October 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.