Avoiding Rape: Basics of Consent

I’m writing this post out because I’ve wanted something like this to exist for a while. Here’s a quick primer on how to make sure that the sexual activities you engage in (from kissing all the way to wherever your dirty mind can take you) are consensual. I don’t mean this to be condescending at all – I honestly believe that, in a world where consent is rarely taught in detail, posts like this are necessary to educate people on what it looks like and how to obtain it because, honestly, so many of us don’t know.  So, here we go, let’s learn how to avoid rape by learning how to avoid being a rapist!

Part One: What Consent Looks Like

Consent in Positive Terms: All participants are of a sound state of mind, unaltered by drugs and alcohol. There is no power dynamic between them that would influence anyone’s decisions about what they feel comfortable engaging in. All parties express enthusiastic, vocal consent. All parties engage in any activities with the understanding that, at any point during they interaction, they are free to bring things to a stop for any reason without suffering any negative consequences. [My own definition, based on various legal codes, common sense, and a fair bit of optimism about human kind.]

To put it more simply, everyone involved should be enthusiastically involved because that’s how they really feel, not because any substance or relationship is messing with their thoughts.

How to Have Consensual Sexual Interactions
(Applicable for any and all sexual encounters –  from kissing to the stuff you don’t discuss in “polite” company!)

Step One: Make sure your partner(s) aren’t drunk/drugged/feeling threatened. If they are not then move on to step two.

Step Two: Ask if your partner(s) are consenting. This can be done in a formal way, or in an informal (even sexy) way. Tell them what you’d like to do, ask them how they feel about it… use your imagination, consent can be fun! If everyone is on board, move on to step three.

Step Three: Have a good time!

These guidelines may seem like a buzz-kill to some but, you know what? I don’t really care. Decent people realize that being a bit inconvenienced when attempting to have sex is worth it, when that inconvenience is preventing rape.

***************************

Part Two: What Consent DOES NOT Look Like

Now that we know what consent looks like and how to go about obtaining it, let’s look at situations that (very often) are looked at as acceptable or borderline and see if they actually are 100% guaranteed sexual-assault free.

“Questionable” Situations To Walk Away From No Matter What:

* If you or your partner(s) are drunk. Legally one drink is enough to make things dicey. A good rule of thumb is simple if you have reason to worry that in the morning your partner might wake up and feel violated, walk away. Why would you want to have sex that your partner(s) will likely regret, anyway?

* If your partner(s)’ consciousness has been altered by some substance,  see above advice.

* If you’re in a position of authority. It may not seem like an issue to you, which makes sense, since you are in the position of power and therefore, do not feel any additional pressure within the relationship. But if the person being propositioned by a camp counselor/parent/teacher/mentor/etc.  will feel pressure, as a result of that person’s power over them, to keep the relationship on good terms. Often this translates into consenting to more than they would ordinarily, which is not cool.*

*If it’s legal (like, say, you’re both adults in an office setting with lax dating policies) and you’re determined to make this work then proceed with the UTMOST of caution and make sure you assure your intended partner(s) repeatedly and convincingly that the refusal of your advances will not cause them negative consequences.

When To (At Least) Think Twice:

* If your partner(s) never says yes or acts enthusiastic about your interactions, but also never says no. Stop and walk away if you cannot confirm their interest in a non-threatening manner. Silence is not consent: until your partner(s) is enthusiastically into your interaction, then you don’t have their consent and, thus, shouldn’t continue.

* If you have to work to “convince” your partner(s) that your sexual activities are a good idea, then those activities may not be the best idea. Putting pressure on someone (a date, a friend, an acquaintance, a long-term partner) to engage in activities that they originally did not want to engage in means that their consent is not being freely given… you had to wheedle it out of them. This is a sign that you are inching very close to rape/sexual assault and, thus, should stop and question your plans.

* If you and/or your partner(s) have had a drink or two. Legally, you cannot consent but I am aware that this rule is all but ignored amongst people who have had a drink or two. There are situations that allow for sex to happen in this situation without it being rape. (For instance: all parties are in an already-established relationship and, prior to drinking, expressed an interest in sexual activities. All parties remain enthusiastic about those activities, even after drinking, and are not impaired to the point where they are likely to forget the situation the next morning.) A good rule of thumb is simply this: if you have doubts that the situation will be considered consensual when you’ve all sobered up, walk away.

