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Demosthenes's avatar

Is "affirmative consent" a solution to ending sexual assault on campuses?

Asked by Demosthenes (12780points) February 8th, 2018

Or elsewhere?

“Affirmative consent” is the practice of “actively, mutually soliciting enthusiasm throughout a sexual encounter” and it is a legal standard for universities in California and New York.

College students learn about it in seminars and orientations. But research shows that very few students actually engage in it.


1. Is this at all a realistic goal for sexual encounters?
2. Have you ever practiced “affirmative consent”?

It almost sounds to me like the “common core” of sex: an unrealistic way of doing something that goes against human nature and that no one will actually use in practice.

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15 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t even know what this means: …actively, mutually soliciting enthusiasm throughout a sexual encounter When people are having consensual sex, they’re usually pretty enthusiastic about it. Why would you have to solicit enthusiasm? And what does that have to do with assault? Are you saying that if a guy is going to rape a women he should try to make sure she has a good time too?

Please clarify.

elbanditoroso's avatar

No. It’s a nice theoretical construction, but it will never work.

The good guys (and gals) will follow it, more or less,if they can figure out what the heck “actively mutual soliciting enthusiasm” means.

But the bad actors are the ones who won’t care about it or obey it.

But it all boils down to “he said she said” unless you have impartial witnesses. Who is to say when the woman (in this example) decides that this is a “mutual enthusiasm” and when that enthusiasm stops?

It’s a nice idealistic idea what has zero chance of working.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What does “actively mutual soliciting enthusiasm” mean?

Demosthenes's avatar

I believe the idea is that one should continuously reaffirm consent throughout a sexual encounter; that one instance of “yes” before the encounter begins isn’t good enough, that one must ensure that the person is still consenting during the encounter. What exactly that sounds like is anyone’s guess. Detractors say it’s the equivalent of requiring a stack of paperwork to accompany every make-out session.

My understanding is that a “no” in the middle of an encounter is still a “no”, but that there’s no need to continuously ask someone if it’s still “yes” if they are giving no signs that they are resistant or unwilling. A practice like this seems to reduce men and women in a sexual encounter to alien species barely able to communicate with each other. I’m afraid I have more confidence in humanity than that.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, that’s making it a bit complicated. It’s always been that way. There isn’t a woman here who didn’t consent to kissing and petting, but then backed out when the petting got to be heavier than she was comfortable with. If they’re still into it they let you know. It would completely annoy me to be in the heady throes of whatever we were doing and have him ask every minute or so, like some sort of lawyer, “Do I still have your consent?” I’d probably get up, get dressed and leave.

MrGrimm888's avatar

While I fully support the intentions here, I think it falls very short of realistic.

Irukandji's avatar

So, I’m going to recommend that you not get your definitions from New Yorker articles. Affirmative consent means getting a “yes” and is the opposite of passive consent, which means not getting a “no.” What you are actually asking about is called continuous or ongoing affirmative consent, and the article you have plagiarized in your description summarizes it in words meant to keep its audience comfortable rather than accurately portray the legal standard that California and New York have put in place. Though in the author’s defense, those who teach students about continuous affirmative consent often share the delicate sensibilities of the average New Yorker reader and so fail just as spectacularly at conveying the idea properly.

Continuous affirmative consent doesn’t require a checklist or a law degree. It has two main goals: to change the standard from “did they say no?” to “did they say yes?” and to make it clear that consenting to dinner is not consenting to kissing, consenting to kissing is not consenting to fondling, and so on. And I should point out that even “did they say yes?” is misleading because continuous affirmative consent, both in theory and in what is now legal practice in two states, does not require verbal consent in all instances. The only requirement is that there be unambiguous communication at each stage of the encounter. And really, anyone who gets ambiguous feedback during sex should know to check in with their partner(s).

So to answer your questions: is it a solution to ending sexual assault on campuses? Yes, but it’s not the solution. It’s just one among many because the problem doesn’t have a single cause. Teaching and requiring affirmative consent (continuous or otherwise) can’t stop people who don’t care about consent in the first place. If someone is willing to drug their target’s drink, education isn’t going to stop them (even if they get more than the standard “video followed up by an awkward Q&A” routine). But a lot of kids enter college with some pretty fucked up ideas about sex, and you can prevent a lot of unintentional trauma by correcting those who just don’t know any better.

Is this at all a realistic goal for sexual encounters? Yes, when properly understood. But the idea tends to be poorly taught, has largely been misrepresented by the media, and few people are intellectually motivated enough to get off their ass and research the idea for themselves before going along with the critical flow. (That’s why I’m always such an asshole, by the way. It gets people riled up enough to independently look for information in the hopes of proving me wrong—which shouldn’t be too hard considering that my only real expertise is in being annoying.)

