Columns / Discourse / May 1, 2014

Men at Knox: The importance of consent

Recently, a whole host of groups and individuals have risen in a loose coalition to tackle the nationwide college campus sexual assault epidemic, an alliance whose efforts have understandably focused on important post-assault issues of justice and safety. Yet we should not forget about the most important long-term goal in this fight: preventing sexual assault from occurring in the first place.

The opposite of sexual assault is a consensual sexual encounter, and too few of us, especially us men, have clear notions on how to get there. This column seeks to offer recommendations on three issues of consensuality: alcohol and intoxication, dancing and grinding and step-by-step consent-checking.

Alcohol and sex are a volatile mix. Heightened libidos and lowered social perceptiveness can be a recipe for disaster. Students typically drink to get their courage up and social selves on point, yet this can translate to aggressive or unwanted behavior.

The most obvious thing to note, then, is that if you have any doubts whatsoever about someone’s state of mind, don’t start or continue any sexual advances. If they seem intoxicated to the point it may not be safe for them to continue partying or walk home alone, find their friend and let them know.

A tougher scenario is if you find yourself being hit on by someone that is obviously intoxicated. You may find them attractive, you may have even thought about hooking up with them. Yet if they are drunk, they are legally unable to consent; perhaps tell them, “Hey, next time, approach me earlier in the evening.”

Another issue is late-night dance parties, a.k.a. grindfests. These are where a good chunk of campus sexual assaults take place, or certainly begin.

While it has become a norm in America to simply start dancing with someone without asking first, it is not a norm we should encourage as it robs dance partners of their ability to say no. Instead, go up and ask “Do you wanna dance?” This will be a breath of fresh air for your dance partner.

If you are afraid of a negative response, remember: hearing a ‘no’ is miles better than wondering for weeks afterward if you made the girl in your organic chemistry class deeply uncomfortable.

Finally, asking at each and every step of a sexual encounter is the best route to safe, mutually enjoyable sexual activities, rather than relying solely on your ability to sense discomfort. Ask questions like “Can I take off your shirt?” and “Do you like this?”

These questions may seem clumsy or antithetical to the mood you are trying to create with your partner. Yet there is little that is sexier than enthusiastic replies. If your partner responds negatively, however, back down a step or take a break.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you feel your partner (or anyone else, for that matter) is not taking sufficient precautions, it is better to let them know than allow them to run the risk of making others deeply uncomfortable, or worse. If you feel unable to broach this topic with them, talk to mutual friends, outlining your concerns and ideas for how best to explain the issue to the person in question.

All of the recommendations outlined above are appreciated by both women and men looking for enjoyable sexual encounters. Follow them, and you can go from being known as “the creepy guy that tried grinding on me when I was drunk” to someone that creates trusting, safe sexual environments.


Tags:  consent feminism gender ally Knox College men politics rape culture sexual assault sexual harassment women

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Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

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  • Kris

    This column misunderstands the problem. Rape doesn’t happen because ordinary, innocent men “don’t understand” consent. Rapists are a small percentage of the population enjoy something about rape and do it again and again (studies have shown that the average rapist has victimized six people)….”The men in your lives will tell you what they do. As long as the R word doesn’t get attached, rapists do self-report. The guy who says he sees a woman too drunk to know where she is as an opportunity is not joking. He’s telling you how he sees it.”,…….. Amanda Hess………,”When rapists engage in sex acts without bothering to gain their sex partner’s consent, they are not “accidentally” raping someone. Rapes don’t come from miscommunication. They are not isolated, unpreventable incidents. They are a product of institutionalized, reinforced, life-long privilege. They are the symptoms of a flaw in the rapist’s entire worldview. They are the product of the way the rapist has habitually devalued women, laid claim to the bodies of others, pursued what he wants no matter what—and never thought anything of it because he has never been called on it. That’s not an accident. That’s a system.”

    • lelandbug

      I’ve got to say that, while I think consent is important in keeping a good flow of communication between people having sex, and can prevent assault in some cases, I’ve started to come to that understanding.

      I’ve started to wonder how we target those repeat rapists. How we could create a public sea change that would pull them out of the corner into the real world.

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