Should Men Have to Verbally Ask for Consent Before Having Sex?

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The first time I remember hearing about consent guidelines was in 1990.

I was a freshman in college – binge-drinking, flirtatious, virginal freshman – when I read a story about Antioch College’s radical new sexual harassment policy in which men would have to ask a woman for verbal consent before initiating any physical advances.

As the link above suggests, it  was widely mocked at the time, but in service of preventing date rape and lawsuits, affirmative consent has become the de facto policy for most universities. While Gen Xers like me aren’t entirely on board as a  cohort, millions of millennials have been taught that this is the way sex starts – with a conversation.

That’s why I felt the need to share this link from Healthline called “What Is Consent?”

It’s a very thorough document that outlines exactly how these conversations should be taking place in every bedroom in the country, every single night.

After all, “If clear, voluntary, coherent, and ongoing consent is not given by all participants, it’s sexual assault. There’s no room for ambiguity or assumptions when it comes to consent, and there aren’t different rules for people who’ve hooked up before. Nonconsensual sex is rape.”

To be CRYSTAL clear, I don’t think any person in his/her right mind is defending sexual assault, suggesting that “no doesn’t mean no,” or denying a woman’s right to change her mind at any point in time during a sexual encounter. If a woman doesn’t want to proceed physically, she should make it known and the man should respect it.

The only reason I’m writing this post is that it feels like we’re setting some unrealistic to impossible standards for an act that, for most people, is driven by non-verbal communication. I certainly never felt I’ve sexually assaulted anyone – and I hope my  wife and exes would concur, but by these standards, I’m probably guilty of…something.

Here are a couple of examples from the article:

“Silence is not consent. Never assume you have consent – you should clarify by asking.”

I have rarely asked, “May I kiss you.” I have never asked, “May I remove your bra?” or “May I unbuckle your belt?” I have certainly asked if I should reach for a condom, but definitely not every single time when I’m with a regular partner.

“Repeatedly asking someone to engage in a sexual act until they eventually say yes is not consent, it’s coercion.”

“Repeatedly asking someone to engage in a sexual act until they eventually say yes is not consent, it’s coercion.”

Many sexual experiences start with making out, which leads to heavy petting, which leads to clothing removal, which leads to some form of genital stimulation or penetration. This is all, by the way, consensual. But it doesn’t mean that either he/she planned it to happen this way or discussed it.

While we can all stand behind the concept of “no means no,” it’s disingenuous to suggest that all “nos” are created equal.

Sometimes, “no” means “I shouldn’t. It’s a first date.”

Sometimes “no” means, “I want to but I also want you to respect me.”

Sometimes “no” means, “Not now, but maybe a little later if I’m really turned on.”

So while the woman ALWAYS should have veto power, to suggest that if she slows him down when he’s kissing her neck, he should just stop there for the rest of the night is simply inconsistent with most people’s life experience. No sometimes means no. It also sometimes means maybe, especially when two people are kissing, not talking.

I suppose you can say this makes the case for verbal consent. I would only point out that while it’s important to teach men that it’s a woman’s right to say no or change her mind – I’m not positive that talking thru each step of sex every single time with a regular partner is either organic or realistic.

Then again, if a whole generation is being raised this way, perhaps that will become the new normal. Maybe sex, as my generation knew it, will change forever.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

 

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Cathalei

    Just because something is new doesn’t make it automatically wiser or more sensible. Yes, the word no and stopping must always be respected. At the same time, we are talking about a very -probably the most- primal form of connection between two people and body language is in a very pristine form.

    Sometimes, “no” means “I shouldn’t. It’s a first date.”
    Sometimes “no” means, “I want to but I also want you to respect me.”
    Sometimes “no” means, “Not now, but maybe a little later if I’m really turned on.”

    In that case it’s up to the person saying “no” that should deal with the reason, a subsequent date, talking honestly about the reason and getting turned on by your partner can be the solutions. To turn this into a verbal contract at any step destroys intimacy and turn-on. If you can’t communicate these, maybe you are not mature enough to have sex. But any such suggestion would be called shaming and you would be accused of being abusive and whatnot.