That’s really the bottom line, and the heart of the issue: if you have any fear that the people/person you’re attempting to engage are going walk away from your interaction feeling violated, hurt, or regretful then just stop. It seems like common sense, but approaching sexual activity with  the mindset of first, do no harm rather than first, make sure I get off pretty much ensures that you make the decisions that allow you to have sex without hurting anyone in the process. You make have sex a little less often and, yes, even wind up frustrated sometimes… but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are not a rapist, and doesn’t that just make it all worth the while?

*******************

This is by no means a definitive guide, just what I could think of while writing/researching. Please, help me expand in the comments!

* If your partner(s) never says yes or acts enthusiastic about your interactions, but also never says no. Stop and walk away if you cannot confirm their interest in a non-threatening manner. Silence is not consent: until your partner(s) is enthusiastically into your interaction, then you don’t have their consent and, thus, shouldn’t continue.

26 thoughts on “Avoiding Rape: Basics of Consent

  1. re: sex while intoxicated
    I have a bit of a problem with the “never do it” phrasing on this. Plenty of people really enjoy being intimate while inebriated, and while that’s up in the air in questions of greatness, I’m not going to judge.
    When doing so, however, I think it’s incredibly important to do the following:
    -only with someone you know. Drunken hook-ups are risky for all kinds of reasons anyway.
    -only if there is consent BOTH while sober AND while intoxicated. Sober consent can be the precursor to a plan (or leaving the possibility) for sexual activity later. Consent in the moment also matters, because anybody should always be able to back out if they change their mind.
    -never with someone so intoxicated that ze doesn’t know what’s going on / is passed out.

  2. I placed sex while intoxicated under “When To (At Least) Think Twice” for just this reason; it can be okay.

    I just think it’s important to err on the side of caution because alcohol can lower inhibitions and cause people to act out of character. We all know this, and plenty of people use this fact to take advantage of someone which is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

    I think your provisions are good guidelines to follow.

  3. I know when I had the first positive experience in 16 years, I told my partner I would not bring her beer if I wanted to have any sexual activities. Though I can see how with someone you are really close with, one or two drinks could be OK (in fact, alcohol can be a positive social lubricant if used in moderation), one has to watch for even the image of impropriety.

    I was sexually assaulted, then accused of sexual assault by the perpetrator (we were both drunk, but I tend to just want to get to sleep after a night of drinking, while she came up and assaulted me), and believe me, even though I’m the victim here, once again, just don’t get involved in questionable situations.

  4. You forgot the most important part, videotape the whole process because she can change her mind in the morning. Because otherwise you can end up being a *rapist* no matter how well you’ve read and followed the instructions above.

    • Spend some time trying to help rape survivors decide whether or not to report and you’ll realize how silly this comment is. Good luck getting a court to take you seriously without physical evidence or a witness…even if a survivor goes to the hospital, gets a kit done, and is “lucky” enough to find DNA evidence its often not enough. Seriously… I know false rape accusations happen (about as often as false accusations of any crime happen) but far more often real rapes aren’t prosecuted because of our country’s messed up understanding of consent, physical limitations, and so on.

      • You do realize that by targeting your instructions to women instead of men, rape could actually be avoided? If even one of the dozens of men a drunk girl meets during a night is a predator, none of your instructions do good. But if the girl hadn’t gotten drunk and tried her luck with those dozens of guys, rape couldn’t have occurred.

        • Where up there did I imply that I was talking to men? Women need to understand consent just as much as men do because women can rape as well. Beyond that, I’m calling bullshit on the rest of your response. Rapists will rape people regardless of how they’re dressed, what they’re drinking, where they are… there is NO surefire way to avoid being raped.

          Beyond that, trust me, if you’re born a woman in this country you’ve been taught the
          “prevention strategies” that our society deems necessary to avoid rape. You can cover yourself from head-to-toe, never touch a drop of alcohol, only go our during the day etc. etc. etc. and STILL get assaulted. If we teach people not to rape, however, and help our peers to understand the signs of an impending assault and intervene THEN maybe we’ll get somewhere.

