would benefit from incorporating some of the Dutch curriculum into its own.

Rachel Kramer Bussel. “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” From Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Seal Press: New York, 2008.

Source: United States: Martin, J.A., Hamilton, B.E., Sutton, P.D., Ventura, S.J., Matthews, T.J., Kirmeyer, S. & Osterman, M.J.K.. (2010).Births: Final data for 2007. National Vital Statistics Reports,58 (24). Other Countries: United Nations Statistical Division. Demographic Yearbook 2007. New York: United Nations.

Defining Consent: Explicit vs. Implicit

Consent is easy to define as a notion, but is sometimes difficult to understand and respect in practice. Consent can mean verbal permission, but can also encompass more than simply yes or no. In Yes Means Yes, Rachel Kramer Bussel argues for a higher standard of consent. Specifically, she contends that it does not suffice to only know whether or not your partner wants to engage in sexual intercourse, but consent must include an understanding of why and what kind of sex.

Having a serious discussion about consent is important. In a society that, according to Bell Hooks, condones and celebrates rape, setting boundaries helps to safeguard individual autonomy. These boundaries, however, become nebulous when different communities define consent in different ways. Recently, Antioch College adopted a rule that defines consent in a highly explicit way. Although consent defined as a formality may sometimes serve to set clearer guidelines and prevent unwanted sexual encounters, I would make the case that it is generally harmful.

First and foremost, arguing for a more explicit version of consent reduces consent to verbal permission. This approach fails to account for the subtle nuances for which Kramer Bussel argues. As opposed to advocating for such a strict policy as this one, Antioch should have adopted a policy that compels students to openly share their sexual expectations during sexual encounters. Secondly, a policy of soliciting explicit consent sterilizes the sexual process, an experience that ought to be organic and enjoyable.

Hooks, Bell. “Seduced By Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. N. pag. Print.

Rachel Kramer Bussel. “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” From Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Seal Press: New York, 2008.


What is consent? Not just yes but YES!

Sexual consent is a topic that touches most college students, considering the pervasiveness of sexual activity on campuses. However, consent is not easily defined or uniform in its nature, depending on the relationship and the sexual preferences of those engaged in sexual activity. What can be defined as consent? For example, consent between a couple who has been in a relationship for many years may be completely non-vocal, consisting of reading body language in a manner only achievable with time. However, in instances when the two people may be close to perfect strangers, non-vocal consent may be leaving much too much to the imagination; without knowing a person, how can you possible know what they want in bed, if anything at all? In “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process,” Rachel Kramer Bussel contends that with consent should come vocal communication, or else “we are simply guessing” (44) what the other person wants. Beyond the issues of legality, Bussel ultimately argues that communication is instrumental in having better sex, not just consensual sex. And don’t we all want to be having better sex? Instead of agreeing, we should be shouting YES! Here’s to completely, enthusiastically, physically and vocally consensual sex.


Works cited

Rachel Kramer Bussel. “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” From Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Seal Press: New York, 2008.