Ask A Feminist: Affirmative Consent. What Is It?



I just started college and everyone keeps talking about “affirmative consent” for sex. Is that a real thing? Did feminists make it up to get more oral? And am I going to have to switch to pre-law in order to understand if I’m allowed to have sex or not?

— Horny, Confused Undergrad

Ah, college. Those institutions of higher learning, fake IDs, and walks of shame. Or struts of victory, if you hooked up with your crush instead of that guy from your Psych 101 class with the man bun.

For many people, college is one of the sexiest times of their life, since you’re living in close quarters with many hot people and no one’s parents are going to walk in unexpectedly (also, booze). But the problem is, not everyone agrees on how much sex you should be having, when you should be having it, and whom you should be having it with. This is especially problematic if one partner thinks sex is a go, while the other partner is actually passed out from doing tequila shots earlier in the evening. As any feminist — or criminal defense attorney — will tell you, a passed-out person cannot legally consent to anything, including sex. And having sex with a person who did not consent is assault.

See, sex requires everyone in the room to be on board for whatever is happening. Some people like to think that they’re so in tune with their partner that they know what they can do and what they can’t do, but that’s a dangerous supposition. At any moment during a sexual encounter, something can change. Consent can be withdrawn. You could find yourself crossing the line from heavy petting to unwanted groping in a split second. That’s why so many people are telling you to get affirmative consent every step of the way.

This sounds soooooo tedious, but it’s not, really. You just need to keep checking in with your partner to make sure they like what’s happening. It doesn’t have to sound like a contract negotiation (unless that’s your kink). For example, it can go a little like this:

Person 1: Do you like that, baby?

Person 2: Yes! Do you like this?

Person 1: Uh-huh. Do it harder! Please!

Person 2: Like this?

Person 1: God, yes, don’t stop, you’re amazing!

Or it could go like this:

Person 1: Do you like that, baby?

Person 2: Yes, but just that. Not over there.

Person 1: OK.

See? It can be easy, sexy, not awkward, and no one ends up in court on charges of sexual battery. 

And let me reiterate here that these kinds of dialogue are only possible between conscious, sober individuals. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ELICIT CONSENT FROM A PERSON WHO IS DRUNK. Just don’t. Don’t. People who are drunk make bad choices. They eat at Taco Bell and get stupid tattoos. Don’t ask a drunk person to make good decisions about sex. Either find a sober person or masturbate. I’m serious. You’ll save yourself a world of trouble.

In reality, affirmative consent will not just help prevent sex crimes on campus. It will also make you a better lover. And lord knows being good in bed is the best way to get laid.

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