I recently watched a trailer for the film Asking For It: The Ethics & Erotics of Sexual Consent, which includes a series of lectures by Harry Brod, a professor of Philosophy and the Humanities at the University of Northern Iowa. In the preview he talks about the “affirmative consent standard”, which posits that consent must be intentionally created. In other words, it must not be assumed.
“The only thing that is “yes” is “yes”. Just because there is no “no”, that doesn’t mean there’s a yes.” – Harry Brod
He likens sexual consent to the concept of right-of-way in driving. That is, right-of-way is not something you have by default. It is something you must be explicitly given. In the case of traffic, there are a lot of very explicit laws about who has right-of-way in which situations. In the case of sex, perhaps we should consider that consent is only given if both parties have freely given explicit agreement to proceed.
"My rapist doesn't know he's a rapist, because society blames me." - anonymous
What we’ve got going on in our world currently is a negative consent standard, in which consent is assumed unless someone explicitly says “No”. And even then, if any of these apply:
- They were wearing sexy clothing
- They used body language that could be interpreted as sexually inviting
- They were too drunk to realize what was happening or stop it
- They were out alone after dark
- They didn’t physically fight back
- They didn’t say “No” very convincingly or clearly
. . . many people seem to feel that the person has essentially consented to sex. Or that their consent has become irrelevant. It’s just so wrong.
What a different world we would be living in if we all agreed that sexual consent must be explicitly and verbally given, eh? A much better world, if you ask me. It wouldn’t solve everything, of course. There are plenty of ways to coerce a “Yes” out of someone who wants to say “No”. But it would surely be a step in the right direction. I can hardly wait to hear what else Dr Brod has to say in the rest of the film!