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February 20, 2014

Want to Have Sex? Sign This Contract.

consent-is-sexy-mattm-copy.jpg

By Cathy Young

The idea that sexual consent requires an explicit "yes"--one step beyond "no means no"--has long been the dogma of feminist anti-rape activists.  In the early 1990s, when Ohio-based Antioch College incorporated this principle into its code of student conduct to mandate verbal consent to each new level of intimacy, it was widely ridiculed as political correctness gone mad. Yet policies similar to Antioch's, though not as detailed, were even then spreading to college campuses across the country.  In 1994, a senior at Pomona College in California was nearly prevented from getting his diploma because of a sexual assault complaint brought with a two-and-a-half year delay, in which the alleged victim admitted that she never said no but claimed that she never gave consent, which the college policy defined as "clear, explicit agreement to engage in a specific activity."

Now, for the first time, this standard may be codified into law--not criminal law (as yet), but law regulating sexual assault investigations on college campuses.  SB-967, a bill proposed in the California state legislature in response to the "crisis" of campus rape, would establish "affirmative consent" as the standard for disciplinary proceedings for sexual assault complaints.  The bill allows that "willingness to participate" in sexual activity can be conveyed through "clear, unambiguous actions" as well as words, but also cautions that "relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding."

Meanwhile, as the New York Times reports in its Education Life section on February 7, there is a new wave of student activism--coordinated through the social media--advocating for "consensual sex."  One might think that consensual sex would need no advocacy; but, of course, this is not just consent in the traditional sense.  The goal is to encourage students to "ask first and ask often before engaging in sexual activity."  The movement seeks to "make consent cool" through such gimmicks as giveaways of condoms with pro-consent slogans on the wrappers ("ask before unwrapping") and a website featuring a spoof line of Victoria's Secret lingerie with such mottoes as "consent is sexy" and "ask first. 

The "consent movement's" party line, parroted by the activists quoted in the Times, is that obtaining explicit consent can "enhance the sexual experience rather than stifle it" by promoting communication.  "Consent is necessary, and it's fun," Sayda Morales, co-founder of a group called All Students for Consent at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, tells student audiences.  Of course, claims that negotiated consent is "sexy" and "fun" are somewhat undercut by the fact that it's being promoted through thinly veiled intimidation. In a list of "Ten Reasons to Obtain Verbal Consent to Sex," veteran feminist educator Bernice Sandler quickly moves from the dubious assertion that "many partners find it sexy to be asked, as sex progresses, if it's okay" to "Because you won't be accused of rape" and "Because you won't go to jail or be expelled."

What the affirmative consent standard requires is not just communication about sex; it's constant awareness that you may be raping your partner if you don't read the signals properly and if you fail to notice that there's some ambiguity to be cleared up.  (According to the California bill, "if there is confusion as to whether a person has consented or continues to consent to sexual activity, it is essential that the participants stop the activity until the confusion can be clearly resolved.")  Whether anyone could feel particularly "sexy" under such conditions seems doubtful; eternal vigilance may be the price of liberty, but it's hardly a ticket to good sex.

Some feminists, including Naomi Wolf in the 1993 book, Fire With Fire, have argued that the affirmative consent standard subverts traditional norms of female sexual passivity, since it requires women to openly express a desire to have sex.  But, actually, it's far more likely say that such a standard strips women of agency in a way that traditional norms never did.  Under those norms, the man initiates and escalates sexual activity while the woman acts as "gatekeeper," setting the limits (or choosing not to set them).  Under the "ask first" policy--which generally rests on the unspoken presumption that the man will do the asking--much of the responsibility for setting the boundaries is transferred to the man: he must now take the added initiative of checking whether the woman wants him to stop, in case she lacks the assertiveness to say no without being asked.  This, apparently, is feminism.

Whether the affirmative consent standard will be enough to satisfy the activists--or preclude accusations of nonconsensual sex--is far from certain.  A list of clarifications as to what consent is and isn't, which comes from educational posters used on college campuses, stipulates that "If they don't feel free to say 'no,' it's not consent," which means that at least in theory explicit verbal consent could always be retroactively revoked.  And a new campus campaign in Canada warns that "if it's not loud and clear, it's not consent--it's sexual assault," using posters with the words "fine," "okay," and "sure" in tiny print to convey the idea that someone who expresses consent in a "muted" or "uncertain" way is not really consenting.  Perhaps eventually, someone will calculate the appropriate decibel level at which "Yes" becomes valid. 