  5. “If you have to work to “convince” your partner(s) that your sexual activities are a good idea”

    So any attempt at persuasion or seduction automatically strips a person of all moral and legal agency? Sorry, the fact that I convince you to do something does not mean you did not freely agree to it. You are always free to say “no.” If a pushy partner is a rapist, than a pushy salesman is a thief. Persuasion =/= coercion. Seduction =/= coercion. Coercion only occurs where there is extreme pressure or the threat of violence.

    “Legally one drink is enough to make things dicey”

    Not true. Consuming a thimble full of alcohol does not render you unable to legally consent. In most jurisdictions, someone has to be black-out drunk to be ruled unable to consent on the grounds of intoxication. Even then, courts generally ere on the side of caution, and rarely send young men to prison in murky, alcohol fueled cases of alleged date rape(if they found Rohypnol in her system, then that’s another story). Having sex with a passed out college girl who drank too much at a party is rape, a drunken hook-up is not rape. No matter how much you might regret it the next morning.

    • “All parties engage in any activities with the understanding that, at any point during they interaction, they are free to bring things to a stop for any reason without suffering any negative consequences.”

      You have the right to stop the sex at any point, but you don’t have a right to do so without ANY negative consequences(you have the right to do so without facing any ILLEGAL consequences, but not without ANY consequences). Everything we do has consequences, positive and negative, and sex is no exception.

      If you stop sex with your boyfriend, perhaps his feelings are hurt, and he doesn’t talk to you for a while. You still have the right to stop the sex, but that can be a negative consequence of doing so. A negative consequence you don’t have a RIGHT to be immune to. You don’t have the right to tell people that they can’t be offended or hurt by someone else’s actions.

      • Men or women both have the option to stop sex at any point. What if you’re having sex and all of a sudden your testicles really hurt a lot, and blood starts dripping out onto the sheets. What if there was no blood, but just a hot burning chili pepper sensation? What if either one of you had an allergic reaction to the latex of a condom? What if you pulled a muscle in your leg? What if your partner says something that triggers a rape flashback?

        In the real world, sometimes sex stops before both parties feel satisfied. That’s why God invented sex toys.

    • I addressed this below, but for your benefit…

      Seduction is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about are the situations where someone will not give up. Where a person goes from “Fine, we’ll just kiss…” to “Are you SURE you don’t want to take your top off?” “No? Are you SURE?” etc. etc. etc. until they’re eventually having sex because it was made relatively clear that saying yes was the only way to put an end to the situation. If you’re not questioning that your partner is actually into it and not just going along with it because they felt as if there was no other option then you’re fine.

      One drink =/= a “thimble” full of alcohol. Some people have low tolerances to the point where one standard measure of alcohol can get them pretty close to drunk. Some drinks are stronger than others… one glass of jungle juice is going to have a much bigger impact that one beer. I didn’t say one drink was enough to send you to jail but in some states the consumption of ANY alcohol legally negates a person’s ability to consent… in the real world this rarely amounts to anything on a practical level, but sometimes people get hurt. Again, where is the problem with trying to avoid hurting someone by being aware of the risk factors?

      Again, negative consequences =/= a pouty boyfriend. I was talking about coercion – physical threats, threats to one’s mental health, economic abuse etc. etc. etc.

      As I said above, these situations are all SUBJECTIVE so if you don’t have a concern about your actions then you are more likely than not fine. If you have to question yourself, maybe there is a reason. I wrote this to help people understand situations where things can get questionable, to help potentially reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place due to a misunderstanding. I’m not trying to vilify anyone (note the strict use of gender-neutral scenarios above… this is equal opportunity information) I’m just trying to help reduce the harm that occurs.

      • “it was made relatively clear that saying yes was the only way to put an end to the situation”

        But that’s not true in the scenario you describe. If someone really has no choice but to eventually give-in to sex, then that would be coercion. But in the scenario you describe, she could just as easily get up and leave. Or tell him to leave if it’s her place. Coercion is coercion only when there is no reasonable alternative but to give in to the coercing party’s demands. A nagging boyfriend does not typically meet that criteria. Saying: “come on, babe. You’re giving me blueballs,” is not the equivalent of holding a knife to someone’s throat.

