Consent has been much discussed recently, what with college campuses in New York imposing affirmative consent rules on their campuses last fall, and the current box-office success of Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that makes lack of consent look sexy.
In the United Kingdom, we more or less have “affirmative consent” already. It’s why UK pro athlete Ched Evans was convicted of rape in 2012 while his co-defendant was not—court documents show that while the jury found it reasonable to believe that the victim had consented to intercourse with the co-defendant, but not with the random dude that turned up halfway through: Evans. Yet it still seems like every time an article is written about consent, or a move made towards requiring the initiator of sex to ensure that the person they are trying to have sex with, you know, actually wants to have sex with them, a wave of comments and criticisms follows.
It seems a lot of people really don’t get what “consent” means.
From the United Kingdom’s MP George Galloway’s claim that “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion,” to the University of Illinois student student who (allegedly) thought he’d surprise his partner with some non-consensual BDSM, it seems some people really have a problem understanding that before you have sex with anyone, and that’s every time you have sex with them, you have to make sure they want to have sex with you. This goes for men, women, everyone. Just make sure they are actually genuinely up for it.
If you’re still struggling, just imagine that—instead of initiating sex—you’re making a cup of tea.
You say: “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?”
If they say, “Yes, I would love a cup of tea! Thank you!” then you know they want a cup of tea.
If you say “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they hem and haw and say, “I’m not really sure,” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it.
If they don’t drink it—and this is the important bit—then don’t make them drink it.
You can’t blame them for the fact that you went to the effort of making tea, on the off-chance they wanted it. You just have to deal with them not drinking it; you making tea doesn’t mean that you are entitled to watch them drink it.
And if they say, “No thank you,” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea; don’t make them drink tea; don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?
They might say, “Yes please, that’s kind of you.” And then when the tea arrives, they might not want the tea at all. Sure, that’s annoying, as you’ve already made the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Sometimes people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s ok for people to change their mind. You are still not entitled to watch them drink it.
If they are unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea and can’t answer the question, “Do you want tea?” because they are unconscious.
They may have been conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said yes. But in the time it took you to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk, they are now unconscious. You should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe, and—this is the important bit—don’t make them drink the tea. They said yes then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.
If someone said yes to tea, started drinking it, and then passed out before finishing it, don’t keep pouring it down their throat. Take the tea away and make sure they are safe. Because unconscious people don’t want tea. Trust me on this.
If someone said “yes” to tea around your house last Saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it, while you say “But you wanted tea last week!” They don’t want to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat, saying “But you wanted tea last night!”
Is this a stupid analogy? Yes, you know this already—of course, you wouldn’t force someone to drink tea because they said yes to a cup last week. Of course, you wouldn’t pour tea down the throat of an unconcious person just because they said yes to tea 5 minutes ago. But if you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you are able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand when it comes to sex?
Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.