I never want to hear “consent is sexy” again.
I’m not going to argue that consent is not sexy. Consent is what makes sex sex. If anything, this should be obvious. I am, though, aggravated that as students we have to be sold consent with a promise essentially saying, “Don’t worry, it won’t kill the mood! It’s sexy!”
I’m also not prepared to hop on the bandwagon that trivializes consent to the point where it becomes a joke. First-year orientation, which leaves one evening to discuss sexual assault, loves to throw the phrase “consent is sexy” at students repetitively and really quite mindlessly. For most students, this is the first time that they’ve sat down and had serious conversations about sexual assault. Consequently, people create jokes out of something that feels foreign to them, isn’t explained properly, and does in fact come off a tad silly in presentations.
Take for example consent pot, the popular game on most WOOLF trips in which people have to get in sexual positions together after losing (formerly called sexpot, but now featuring the new and improved version with consent)! Is this really practicing consent, though, or is it making a mockery of real consensual, situations by turning it into a game? It feels a lot more like a trivialization of what should be a very basic concept of human respect. Consent represents an acknowledgment that you are with a person and you care about their comfort, their well-being, and their pleasure.
In a game, you laugh.
As the “consent is sexy” phrase continues to be repeatedly mindlessly, we can ignore the more serious issues that accompany learning what sex really entitles. Our language shapes the way we see the world; when we think the end-game should always be the sexual, we miss out on the other intricacies of what sex can be. Yes–sexual–but also, ideally, it serves as a way of exploring another human individual. But the way it is marketed to us, as some sort of super sexualized and tantalizing act, undermines the exact issue of why we even have to promote consent.
If you can’t find the courage to ask if your partner wants to have sex, you should seriously ask yourself why you’re having sex. If asking, “Is this okay,” kills the mood, there might not be a mutual trust between partners. If we really want to fix this problem of sexual assault cases on campuses, we cannot use sexualization-marketing tools to sell consent. We must advocate that this is a basic human right.
Up until now, we’ve been treating sexual assault as if it’s a natural disaster, inevitable as if we only have control over the repercussions of the acts themselves. The Obama administration has set out to combat sexual assault on college campuses employing the “active bystander” ideology; we very much mirror this ideology on campus with the Circle of Six app and promoting active bystander actions. This is great. But why are we still not calling out the rapists? Why are we not saying, “Do not rape”? This sounds as ridiculous as asking, “Why don’t we tell people not to murder others?” but in a system where 97% of all rapists will not spend a single day in jail (RAINN), there’s an implicit notion that everyone except the rapist themselves holds responsibility.
I have no doubts that efforts on college campuses have the greatest intentions in changing rape culture, but they still only address the superficialities of the problem. Only beginning sexual assault awareness programs in college and not at the high school level, something outside of the college’s jurisdiction, I know, contributes to the this ignorance of consent. The fact that they use the same marketing techniques used by advertising agencies to sell morals using sex—like everything else in America, sex sells—further trivializes the weight of the matter. Ultimately though, administrations simply fail to address the real root of the problem by letting rapists go. There’s only so much of the culture that can change while assailants still receive few repercussions. Until they actually reflect this in the administrative process, all this sexual assault education has little weight.
This obviously is an increasingly complex issue as we learn what works and what does not in preventing the epidemic of sexual assault cases on college campuses, an epidemic to which Williams is no exception. It’s a culture that must change by critically thinking through what we say around our own campus. Well-intentioned steps need to be taken one step further. The mentality behind the legislation is what needs to change just as much as the actual administrative process.
So please, don’t mindlessly toss around the “consent is sexy” phrase without thinking through why you’re saying it.
“Statistics.” RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.