A Conversation About Sexual Consent

Married couple having an intimate discussionA national conversation about sexual consent has begun. In recent decades the concept of sexual consent has bogged down courts and left campus officials scratching their heads as lawmakers struggle to define the line between unlawful sex and “buyer’s remorse,” (as too many police officer’s, sadly, define date rape.) We all clearly recognize a rape when it occurs in a dark alley with a stranger and a weapon. But far more often, rape happens with someone we know. In fact, it can happen with someone we really like. When unlawful sex is preceded by consensual touching causing aroused bodies or the consensual sharing of alcohol or drugs, that line between sexual assault and permissive sex becomes terribly blurry.

But the good news is this. Sexual consent now has a clear definition and laws are finally catching up. A new law in California, for instance, states that in order to have sex on any California college campus that receives State funding, both sexual partners must give verbal or written consent. Lawmakers hope that if people talk about sex — their boundaries and their expectations — before they have sex, we’ll see a reduction in reports of date rape. I’ve always been one to vote for honest words before coitus. I mean, if you two aren’t intimate enough to talk about sex, you probably shouldn’t expose your eggs or your bloodstream to that partner.

As we continue this public conversation about what constitutes legal or illegal sex, let me outline the five rules for sexual consent:

1. YES MEANS YES. In fact “yes” is the only word that means yes. Silence isn’t consent. Moaning and smiling isn’t consent. “I think so” isn’t consent. “Maybe” isn’t consent. The words, “Yes, I want to have sex with you” are the only thing that counts in a court of law. And “NO” really does mean no. It should never be used as foreplay to help preserve a woman’s reputation.

2. BOTH PARTNERS MUST GIVE CONSENT. Ladies and gay men, listen up. Just because a guy has a throbbing flag pole does not mean that he wants to have full on intercourse with you at that very moment. An erection is not consent. Both partners, no matter their gender or orientation must give verbal consent.

3. YOU CANNOT GIVE CONSENT IF YOU ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE of drugs or alcohol. All these conversations about sex have to take place before the first drink is poured.

4. CONSENT FOR ONE ACT DOESN’T MEAN CONSENT FOR ANOTHER ACT. I know. It gets a bit awkward here. Just because someone consents to kissing, petting or even oral sex, does not mean they are consenting to intercourse. It’s important to get verbal consent at every stage, even if that means a little coitus interruptus along the way. One solution is to have a spicy conversation about expectations at the onset.

5.  IT’S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW YOU HAVE CONSENT. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Just like you can’t tell a traffic cop you didn’t know there was a speed limit, you can’t tell a jury that you didn’t know she had to verbally say yes.

The best solution of all? Establish emotional intimacy and trust long before you hit the hay. And have a sexy conversation when you are fully clear headed. Then enjoy some great consensual sex.

DR. WENDY WALSH IS AVAILABLE FOR TELEPHONE RELATIONSHIP COACHING. TO SCHEDULE, PLEASE CLICK HERE AND COMPLETE THE BOX ON THE LEFT. SHE’LL PERSONALLY RESPOND.

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FOR MORE ON THIS TOPIC, WATCH MY GOOGLE HANG OUT WITH LEGAL EXPERTS ON SEXUALITY: How to Get Legally (and consensually) Laid.

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