        • Its all subjective though. The situation I describe is QUESTIONABLE (I also don’t understand why you insist on gendering it since it could just as easily be a man being coerced.) If the “nagging” person in question is a stranger & you’re in a public place or a partner who the person has a healthy relationship with then yes, walking away wouldn’t be too hard. If the relationship is abusive though, or if the person in question is a little too drunk to make it to the door, or if the person is blocking the exit with their body as they push for just a little more… then you have a situation where the coercion becomes more evident.

          That scenario was listed in the piece under a header that said “When To (At Least) Think Twice” not “If you do this you are a rapist automatically!” The reason for that is that SOMETIMES situations like this ARE seduction and sometimes someone gets raped. All I’m asking is that people stop to take in things like: their partner’s mental state, body language, etc. in a situation like this to try and avoid hurting someone.

      • “Again, negative consequences =/= a pouty boyfriend. I was talking about coercion – physical threats, threats to one’s mental health, economic abuse etc. etc. etc.”

        Then you should have made that more clear. You did specifically say “any negative consequences. Which could be interpreted to include things like damage to a relationship or a sulking partner.

        “in some states the consumption of ANY alcohol legally negates a person’s ability to consent”

        Which states? AFIAK, all jurisdictions in the US state that “intoxication” can negate consent. ‘Intoxication’ is generally interpreted by the courts to mean black-out drunk. In fact, they generally require witnesses to state that they saw the alleged victim passed out or stumbling around unable to form a coherent sentence. Someone who’s had a handful of drinks has never been ruled too drunk to consent in any rape case I’m aware of. I agree with the general principle of not hurting anyone, but drunken hook-ups are a normal part of today’s youth culture, and don’t think we should be labeling as rapists young men who have perfectly consensual sex after a night of drinking.

        • Again… the “When To (At Least) Think Twice” heading kinda made it clear that I wasn’t saying these situations were ALWAYS wrong, just that they were situations that should be looked at more carefully. From that I assumed that reasonable people would put two and two together and realize that a pouty boy/girl friend isn’t threatening enough to make something sexual assault…

          With the alcohol thing, intoxication is subjective, again. One STRONG drink can leave a tiny person on an empty stomach pretty close to blackout drunk. I’m pretty sure the laws don’t state a limit on the number of drinks in most states (and technically any amount of alcohol or drugs = intoxication). Again, that was in the “think twice” section because I wasn’t saying THIS IS ALWAYS BAD, I was just saying people should be CAREFUL.

          I also never gendered any of this… please, show me where I was, “labeling as rapists young men who have perfectly consensual sex after a night of drinking.” In my work with rape prevention I have met plenty of men who have been assaulted as well, and one of the major reasons I wrote this was to help (straight) women understand how the can hurt their partners as well & how to avoid it.

        • “and technically any amount of alcohol or drugs = intoxication”

          Perhaps, but that’s not how any court applies that law. Keep in mind that in court the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged victim was too drunk to consent.

          You didn’t have to gender this issue. It’s already gendered. Also please stop saying ‘subjective’ when it’s not the appropriate word choice. The word you are looking for is ‘relative.’

        • – You’re the one who brought the courts into this at all, not me. Given that most rape cases never go to court or even to the cops, I don’t particularly care about the courts. This article was about how to avoid hurting someone, not how to avoid going to jail (since that is much easier) so while you might be technically right, I can tell you that in my experience people can be violated all the same. There are a lot of things that make a sexual assault case unable to go to trial… that doesn’t negate the fact that an assault happened though. I would simply rather keep the assault from happening for the sake of the survivor.

          – This issue is unduly gendered, as men are sexually assaulted as well. As long as we continue to treat this as something that happens TO women and the hands of men we will be ignoring an entire population of survivors who deserve support.

          – Subjective (“relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience”… situations can be subjective) is a perfectly understandable word choice, though I will use the one you choose & I admit that it is a better word choice here. I think we have plenty to discuss though, without getting distracted by nitpicks like this. I mean, you obviously understood what I was saying, no?

