“Consent is sexy.” Campaigns like this can be found in many youth-centered spaces. This pithy slogan aims to reframe the affirmative consent standard amid the backlash against the “Yes Means Yes” legislation, a law criticized for being intrusive and putting a contractual burden on intimate activities. A shift from the previous “no means no” standard, the affirmative consent law legally established that consent cannot be assumed and that individuals must opt-in to sexual activity.
Consent must be explicit and integral, not just sexy. Asking for consent must never involve coercion, yet “wearing down” is still a common experience that young people report about their sexual encounters. Rather than educating young people on communication, empathy, and coercion-free healthy sexuality, some educational programs focus only on the legalities of consent. To be clear: we must all have an understanding of the legal requirement, but we must also educate youth on much more than legal compliance. The legal perspective in isolation is not primary prevention of sexual violence, as tremendous harm can occur in situations in which verbal consent was coerced and/or individuals felt “worn down.”
Consent must be more than sexy. Verbal affirmation is insufficient, even if it is adequate to avoid legal issues.
This New York Times article discusses the experiences of young people and the need to expand the conversation about consent.