Home2017-2018Safe and sexy: critical thinking about consent

Safe and sexy: critical thinking about consent

By Julia Di Simone
Staff Writer

How do you define consent? How do you actually ask for and give consent in practice? At Salem’s Planned Parenthood in Willamette, students reflected on how the ideal model of consent doesn’t always play out in everyday life. Ann Krier, Planned Parenthood’s local community education and outreach coordinator, lead the workshop in the Hatfield room. Krier introduced the definition of consent Planned Parenthood utilizes: the acronym “FRIES.” Consent is Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific. The discussion that followed privileged verbal communication, because it is the most clear form of communication students at the event could use. If this is not the case for you, you can adapt FRIES to your chosen method of communication.

In breakout groups, students discussed what consent to sex has looked like in their experiences and how consent is discussed in their own friend groups. One student contributed their definition of consent as a verbalized, freely-given and enthusiastic “yes!” They added that this definition doesn’t teach us to stay attentive of our partner’s nonverbal signals. This focus on nonverbal signals was echoed by Planned Parenthood’s “Consent 101” video the group watched together. The video modeled three couples’ stories of how they ask for and give consent throughout sex. As the narrator explained, “Sometimes people don’t speak up when they’re uncomfortable. So you need to observe all their signals.”

What should you do in the following scenario: what if your partner is verbally telling you “yes” to sex, or nodding, but they’re avoiding eye contact? Or what if their body is tensed or turned away from you? This is a time to check in and ask how your partner is doing. Pause the physical touch, get some physical space and verbalize your observation. One student participant offered the following idea of what to say: “I’m noticing that you’re not really looking at me. Can we talk about it?” Planned Parenthood advises us to start a conversation and check in whenever a partner looks like they’ve left their comfort zone.

Students also mentioned that contrary to the behavior modeled in the video, people in everyday life don’t typically ask specific questions when asking for consent. “Can I kiss you now?” or “Wanna have sex?” aren’t questions student think are asked frequently in their social groups. Still, many students reflected that they would like to see more specificity when asking for consent. One student suggested that it takes emotional maturity to use specific language to describe intimate body parts and sex acts. Instead of asking, “Can I touch your breasts?” or “Want me to take my shirt off?” students might touch before asking or try to communicate their desire nonverbally. Practicing using specific language can help us become more comfortable with asking clear questions.

There exists a highly-popularized fear that asking specific questions during sex will ruin the moment or feel awkward and un-sexy. A student participant responded to this concern by asking the group to consider what we risk by not asking specific questions of our partners. We risk harming or assaulting people, either knowingly or unknowingly. Therefore, the student concluded, it’s worth risking a little awkwardness to ensure that your partner truly wants to be there, doing what you’re doing together.

Furthermore, asking specific questions and communicating clear consent can be exciting! It’s reassuring, not to mention sexy, to hear that your partner is excited to have sex with you. As a Planned Parenthood video states, “Consent is about watching, listening and asking. And being honest with ourselves about what they’re trying to communicate.”

If you’re looking for more sex education resources, check out Planned Parenthood’s “Consent 101” video playlist on YouTube or the channel “Sexplanations,” hosted by sexologist Dr. Lindsey Doe.



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