Opinion: Don’t let consent get lost in translation


Photo by Tyler VanZanten

April is sexual assault awareness month, and the Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT) has been doing a great job of posting flyers and hosting events promoting awareness.

You may have seen signs with the word “yes” written in multiple languages and the phrase “consent should not be lost in translation.” I would like to expound on this issue and clear up any confusion because it is the cornerstone for preventing sexual assault. Explicit consent is mandatory for healthy and safe sexual encounters.

What is consent? Explicit consent is the presence of an enthusiastic and voluntary yes. It must be enthusiastic as opposed to reluctant. It must be voluntary as opposed to coerced.

When do I need to ask for consent? Consent is needed for every encounter and every change within an encounter. Calvin College’s “Every Choice” sexual assault prevention tool states, “Consent to one form of sexual activity cannot be construed as consent to any other form of sexual activity.”

Thus consent on Monday does not imply consent on Tuesday. Consent to make out does not imply consent to do anything else.

Are there ever situations in which people cannot give consent? Yes. People who are drunk, drugged, sleeping or unconscious are never able to give consent. Consent must be given in a clear state of mind.

How do I make asking less awkward? Your first time engaging with your partner in a certain act, whether it be kissing or cunnilingus, can be particularly nerve-racking. In such situations ask, “Can I kiss you?” or “Would you be okay with _______?”

If it’s not your first time but you still find asking for consent uncomfortable or mood-killing, try asking “Are we still alright? Are you okay with this?”

Think of it this way: It can be a little bit awkward now or it can be really awkward and potentially devastating later when you find out that he or she was not actually okay with that [thing you did].

If someone ever does say no or simply does not reply, you need to stop. Anything you do that bypasses a “no” is an assault and the absence of one does not mean you have consent.

Hopefully, now that we have a better understanding of what explicit consent is, we can all make a habit of seeking consent in each sexual encounter we participate in and making sure that our partners are capable of giving consent.