“No means no,
Yes means yes
No matter where I go,
However I may dress.”
This is one of the common mantras that circulate in social media and activism. It has been used to emphasize the importance of sexual consent and stresses how there is no justification for rape. While it is true that despite an individual’s choice of style, activities, lifestyle, or anything for that matter does not and should not invalidate their refusal for sexual acts, hence, “no means no.”
But sometimes, and actually many times, “yes” isn’t actually an indication of consent.
But why? The thing is, “yes” doesn’t always mean yes.
A rape/ sexual assault survivor can agree to sexual acts against their will.
This isn’t a new concept that pertains only to rape. We’ve often in social situations where we agree to do things that we’re uncomfortable doing despite showing clear signs, whether it be tone, body language, or word choice, of discomfort. Peer pressure, for instance, is an act of using social obligation to manipulate an individual to do things they don’t wanna do. A similar type of manipulation can also be used for rape and sexual assault. Coercing or pressuring an individual to agree to have sex or commit sexual acts is not consent. If you have to urge and convince an individual to have sex with you, you are not having consensual sex.
While it is true that despite an individual’s choice of style, activities, lifestyle, or anything for that matter does not and should not invalidate their refusal for sexual acts, hence, “no means no.”
Coercing someone to have sex isn’t the only situation in which “yes means yes” doesn’t apply. Threatening a person to have sex with you by putting their career or aspects of their personal life on the line is not consent.
Pedophilia and child molestation, in which a child is not fully aware of the situation and doesn’t understand the acts being committed isn’t consent.
An intoxicated individual, who despite vocally expresses a desire to have sex, but is not in the right state of consciousness to be aware of their decisions, is not consent.
A person who initially agreed to have sex or do sexual favors, but changes their mind, but you kept insisting on continuing isn’t consent.
Body language, tone of voice, and the context of the situation are important to take into consideration when asking for consent.
Telling someone that they’re obligated to have sex with you or do anything with you because you took them to a dinner, went over to their house, or any situation that is often seen as a situation that leads to sex isn’t consent.
In all of these situations, an individual may/will verbally say yes, but that doesn’t mean it was consensual and on their own terms.
In sex education and advocacy for sexual assault and rape survivors, we have to acknowledge the gray area that is present in consent. Verbally expressing “yes” isn’t enough for consent. Body language, tone of voice, and the context of the situation are important to take into consideration when asking for consent.
Defining the set boundaries for consensual sex can be tricky, especially when sexual situations aren’t constant and consistent.
What if two people are drunk and have sex?
What if a person didn’t consent in one sexual situation and continues to have sex with them in other instances
What if all parties don’t remember what happened?
These are difficult and uncomfortable conversations. But in sex education, we have to acknowledge that these situations happen, and address the importance of consent and how it’s played out in various situations.
Sex, whether you’re in a relationship, married, or single, varies depending on the situation. It’s time for sex education and survivor advocacy to stop acting as if consent is a single formula, and start acknowledging nuances in consent.