Have I ever practiced affirmative consent? I’ve only practiced affirmative consent, and I didn’t need a seminar to do it. All it takes is some attentiveness and some consideration. Your partner makes a strange noise? It doesn’t take much to ask, “you good?” Your partner’s moaning seems a little off? “Hey, you wanna switch to something else?” Not sure if you’re hitting to hard with the whip? Take the gag out of their mouth and give them an opportunity to say the safe word. (Just kidding. Gag play should always be accompanied by a non-verbal safety cue.)

And as a final thought: maybe you disagree, but I don’t think that caring about the wellbeing of your partner(s) is contrary to human nature.

I do always find it interesting, though, how many men seem to be of the opinion “if that’s consent, then I’ll stick to rape.”

seawulf575's avatar

Sounds like a bunch of bunk to me. Right in the middle of sex, you are supposed to ask your partner if they are still game? Sorry…sounds unrealistic. And in the end, it is meaningless. If you are having sex with someone and both are all for it, then you piss that person off later and they come back saying you raped them or that it wasn’t consensual, how do you prove it? Even if you did the “continuous affirmative consent”, how do you prove it?

Demosthenes's avatar

@Irukandji Well, you’ve got one thing right, you are an asshole ;)

Here’s a Time article (look, I’m posting the article, so you can’t accuse me of plagiarism. My assumption that no one here reads the New Yorker backfired, but Time is a bit more wide-read I think):

Now this article is specifically about the California law, but it brings up an important distinction. The law apparently had the wording “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding” which was later removed. But assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal indicated that the law means consent must be verbal. The article indicates that universities have varied policies on the relevance of nonverbal consent (some colleges will consider it when assessing sexual assault cases and others will only rely on verbal consent).

I won’t restate everything the author says, but it highlights some of the misgivings I had when I posted this question. This quote, I think, illustrates some of the issues:

“The activists often cite a scenario in which a woman submits without saying no because she is paralyzed by fear. Yet the perpetrator in such a case is very likely to be a sexual predator, not a clueless guy making an innocent mistake — and there is nothing to stop him from lying and claiming that he obtained explicit consent. As for sex with an incapacitated victim, it is already not only a violation of college codes of conduct but a felony.”

In other words, the “ambiguous” consent cases will be easy to weed out, it’s the ones where one party claims that consent was unambiguously given because of an initial “yes” or a lack of a “no” later.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Demosthenes – thanks for the California info.

I think that it falls apart, however, because whether it is verbal or non verbal, unless there are witnesses or recordings, there’s no evidence one way or another that person A said something to person B.

Which is exactly the situation we have now. It still boils down to “I said stop”. “No you didn’t”. “Prove it”

Demosthenes's avatar

And is that just an insurmountable problem with sexual assault cases? It is always going to come down to he-said/she-said unless there’s video evidence. It’s not that I think “affirmative consent” is going to make every man feel like he’s a potential rapist as some detractors claim, it’s more that I don’t think it’s necessary to codify a “proper” sexual encounter. It seems to be aiming at cases that shouldn’t have been ambiguous. If someone reads the nonverbal cues to mean “they’re totally into it”, AC would say “but did you receive continuous verbal consent?” If they say “no”, then the rest is history. However, my “faith in humanity” also means that if there was no assault, then what are you worried about? It’s a minority of cases where someone will falsely claim assault.

seawulf575's avatar

Funny thing…in every sexual encounter, actual and attempted, I have had, the verbal and non-verbal signals were pretty clear. Start coming onto a woman and she is pulling away….I get it. She doesn’t have to say no for me to see she isn’t interested. Start kissing her and she starts kissing back and letting her hands roam over my body…she’s into it. Start trying to undo her pants and she helps…she’s into it. Words are not needed. As @elbanditoroso just stated though…it still comes down to a he said/she said. And when it goes to court, it is up to the jury to decide who is the more believable.

Dutchess_III's avatar

And even if she’s into it at first, when it’s gone further than she wanted, and she pushes you away and says “No.”....that’s a “No.”

KNOWITALL's avatar

lol, soon we’ll need a notary in the bedroom, too.

Sign here to consent prior to heading to the apartment. 30 minutes later, initial here to show you are still agreeable. 30 minutes later, initial here to show it was good for you. 30 minutes later, initial here to show you are leaving safe and sound. Next day, please come over and sign up for round 2!

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