    P.S.: By these standards I am probably guilty of something as well, but who is to say otherwise?

  2. 2
    No Name To Give

    I don’t understand the culture anymore.

  3. 3
    Jeremy

    2 comments about this:

    1) I’d have no problem with this whatsoever if women did not lose attraction to men who actually follow this advice.   Do we live in such a world, or do we live in a world where men actually following this advice would make no one happy, a world where the expectation that men should follow this advice along with the reality that they can’t gives a woman the ammunition to retroactively accuse a man of anything if she is so inclined?   Evan recently posted an article about a woman who was interested in a man she worked with, but the man never made a move.   She never considered, in her question, that the reason the man never made a move was that doing so could ruin his career if she ever claimed   his move made her uncomfortable.

     

    2) I’d also have less issue with this definition if we applied it equally to male and female reproductive/mating desires.   For example, when is it ok to take half of a man’s income? – When he gives clear, ongoing consent to do so?   When he once consented during a wedding ceremony but no longer does?   After a divorce?   I’d love to see the green stoplight end at the first and nice red lights at the second and third.   After all, financial sharing without consent is called theft in the EXACT same way that sex without consent is called rape.

  4. 4
    Ames

    By these standards, most men AND women are guilty of assault. Sexual adults need to articulate immediately when they feel uncomfortable with their partners’ actions. Likewise those directions should be followed at any point in the encounter. No begging, whining, etc. The extremes these paranoid articles demand are hyperbole and make a very human interaction quite robotic.

  5. 5
    James

    I think the whole problem with affirmative consent is that women hate having to openly admit to what they actually want. Most women like to cultivate an image for themselves made up of equal parts naïve innocence and cool indifference, and so they will avoid being forthright in certain matters since they are reticent to own up to their own desires and disclose what they truly want from men. Instead they will nonchalantly drop hints, prevaricate, and speak in a roundabout manner, expecting men to properly interpret their meaning.

    For instance, when a woman says things like “I believe a man should go after what he wants”, she’s not being completely aboveboard, because what if a man just wants to sit on the couch and watch the ball games or go out and shoot some pool with his drinking buddies on a nightly basis – is this really what she believes he should do?   No of course not, because for her this is actually just a crafty way of saying she wants a man to go after what SHE wants. And the main thing SHE wants is for the man to want HER. Moreover, she wants him to act like it by boldly pursuing her and assertively taking sexual initiative with her. But she won’t directly say this to a man’s face in so many words because it’s awkward, too upfront, and because her pride simply won’t allow her – it means risking rejection, plus she resents having to divulge her wishes because her wholesome, self-restrained image that she worked so hard to create is essentially dependent on men acting on their own without her requesting it.

    So she basically wants him to go after what she wants, but without her having to tell him what she wants, because if she has to distinctly spell it out for him then that just kind of ruins everything for her. In a perfect world she would just have him automatically obey her wishes and do her bidding without being told, that way she would never have to admit out loud what she wants. But since she obviously can’t control him with her mind and since she has problems with being direct and open, her next best option is to be coy and cagey and just hope that he catches her hints and acts upon them, because his initiative is required in order to keep up the appearance that everything was his idea all along and that she is merely acquiescing to his desires as opposed to acting on her own desires. This gives her the wiggle room (or if you prefer, the plausible deniability) that she needs in order to avoid feeling responsible for her own desires and behavior, because if everything was his idea then of course any guilt and blame must be his as well, and thus her innocence can remain unsullied. Indeed, she might even imagine herself worthy of brownie points for altruism, since she ostensibly was “selflessly submitting” to something that supposedly only he alone wanted. But the bottom line is that it always needs to appear like it’s the man going after what HE wants, and not what SHE wants, because this enables women to indulge in all their naughty fun without any guilt and maintain their virtuous image.

