A Refresher on Consent and Safe Sex

Domestic Violence Awareness Purple RibbonOctober is such an important month in the sex-positive community.  Not only do we celebrate LGBT history, we are also urged to be aware of the dangers of domestic violence.  Given that, this seemed like the perfect time for a refresher on sexual consent and the things we can all do to prevent sexual assault in our own lives.

Sexual consent is the cornerstone of the safer sex discussion, this seems pretty simple as the most dangerous sex is the sex that isn’t consented to.  But the biggest problem is that consent not only seems like such an individualized concept, but it is also legally ambiguous.  The Washington State University Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Task Force says that consent is actual words or physical conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.  They continue to say that it is an ongoing process of communication as sex progresses, regardless of who initiates it.

This is a great start, but there are still some components missing from it, consent must also be from the perspective of a clear mind (not to say that one that is inebriated can’t give consent, but rather that we should take it upon ourselves to require a higher threshold of willingness when we are unsure of the state of our partner), and it must be voluntary, not coerced.  And remember, it is incredibly important that the conversation continues after sexual contact has begun, just because you got the green light to start doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to stop if your partner becomes uncomfortable and wants the sexual contact to end.

It is incredibly important that all citizens have an understanding of the concept of consent in order for us to be a sexually actualized society.  One of the biggest problems surrounding sexual assault is a lack of understanding of consent by the perpetrator, or at least that has continued to be used as a defense for those accused of sexual assault.  Here’s the deal, the absence of a “no” is not an invitation for sexual activity.  The answer should always be assumed to be no until explained otherwise, not the other way around.  And the statistics surrounding these problems are astounding, according to a fact sheet compiled by the American Bar Association, 13% of adult women had been victims of completed rape during their lifetime (and these numbers are probably low due to a number of unreported cases as well as other variables) and another survey found that 34% of women were victims of sexual coercion by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

Sexual assault and coercion are the biggest threats to a sex-positive community, and we all have a responsibility to help stop them.  The best defense we can use is knowledge, and it’s important that we all stay informed about consent and that information is disseminated to as many people as possible.

Remember, the precursor to any discussion of safer sex is a discussion of consent.  In order for sex to be truly safe, both physically and emotionally, is for it to be consensual.  So in your discussions with your partner, or potential partner, about safe sex, make sure that the foundation is laid for what is and is not consent.  Having steadfast definitions of consent is key to having a mutual understanding of the boundaries of sexual contact.

This October I wear a purple ribbon around, not just because it’s my favorite color, but because it is a reminder of the constant vigilance we must all maintain to help diminish the prevalence of sexual assault and coercion in our societies.


  1. “The absence of a “no” is not an invitation for sexual activity. The answer should always be assumed to be no until explained otherwise, not the other way around.”

    Can we get this printed on some bumper stickers? And billboards? Or maybe flyers that we can drop from planes and pepper the country with WWII-style?

  2. freewomyn says:

    I agree with you Jeff, but the State Supreme Court of Massachusetts doesn’t. They ruled that once consent has been granted, it can’t be revoked. If I say yes to a blow job, you could shit on me and I wouldn’t be able to stop you.

    I think you hit on a very important point – anyone should be able to say stop, even after sex has begun. Some people are into butt sex, some people aren’t. Some people like getting head, others don’t. Good sex is all about open lines of communication between sexual partners. If it doesn’t feel good, you shouldn’t do it. Tell your partner exactly what you want and how you want it. That’s honestly the key to having great sex.

  3. I think that everyone brings up good points here. Something more needs to be added when dealing with stopping the actions. Just because sexual interaction has begun does not mean that it should continue and go all the way, and if sex has started and one partner says stop then that’s what must happen. I also think that consent and what giving consent means should be more enforced. There are many cases when both partners are not in the right mind set to give consent and this is where society sees the most conflicts, especially with younger people such as college or high school. These sort of additions need to be made in order to help decide what is acceptable and what isn’t.

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