2.11.16 | Sarah Anderson
In preparation for this piece, I asked a friend if they had been taught sex ed in school. After learning they had been in kindergarten, middle school, and high school, I asked as a follow up question, “Did you learn about consent?”
“No,” they scoffed. They went on to tell me that teaching consent was almost pointless because it was a topic of sexual activity that lies in a rather gray area.
“It varies from situation to situation,” a senior from Howard University, in a Washington Post video. “I definitely think it’s more common that someone is not going to use verbal consent; that’s why I think nonverbal consent is OK.”
Greta Haussman, a junior from Catholic University, also said: “A lot of the definitions we are using nowadays say at the end, ‘Based on the situation; Based on the person.’ That’s why you can’t say consent is like a clear enthusiastic ‘yes’ because that’s not necessarily how every single person is going to portray it.”
That’s why the gray area exists; nobody’s exactly sure what consent looks like.
According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, when an audience of college students was presented with certain scenarios of sexual activity, roughly 40 percent said that the act of someone undressing, grabbing a condom, or nodding in agreement could be considered as a form of consent. Roughly another 40 percent said it was not an indication of consent.
In a society that is transitioning to “affirmative” consent, from “no means no” to “yes means yes,” we have only been having the discussion of what consent looks like. Much of today’s information about consent in sex education, if there is any, is taught through a gendered lens — the more dominant person in the sexual relationship, societally portrayed as the masculine or male figure, has to be aware of the other person’s verbal and physical language.