    And then of course, after doing all this, women will turn around and accuse MEN of being passive aggressive, irresponsible, and poor communicators!?

  6. 6
    S.

    This one is a tough one.   I know where it’s coming from. It’s coming from instances of marital rape, rape within long-term relationships, and any ambiguity. (Brock Turner, Kobe Bryant, and Nate Turner come to mind.)   Trying to keep people safe. It’s important to keep that in mind.   So I’m weighing the realistics of this vs. a person being sexually assaulted.   There has got to be a middle ground.   There have got to be more ways to address this in addition to affirmative consent.

    According to the Heathline guidelines coercion is assault.   Now I’m wondering, what is seduction?   The line between coercion and seduction could be murky for someone who has difficulty with social cues or is inexperienced. It shouldn’t be.   But it can be and I think these guidelines are supposed to help with that.

    I think these guidelines could be learned by subsequent generations, but I also hope verbal consent at every juncture isn’t the only measure.   Teaching response use of alcohol, teaching about how to have discussions with intimate partners, holding adults responsible for educating youths about relationships are equally as important as continual consent.   Maybe more.

    None of it is easy but when thinking someone being hurt or assaulted, I feel we have to do something better.   Maybe this is just one step toward that

  7. 7
    sylvana

    They absolutely should. Just not with words haha.

  8. 8
    Vanessa

    This topic is pretty fascinating to me. I sometimes wonder if it would be better to teach women to stand up better for what they DON’T want?

    Yes, sometimes “no” means “try again later”, but it seems to me that sexual assault has to blaze through a lot of “no” situations with no sense of regard for what the women wants or doesn’t want. It is a turn-off for a man to continually ask what the women wants, but I think it’s also partly a woman’s responsibility to display (fairly) obvious cues and for a man to pick up on the cues. Is she leaning in to your kiss? Does she seem to be enjoying it? Is she touching you? If you move your hand here, does she seem to stiffen or pull back?

    This really reminds me of the Aziz ‘scandal’ where she called him out as a sexual deviant when really, he just did a poor job of reading her signals and she did a poor job of giving him signals.

    There are a lot of ways women can tell a man “no” without killing all romance. If she’s not into it, pull away from the kiss, push his hands away, tell him you need to go, or just tell him to slow down. If these signals are ignored, that’s when a firm “no, I don’t want that”, should come in to play.

    I think it’s so important to teach women to maintain boundaries, and for men to respect them. If this were the case with everyone, we’d have far less date rape.

  9. 9
    Sylvia

    Sometimes, the problem stems from the woman not really knowing what she wants herself.

    I remember myself, 19 years old, in bed with my boyfriend, lying almost completely still the whole time while he did his thing. But I don’t feel like he assaulted or raped me, I could have said no, I did not feel threatened, and still I let him do it.

    Why? Because, though I didn’t want it, I thought I had to want it. ‘Don’t be such a prude’, I told myself. ‘Everyone else has sex all the time. Women on tv do it with another guy every week. Why don’t I want that? Why am I not turned on? Is there anything wrong with me? If I just let him go on, I’ll be the cool chick with the real boyfriend.’

    We women can’t expect men to read our minds. And from a mature partner I would have expected more, like asking why I wasn’t more responsive, but not from a 19 year old about to finally get laid.

    Because that’s something else that bothers me: we see young women as the inexperienced girls they are, not always able to say no, not always knowing what signals to give off. But young men are supposed to be completely responsible for their actions, completely in control, always knowing what they’re doing. That seems very unfair.

    1. 9.1
      Emily, to

      Sylvia.

      I remember myself, 19 years old, in bed with my boyfriend, lying almost completely still the whole time while he did his thing. But I don’t feel like he assaulted or raped me, I could have said no, I did not feel threatened, and still I let him do it.

      I know I’ve had situations where the idea of sex sounded good at the time I received the proposition. I thought: Why not? Bu then I got in the room with the person and wondered if I was feeling it enough. I certainly consented but I wasn’t fully engaged. Or I wanted to do it once in the room but didn’t like, for example, the way he kissed me or did other things physically. We weren’t sexually compatible … and I was waiting for it to move along and finish up.

