Ever since the #MeToo movement became widespread in 2017, women and men have slowly started to grow more comfortable speaking out about the sexual abuse that 20% of all women and 4% of all men have experienced in their lives—and that’s just the ones we know about. I’ve always been quite outspoken about issues like this, but even I’ve been reluctant to discuss it myself until I realized that my silence made it that much harder for other survivors to stand up and heal themselves.
Consent has always been seen as a tricky issue, but that is something only an abuser would say—it’s actually very simple.
If you don’t say yes, it’s not consent.
That’s something I’ve had to grapple with in my mind for many years as I slowly realized that there were too many instances in my life that a man had done something to me that I did not consent to. I realized that I had been a survivor of sexual abuse and that abuse was far too common in my life and the people around me.
And when I look back, I can see so many things that other people decided meant consent for me.
Being in a relationship isn’t consent. Whether you’re dating someone, married, even if you’re just friends with benefits, having a previous sexual relationship with somebody doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have sex with that person again. Yes, most allosexual people in a monogamous relationship will get all of their sexual interaction from their partner, but that does not mean that partner is responsible for your sexual urges and needs. If your partner isn’t reacting to you, the simple courtesy of checking ”Do you want to have sex/make love/fuck?” makes all the difference for both of you.
Being drunk isn’t consent. A lot of people do stupid things when they’re drunk. After a few drinks, I’m sure most of us like to think we’re still mostly in control of our bodies and minds. But we’ve all been there, when we can’t seem to see straight or think straight, when we probably wouldn’t quite be able to understand why things are happening. If someone is too drunk to stand or speak without slurring, they’re too drunk to consent to anything.
Silence isn’t consent. Sometimes, when people are in a scary situation, they just shut down and shut up because they don’t know what to do. I’ve known so many people who have been forced into sexual encounters because they’ve been too scared to say no or simply didn’t know how. Sex is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be enjoyable, so clearly if the person you’re having sex with is dead silent and still, there’s a problem here and you need to address it.
Being flirted with isn’t consent. People like to flirt—I know enough people who can’t seem to string a sentence together without some type of flirty joke being included. Yes, we mostly flirt with someone to signal an attraction to that person, but again, that doesn’t mean they want to get into bed with you. If someone flirts with you all night but then retreats or simply says no, you do not get to disagree. You do not get to be angry. Respect people’s choices.
Being nice to someone isn’t consent. “But why have you been so nice to me then?” Because I’m a nice person. I can be nice to people without expecting something. “But I’ve been so nice to you!” Okay, nice guy, that still means nothing to me. Simply being the bare minimum of a decent human being entitles you to nothing. It doesn’t make you special.
Liking someone isn’t consent. If you like someone, whether they like you back or not, you have absolutely no right to their body. Just simply being attracted, physically or romantically, to someone doesn’t mean you need to act on—or have a right to act on it. “But I really like you, I can’t help myself around you.” That’s pretty much admitting you’ve got the potential for sexual assault. And that’s on you, not me.
Clothing isn’t consent. Modesty empowers some, nudity empowers others. The way a person chooses to decorate their body has absolutely no bearing on their sexual availability or value. No, these aren’t “fuck-me boots,” these are boots. They look good on me, and that’s not for your benefit. I enjoy wearing very tight and revealing outfits because I enjoy my body—I feel powerful in my own skin. If someone wants to look, they’re more than welcome, but it is never an invitation for you to comment on it or touch me.
Being sexually active isn’t consent. Sex is to be enjoyed, and whether you want to save that for marriage or enjoy casual sex, that’s okay—your sexual identity belongs to you and you alone. If someone has slept with a lot of people, that doesn’t mean they want to sleep with you. It’s not an invitation. I’m very open about sexuality and sex—there is no shame in it—and if i want to have sex with you, trust me, I’ll tell you quite clearly. And maybe you should consider that some people have a much higher body count because of questionable interactions where they didn’t feel safe to refuse.
Working in the sex industry isn’t consent. Strippers, Models, Actors, Phone Operators—there’s a lot of different options for working in the adult industry and all of them are valid career paths. Now, here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand: There’s a very important difference between being a sex worker and being treated as a sex object, and that difference is consent. That person is doing things they are comfortable with and happy with as a job, and if you’re consuming that, then you need to show some respect for the trade. So no, you can’t expect anything from a sex worker just because of their job. You wouldn’t harass a normal actor and ask them to perform in your amatuer play, would you? It’s the same thing.
Being begged or coerced isn’t consent. Sometimes, people say no. But still, there’s abusers out there who will continue trying, blackmailing and bribing until their partner feels unable or scared to say no. So maybe they say yes then. But it’s still not consent. If someone is in a vulnerable state, and you coerce them, that is sexual abuse, whether they eventually agree or not.
Being “almost legal: isn’t consent. I don’t know how much more simply I can say this: A child cannot consent to have any sexual contact with an adult. Whether this child agrees to this or not, that is rape. There is no justification for ever putting someone in that situation. There are no “underage women and men,” there are children and there are abusers. There is no other way to put it.
So, if you’re confused by all of this, I’m sorry to say that you’re probably part of the problem.
Now, I hear you saying, “What? It’s like you can’t even talk to someone without being accused of rape nowadays! I just won’t even bother trying with people anymore!” And I’m sure I can speak on behalf of us all when I say, “We would love that.”