It's bad enough when these rules are imposed by colleges and universities; with the California bill, we now have a state legislature effectively mandating how people--at least, college students--should behave during sex.  (If you prefer what one sexual assault counselor disapprovingly calls "the blind give-and-take of sexual negotiations," you're out of luck.)  Whatever happened to getting the government out of the bedroom?

________________

Cathy Young, a columnist for Newsday, is a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics and Reason.



Comments (44)

Adam:

I think every college party should have a rules official present, such as we find in golf tournaments. The official would be called in to decide whether proper procedure has been followed, or not. Get a zebra in every bedroom!

Scott:

Soon American law enforcement will be so perverted that hetero-relationships in the US will be a legal liability for guys.

tps:

The wingnuts have taken over civil society. Thank God I went to school in the late 70s and 80s--and date women who did, too.

louann:

glad I graduated from college 20 years ago...

BM:

In the same spirit we should also require that women obtain licenses before they have sex. Felons will restricted from getting the license. There should be a hefty fee that covers birth control, and abortion insurance. There will be a 8 hour training course. If they have sex without the license then they will be committing a felony, any sex they have will be considered consensual, and their fetus aborted by the state. There will be a four week waiting period for the license. A woman shall have to submit a form for background check on each male she wishes to sleep with. When not being used her vagina shall be secured with a chastity belt.

LWGII:

Fine, but we must remove all vestiges of sexism when implementing this law. So, if there is no clear consent, and the next morning the man has regrets, he can file a sexual assault charge against the woman. If there wasn't specific, verbal (or written) consent, he was sexually assaulted. If you are not willing to allow for this, you are making improper assumptions based upon your tired, old sexism.

MikeP:

This sort of thing wasn't widely mocked in the 1990s. It was already entrenched at the 'elite' institutes.
As a Dartmouth freshman in the late 80s, we had a mandatory session the first week regarding sexual encounters. We were split by sex, with the men receiving strict rules that an explicit 'yes' from the female was required and that if either part was drinking, that 'yes' was then invalid.
This was in the code of conduct and a violation resulted in disciplinary action up to and including expulsion.

grayswindir:

Consent? Sorry, under today's feminist paradigms there is no such thing. They believe that consent can be revoked retroactively, years later, no matter what they said at the time. They are never responsible.

Odd- women advocating women's rights claiming they are incapable of being responsible for their own actions and decisions.

David:

That's why I dated and married a non-American woman. I would never date an American, much less marry one. The hazards far outweigh the benefits.

CiceroTheLatest:

In today's climate, it wouldn't hurt to have the female blow into a breathalyzer as well.

ebbe:

These people who come up with these ideas are against the human race. First it was abortion which destroys human life after the sexual act, now, basically, they are stopping even the the sex act. No intelligent male will even pursue a female with laws so stacked against him that anything he does sexually will land him in jail.

Hopefully after these anti-humans self destruct (by having no children), the next generation will in favor of the the first biblical injunction: "be fruitful and multiply".

Alex Bensky:

I can just see it..."Oh, baby, that feels great"..."that's wonderful, honey, I'm nearly there, keep doing it"..."Sure will, but before I do please fill out this form and sign where indicated."

There are a number of real goals of the people who propose this, but none of them are what they claim. Allowing someone to be punished, perhaps expensively, because two and a half years laterthe woman decides she didn't give adequate consent is an honest to goodness "war onmen." No one who will be administering this is going to give the accused, who will always be a man, anything like due process of law.

The goal is to aggrandize power over institutions generally and men in particular. Which, of course, is the real goal of progressives anyway.

Diggs:

Guy: Would you like to have sex?
Girl: Yes.
Guy: Really?
Girl: Yes, really. I like you a lot.
Guy: I want you to be sure because..well, I just want to make sure, that's all.
Girl: Yes, I'm sure. You sound really unsure yourself. Are you sure?
Guy: Yes, yes. Of course. But then there's this stuff about girls making charges later on..
Girl: I wouldn't do that! What kind of a person do you think I am? I really like you a lot.
Guy: Okay, I just want to make sure. Would you mind signing this pre-coital agreement?
Girl: I'm outta here.