    2. 9.2
      Chris

      There’s also the issue where women can “freeze up” and be incapable of saying no, but which an inexperienced man might mistake for non verbal consent. This is one justification feminists give for requiring verbal consent at every stage. I’m not sure how common that is though.

      1. 9.2.1
        Emily, to

        Chris,

        There’s also the issue where women can “freeze up” and be incapable of saying no, but which an inexperienced man might mistake for non verbal consent. … I’m not sure how common that is though.

        I’m sure it’s quite common. I think that’s what happened in the Aziz Ansari situation. Yes, she gave consent. Yes, she was responsible for her actions, but she was in the room with him, things progressed, she felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how to stop and leave. And he wasn’t responsible for reading her mind, but it’s particularly hard for a young woman to say, “Hey, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Surely this must happen to men. You go home with someone and she’s pushing for sex and you go along with it, even though you’re not sure you want to.

        1. Emily, to

          Chris,

          I don’t mean where she doesn’t want to say no, but where she becomes physically paralyzed through fear or shock, and literally can’t control her voice or other muscles.

          I haven’t heard of that. That sounds rare.   I was initially responding to Sylvia’s description of being 19 and letting her boyfriend have sex with her and not really enjoying it. I think it’s fairly common for women to not enjoy sex on a physical level until they get a bit older … late 20s? Early 30s? It takes time to figure out what you like and feel comfortable enough to either orchestrate it yourself with a partner or articulate to him what you want. Sometimes you figure out what you like because you stumble upon a partner who, without knowing it, pushes the right buttons.

  10. 10
    Erin

    I’ve been sexually assaulted. I fought back during my attack. I ended up with ripped clothes and bruises. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

    Still, I don’t want a man to ask if he can kiss me, touch me, remove my clothing, etc. If I’m with a man and we are being physically intimate, my reciprocal actions should read as consent – if he kisses me and I kiss back, then it’s safe to assume that I am consenting to the kiss and whatever else may happen. However, at any point, if I feel uncomfortable or like things are going to far, my body language doesn’t seem to be strong enough to indicate “no”, which is where a lot of this gets dicey. I feel totally comfortable saying no and stopping whatever is going on. Experience tells me that I’m most likely going to be labeled as some combination of tease/prude by the man. Whatever. All the more reason to leave.

    I am a member of Gen X. The majority of my friends feel the same way I do about not wanting to resort to a constant stream of ask & answer with intimate partners. However, they are also teaching their kids differently and more consistently about respecting body boundaries/saying no/consent/hearing no – At least differently and more consistently than I recall being taught.

    One of my single male friends is terrified of being accused of assault, and he requires consent for pretty much everything that happens in his intimate dating life. I completely understand his perspective.

  11. 11
    Chris

    Would women really find men who are a bit more cautious and move a bit slower to be such a turn off though? It seems like a good idea to me.

    1. 11.1
      Emily, to

      Chris,

      Would women really find men who are a bit more cautious and move a bit slower to be such a turn off though?

      It signals hesitation and insecurity. Of course, moving too fast signals a man is just in it for sex and/or is clueless on how to read a woman’s signals or is ignoring them.

    2. 11.2
      S.

      It really depends on the situation. Some men are cautious and hesitant by nature.   So that won’t change int he bedroom.   If a woman finds that sweet and a turn on, she’ll be turned on by it.   If a woman prefers someone more direct and assertive, she might not end up in the bedroom with someone cautious anyway.

      Now, if someone is more direct and assertive and is cautious now just because of the guidelines, now that’s interesting.   I think if enough trust has been established, a person could encourage their partner to be themselves.

      The most difficult situations are when a couple is in a long term relationship and someone says no.   Any no should always be respected but it’s hard for the partner to understand sometimes.   Or if a couple has done some things, but one person doesn’t want to do that same thing again hours later.