        • If you were in a horrible car crash that killed the other 3 people in the car but not you, then you’re a survivor. If you were a soldier in a war where half of your platoon was wiped out by enemy artillery, then you are a survivor. If you were violated by some frat guy at a party after you had too much to drink, you are not a survivor, as you were never in life threatening danger to begin with.

          I understand that there is a push in feminist circles to replace ‘victim’ with ‘survivor’ in sexual assault cases because ‘survivor’ is supposedly more “empowering,” etc, but it’s still really fucking stupid. Survivor is a word that only accurately applies when someone was in extreme life-threatening danger and made it out alive. In the case of violent rapes this word can applay, but most rapes are date rapes, and date rapes typically involve alchol, not threats of violence/actual violence.

  6. You fucking backwards idiot ideologues are eventually going to criminalize all consensual, recreational sex unless, both parties are going, “can I now put my arm around you”, “Yes!”, “Can I hug you”, “yes”, “can I touch you on the small; your back”, “yes”.

    • Yes, because EVERY belief that I have MUST be taken to the FURTHEST POSSIBLE extent… its the ONLY WAY. Obviously sex is on a completley different level than putting your arm around someone or hugging someone. While its not polite to force a hug on someone who wants one you’d be hard pressed to find a feminist or anyone who would call an unwanted hug sexual assault. I mean, seriously?

      If any person (male OR female) is pressured into sex (not seduced but pressured, as in by means of force or threat or something in that realm) then that would be assault. If NO is not an acceptable answer then yes becomes meaningless, no? Again, with the alcohol… I have NEVER heard of a rape case going to trial (let alone winning in court) when a sip of alcohol was the only “questionable” element of the situation. Have you? My point was that when alcohol enters the equation you have to be more careful, that’s all.

  7. RE: Roberta Sandolval

    Aaaaand this is where I end this conversation.

    Sexual Assault Survivors often suffer serious physical and psychological side-effects as a result of the assault. We already live in a culture that SERIOUSLY minimizes the effects of sexual assault and tells survivors, like me, that what happened to us really wasn’t that big of a deal and we just need to get over it. Personally, I don’t WANT to feel like a victim – that word just plays into the loss of control over my body and my life that what happened to me cemented into place – if calling myself a survivor helps me to regain just a little bit of control over my life (and the anxiety disorder that was triggered by my experience) then who the hell are you to tell me I can’t lay claim to that word?

    Some people who have been sexually assaulted don’t mind the word victim, some prefer the word survivor because their assault & it’s aftermath WAS an experience that they had to fight through and survive. Honestly… I fail to see why any compassionate human being would want to argue something that provides comfort to a human being who has been through a traumatic situation.

    Regardless, I think I’m done with this conversation because we’re never going to see eye-to-eye.

    • I’m a bit pedantic when it comes to words and their definitions. I don’t mean to be insensitive. If you want to call yourself a survivor, go ahead. If you were violently raped, then survivor is an accurate word. If you had sex after you were too drunk to legally consent, I don’t know if survivor would be an appropriate word, however.

      Like I said, I’m a war veteran with PTSD who’s platoon was blown to shreds by a road side bomb in Iraq a few years ago. I have survivors guilt and am in counseling for it. Maybe that’s why the word struck a nerve with me. I also don’t consider survivor an empowering word at all. Some of my best friends, better men than me, died that day. I don’t understand why I walked away with nothing more than an injured leg and a few bits of shrapnel in my chest. To me, survivor is a dirty word. A word that evokes only guilt and shame.

  8. Pingback: A Scene « The Lady Garden

  9. Late to the party, but Roberta just showed up at Manboobz and pulled the same routine. She got clobbered, but I don’t believe her blown up by an IED for a second. One, I’m a vet, and she doesn’t talk about it the way the vets I know talk about our time in theater.

    Two, she’s made claims elsewhere to be a lesbian (at manboobz she says she is one of the few women who say they don’t think sex is rape, and her boyfriend is very grateful).

    Three, at Manboobz she didn’t mention the war story, but claimed to be a “Criminal trial lawyer”.

    Let’s just say her knowledge of the law was a bit less than stellar.

  10. Pingback: When yes means yes and drunk always means no « END SEXUAL VIOLENCE NOW

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