Why Sexual Consent Makes Great Dinner Table Conversation

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It’s a Friday night, and the colored bulbs at your friend’s house party gleam just right. You can’t tell if the music currently playing is electronic music or dubstep. Whatever, what’s the difference? you think. You watch your best friend chug his final cup in a heated game of flip cup. You look around at your friends, smooshed in every corner of the messy living room, but then you notice a girl you don’t recognize. You introduce yourself, and you hit it off with her.

With her fifth red solo cup in her one hand, she playfully touches your arm with the other—does that mean what you think it means? An hour into the conversation, she struggles to stand up, drunkenly falling over into your arms. “Let’s go to a quieter setting,” you tell her. You bring her to your buddy’s room, sit on the bed and kiss her. She kisses you back. She’s into me, you think. Maybe she wants to go further. But she remains silent. Is she too drunk to decide? Should you just let it happen? Will she regret it in the morning? Is this consent?

Many students think they know when they give or receive consent, but not every student sees consent the same way. Some argue that physical reciprocation i.e. kissing or touching back equates to consent; however, body language doesn’t give a clear answer like a “yes” does.

“It seems as if consent has become a buzzword in college culture. We live in an environment where the casual hookup has become the norm, and more often that not, excessive alcohol or drug consumption accompanies these acts,” University of Florida senior Rachel Keller said. “In my opinion, when an individual is impaired in such a way, full consent cannot be given.”

Last week, Florida State University organized three forums to discuss and analyze the revised draft of the college’s Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct policy; Jennifer Broomfield (FSU’s first Title IX director) led the forum.

Consent is an active and ongoing process. It is time-limited and not passive. Consent involves asking the question of a competent person with adequate disclosure and without coercion. Understanding what consent is the first step to knowing how to ask for and receive consent,” Broomfield said.

FSU edited their policies and procedures to not only incorporate more understandable jargon and a charge for complicity in the event of sexual misconduct, but also to clarify the act of retaliation. For example, if you witnessed your friend bringing the girl into your room at the party and didn’t intervene, then in the event that consent was not given, you could be charged as complicit party. If the girl reported your friend for sexual misconduct, and you harassed or threatened her after the report, then you would be charged for retaliation.

According to FSU’s Title IX, “Consent is asking the question of a capable person with adequate disclosure and without coercion. Consent can be withdrawn from anytime.”

University students, faculty and staff members, who voiced and commented on the clarity and effectiveness of the policy, filled almost every seat in the open forum. The document’s revisions specifically focused on providing straightforward details about the rights of the affected students or faculty, how to report a Title IX violation, what counts as sexual misconduct, who is a “mandatory reporter,” etc.

The forum attendees constructively commented on the section regarding mandatory reporters. A TA currently teaching Human Sexuality divulged that she was unaware of her duty to report sexual misconduct if a student shared an unfortunate personal experience with her that involved the university.

“I don’t think we teach young men how to not rape people in high school. They’ve been told over and over by their brothers and TV that this is how this interaction is supposed to go and nobody else [like] their parents and educators [has told them differently],” an FSU senior who attended the forum said. “I think they are the product of the environment they are in. These kind of meetings are great and the Title IX meetings are great [for educating], but this kind of conversation doesn’t happen in frat houses.”

While environments like forum hash out questions of sexual misconduct and consent, many students usually sidestep chances to express their opinions or concerns outside of campus or make the effort to work conversations about consent into daily life. When we make talking about consent in daily life the norm, we contribute to clearing up the confusion surrounding consent and take one step closer to changing our ingrained social norms.

If you’re not sure whether Chris from your wild night at the bar wants to go make out in the bathroom with you, just ask. Before making a move, make sure you didn’t misinterpret Chris’ “eye f*ck.”  When you participate in sexual activities, you’re responsible for being 100 percent positive you received consent. What better way to clear up any misunderstandings than straight up asking the other party if they want to have sex? It’s only a mood killer if you find yourself being tried for sexual misconduct.

“I adopt the mantra that ‘The absence of a no is not a yes. If you are a person who becomes too impaired and has a tendency to consent to actions you later become regretful about, it is your personal responsibility to keep yourself out of such situations,” said Keller.

After the dive bar announces last call, and you stumble back into your dorm room with a hottie who says, “Let’s have sex,” you’re golden. However, just because someone says yes does not mean they can’t take it back prior to any sexual activity. “I’d say consent is the confirmation from both parties that they are both willing and able to partake in said activity, whether that’s sexual intercourse, a relationship, etc. I think consent can be withdrawn at any time, in any circumstance,” said UF senior Jessica Ireland.

Let’s think back to the party scenario. The intoxicated girl didn’t verbally agree to sex, so don’t jump the gun before consent is made. However, would a “yes” still mean “yes” if the girl just did a keg stand and funneled two beers? “The only sign of consent for me would be a clear ‘yes, we can do this’ while being completely aware of the decision they have made. Flirting is not consent,” said University of South Florida junior Tatiana Milcher.

Consent shouldn’t be treated like rocket science. The buzzword needs to be released from its “gray area.” In reality, consent is  a yes or no concept, and we need to open the door to speaking freely about this concept in daily conversations. We’ve still got a long way to go, but a forum isn’t a bad way to start.

*Name withheld to protect privacy

Allison is a future New Yorker who likes coffee, books and records more than she likes people. She is currently studying Editing, Writing, and Media at Florida State.

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