      I think the guidelines were for more for these shades of gray.   I like what someone said about being able to hear no.   The men I’ve dated (cautious or assertive) have been good about this with rare exception. It does involved being really attuned to your partner’s needs and feelings.   I think a lot of people would prefer things not to be so verbal, but there’s so much nuance out there.   Not everyone is attuned to it.

    3. 11.3
      Yet Another Guy

      @Chris

      Would women really find men who are a bit more cautious and move a bit slower to be such a turn off though?

      In my world, that is an affirmative.     However, then again, I am a tail-end Baby Boomer who has dated mostly leading-edge Gen-Xers.   I have yet to date a woman who does not desire to be with a man who is able to escalate touch by reading body language.   Asking for permission is flat-out unmanly.   It screams, “I lack confidence.”     The reality is that any man who is so socially inept that he cannot read a woman’s body language is too socially inept to read social situations where her safety is either at risk or she feels that it is at risk.   Having situational awareness is the difference between a real man and a wannabe, and so is the ability to make a woman feel comfortable and secure through gestures and actions, not words.    A man should never forget that his number one job is to protect.

  12. 12
    Paloma

    I don’t think that verbal consent necessarily needs to be present before doing anything physical at all. That is a bit extreme. However,  just because it “technically isn’t rape” doesn’t necessarily absolve him of being an asshole, either. Even if no laws were broken, shouldn’t a  man care about whether or not she is enjoying his advances? If she isn’t consenting enthusiastically, stop!  

    There’s a great article here in the New York Times about how merely not being a rapist is setting the bar too low. What if we brought up boys and men to check for nothing less than enthusiastic consent in their partners?

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/well/getting-consent-for-sex-is-too-low-a-bar.html

  13. 13
    Helene

    I’m so glad I’m not young! It seems to me that those who propose all this verbal consent etc…have apparently never engaged in sexual behaviour as they seem to not have the slightest notion how it actually works. If a man asked me if he could kiss me I’d just laugh- or leave-or both.

    Also it is worth pointing out that there is a difference between bad sex and assault. Sometimes, the sex will be rubbish. Just because you haven’t enjoyed it doesn’t make it rape.

    Just like you can’t know in advance if a date will yield your future husband, you can’t know if the sex will be good or not- you just have to get in there and take the rough with the smooth, if you really don’t want to have sex with a guy, don’t go to his house and take your clothes off. For my generation, getting in the taxi is consent, and I’m happy for it to stay that way.

     

     

  14. 14
    Anonymous

    I dated this guy that whispered in my ear, ‘We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, just ask me to stop’. He was told to stop on several dates until I was finally ready and I verbalized ‘I’m ready’. Wasn’t that difficult.

    I dated this other guy and was early on, our third time maybe hanging out. Well we were kissing only, no petting. I had my clothes on. He had on his boxers and a shirt. I thought I was safe. Safe as in sex wasn’t even on the horizon. Well what do you know, as he is kissing me with one hand he had wiped out his penis and inserted  it in me. I was so  upset  and I immediately pushed him off. I cried. I asked him how he could do that to me. I was also mad at the risk of infection he put me through. That, I call rape. That was unwanted.

  15. 15
    Elsezenia Nagel

    I actually really need communication like this when it comes to sex and intimacy. it doesn’t have to be every step of the way, but good communication is crucial because if some guy just lunges at me and doesn’t ask me first or at least speak to his intentions and give me space to respond, I freeze up, then dissociate, which leads to me having a complete lack of physical responsiveness and the inability to feel anything. I need the guy to actually ask me, and give me a chance to say no, or if I say yes, it gives me a chance to get in the right frame of mind so I remain truly present with that person. respect and good communication are so important to me no matter what the nature of the relationship is. for me, loving relationships and sex are closely connected because that’s where I feel the most. safe and secure when it comes to sex because there is existing trust and a sense of respect for a persons limits and boundaries. <3 11 year rape and PTSD survivor and army vet.

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