SERIES: Make consent: ongoing

Photo courtesy of Griffith University | In her third installment of the “Make consent” series, A&E Editor Riley Head talks about the necessity for ongoing consent.

I once heard someone say that the definition of consent was to keep going until the girl says to stop. This is concerning for so many reasons. Consent has to be ongoing in any sexual interaction. It has to be asked with regard to the specific sexual activity. It has to be asked before the act is actually started. Saying yes to one particular act (i.e., making out) does not automatically mean that a person is going to say yes to something else (i.e., having sex) — this is such a basic layer to a consensual sexual experience, but I believe it is something that is often overlooked. Permission to move from each sexual activity to the next needs to be explicit and cannot be a forgotten step in the sexual interaction.

“Hooking up” can mean a lot of different things for every individual person. I know that inside my own friend group, we all laugh at how differently we interpret that phrase. Does it just mean making out? Or does sex exclusively qualify as a hookup? If inside a friend group there are so many variables and definitions, how can it be clear when there is a first time hookup with someone you’ve never had a conversation about consent with before? This gray area of miscommunication is a perfect area for sexual assault to occur. Unless people are asking explicit permission, there is no way to get rid of this potential for threat. The frustrating thing about this issue is that it can literally be cleared up by asking a question.

“Is this OK with you?”

“Would it be OK if I did this?”

“Would you like to ____?”

“Do you feel comfortable if we ____?”

I can list endless ways to ask the same basic question. It’s so simple and there is no excuse for skipping this step.

I have heard the argument that asking explicitly for consent “kills the mood” or stopping to ask about birth control or condoms or STIs is not “sexy.” As college educated adults I think we should have more respect for each other than using these excuses. Someone’s safety — whether it is mental or physical — is much more important than a moment of supposed awkwardness. And if you don’t think that asking for consent is sexy you’re obviously not doing it right. While I don’t think this basic human right is something that needs to be made more appealing, nothing can be more attractive than someone recognizing you as an equal human being.

Other factors like alcohol can make this issue of ongoing consent even more confusing. If the person explicitly told you that they wanted to have sex at the beginning of the night but at the end of the night they’re so drunk they can’t walk, does that earlier consent still apply? If someone passes out in the middle of consensual sex, does that earlier consent still apply? These answers are a shockingly clear no to me, but I think that it’s a common source of confusion. If someone cannot coherently reply, then the answer is a resounding no. I do believe that some layers of consent can be tricky to navigate and can be situational. Ongoing consent does not fall under this confusion because it is so explicitly clear. It is such an easy box to check. Did they say yes? Were they sober enough to mean it? Great job, you have gotten consent from your sexual partner.

Ongoing consent is not a one-size fits all requirement. It needs to be asked before each new sexual act starts, even if you have hooked up with the person before, and especially if it’s your first experience with them. This crucial step cannot be left out or its importance minimized.

Riley Head is a sophomore Philosophy, the Politics and the Public and Gender and Diversity Studies double major. She is the Arts and Entertainment editor for the Newswire from Louisville, Ky.