Laka:

It's a wonderful thing that the California legislature is recognizing that women are not fully-formed moral creatures, and that they must be cared for in all of the interactions in which men are fully capable, and that their memory and decision is as fleeting as the wind and as changing as the weather.

As usual, those readers who are unable to detect a note of sarcasm in the above comment are encouraged to post hateful and vulgar replies. Thank you.

An "affirmative verbal consent" standard won't do anything to solve the "he said / she said" problem, which is what gives rise to most dorm-room rape allegations. Nothing short of a written affidavit -- and one to which there's at least one third-party witness, at that -- will thwart the plague of dishonest post-coital accusations of rape. And if you find yourself imagining a pile of printed consent forms and a notary public perched next to the "Marital Aids" display at the pharmacy...well, that's where we seem to be heading.

Mastro:

A verbal consent is laughably useless- it isn't "worth the paper its written on"

Someone could always lie or "not remember" saying it.

"relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding."

OK- but I just imagine how ridiculously awkward a discussion of Third Base would be- I mean I don't even know what Third base IS.

If forced- I might just skip it and go for home- which I think I understand- maybe.

Steve Gregg:

It sounds like universities are trying to bureaucratize sex. Why don't they just demand that everyone fill out forms in triplicate, making sure the woman gets the pink copy and the university the blue copy?

Claiming that lack of verbal consent to sex makes it rape is arguing a false dilemma. That kind of black and white thinking by control freak college bureaucrats is falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus.

Fen:

And it engenders even less respect for women:

"Do you want to have sex?"

"Are you sure you want to have sex?"

"Are you REALLY sure?"


/because you're a feeb who doesn't know what you want from one moment to the next

garrett:

I can hardly think of anything less passionate. Let's just imagine the scenario: May I kiss you on the cheek? How do feel about kissing on the mouth? May we go to french kissing? May I touch your breasts now? Wow! so masculine, so sexy.

Perhaps the feminist activist should turn their attnetion to Hollywoood? A movie incorporating all these steps would certainly be a block buster, right? California should pass a law mandating it.


Hopefully, college women will learn to like the chastity that their feminist sisters are imposing, because college males will soon discover the delights of intimacy with working class women. Or themselves, or just not show up at all.

Deoxy:

It was only about getting "the government" out of the bedroom when the wrong people were in charge of the government. Now that the RIGHT people are in charge of the government, we all DESPERATELY *NEED* the government in the bedroom. Can't you keep up with the times? I think that's satire, but I doubt it's sufficiently over the top (or perhaps even over the top at all, actually), so I'll be explicit about it.

Diane:

If I were a guy, I'd get consent in writing. Even with "affirmative consent" it's his word vs. her word, and no matter the outcome, reputations and lives can be ruined.

JohnMc:

I wonder how the feminists would act if the following was posted on a men's dorm room door?

Notice!!
Any female entering this dorm room has explicity consented to any sexual acts that maybe initiated by either party so escorted.

A written contract is always better than a verbal one correct?

Phillip:

Ms. Young

Do not be fooled by the SB-967 as it is nothing more than a classic crypto-heteronormative double bluff. Consider these facts: 1. Why no mention of homosexual intercourse, either male of female? Because pregnancy is not possible during that kind of sexual activity. 2. By intruding on the most intimate act, the bureaucrats are setting up a dialogue between the sexes that is fraught with hazards. 3. By bureaucratic intrusion, there are necessarily second thoughts by the male. Which will cause all but the most determined males to withdraw from the situation 4. If the male truly want to be with the female, he will navigate these hazards with time and patience and the female will appreciate his care and understanding which has been proven by Master and Johnson to increase the likelyhood of a lasting monogamous relation. 5. Ergo, SB-967 is a brillant conservative plant of legislation.

malclave:

Women are clearly unable to make decisions for themselves. Every female should have a male relative or guardian to make decisions for her.

Only then can this pandemic of rape caused by women voluntarily having sex, possibly compounded by women voluntarily drinking alcohol, be addressed.

scott:

Cathy Young is a fine example of the very few real journalists left in Canada, who are willing to write about politically hot potato topics, because they need to be discussed.
Rock on Cathy, and may you're career be blessed with much success!!!

Josh:

"Fine, but we must remove all vestiges of sexism when implementing this law. So, if there is no clear consent, and the next morning the man has regrets, he can file a sexual assault charge against the woman. If there wasn't specific, verbal (or written) consent, he was sexually assaulted. If you are not willing to allow for this, you are making improper assumptions based upon your tired, old sexism."

Won't work. Lots of laws in the U.S. are written that way. Domestic violence laws, for example. However, when it comes to enforcing them, like arresting someone for violating a visitation order, guess who never gets arrested?

Men are the only ones who have to follow the law, women are basically above the law. And CRAZY women even get to WRITE the laws,as you can see by this article.

God help us. If the policies don't kill us, the shame of knowing that we allowed this to happen in our formerly gold-standard Western societies will.

Dave:

Those who reject traditional values are condemned to reinvent them, poorly. I was friends with one of the founders of Burning Man back in the 90's, when it was this wildly anarchic, energy-wasting, crazy do-anything-you-want fun-fest out in the desert. But it evolved. Now the list of rules for participants is so long and detailed that, if not for public nudity, you'd think you were in Singapore!

fustian:

I think it's great that women require a verbal confirmation before having sex. It's for their protection after all.

Provided they consent to being video taped. This is for the guy's protection. Seems fair enough to me.

And as a side benefit, lots less campus sex!

Kathy:

How about some movies-comedies- showing how 'romantic' these rules are in living color?

Hamlet's Fool:

So clearly the best option is to secretly record all trysts. For the evidence that you received proper verbal approval for every step forward of course.

james:

As usual, the lefties never consider the unintended consequences. My guess is the result of this foolishness will be more prostitution. Women selling their consent for cash in secret. That will really help the cause of women and increase the sum of human happiness. Gee, thanks, feminists!

@Adam, and others:

Don't blame law enforcement for this. Real law enforcement has nothing to do with this, and it is not the reality in real courts.

Alan:

So - we'd prefer verbal consent because it's less unsexy than written formalisms - but we need documentation to counter 'he said/she said' arguments later - sounds like a made-to-order business opportunity for full-encounter sex tapes, which would obviously need to be held in trust by a neutral 3rd party to avoid revenge-porn publication.

Such a job - working late at night in the stacks...

orthodoc:

For the life of me, I can't understand why some men think that college is a hostile environment, or why fewer men are going to college.

Wayne:

Getting consent in writing is a waste of time. All that will be argued is that the lady didn't have the capacity to give proper consent.

So,the only solution I see is not to have sex with college girls and they are girls aren't they not independent strong minded women who know their own mind.

Turtled:

Remember, gents, an ORAL contract is worth the PAPER it's written on.

Bill:

And even if you constantly ask, what's to stop a girl from saying she didn't give a yes the next day?

Guys need to protect themselves. Always Be Recording!

AesopFan:

Pre-coital written contract?
Used to be called "marriage license".

Bill Hermann:

I am a graduate of Antioch College, in the middle fifties. I was a strong advocate of Antioch. It had an excellent reputation, deserved, for academic excellence and its environment for maturation of students into adulthood. When the new president in the early 90's claimed his biggest achievment was the development and publication of the referenced student behavior manual, I absolutely stopped being an advocate and donor.

It is interesting to note that CA that is always thought to be two decades ahead of the mid-west is now two decades behind the small liveral arts college in central Ohio.

Ben:

What I don't get is why some of these guys haven't brought up the obvious defense: "But I didn't explicitly consent either, so she was actually raping me!"

Worse than the problem of young women using morning's regret to distort the nature of the previous night's choices is the very real issue of women simply lying about sexual encounters that never took place.

Lets say a young woman takes a fancy to someone, but he is not interested in her. She is hurt and insulted. She retaliates by claiming that she was assaulted. Once the campus misandry industry becomes involved, his academic career is over.

Were I a young man just entering college, I would treat every woman I met as a potential false-rape accuser.

Mike:

There already is such a thing as a sex contract. It's called a Marriage License.

gemjunior:

This society gets sicker and sicker with each passing moment. This is just out and out group mental illness, college leftists or whatever you may call them. It shows what happens in a big gov't or large bureaucracy which fit some of today's "universities" LOL - mental programming centers more likely. It used to be sort of funny but now it is getting downright frightening. Stop the insanity.

DCM:

Of course, even with contracts females won't be required to live up to them, can back out at any time, and can change their minds afterwards.

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