By Yulisa Padilla
This is one of eight posts in the center’s You Might Be Causing Harm If . . . campaign.
If you and your friends were to each explain consent in your own words, I am sure you would come up with slightly different definitions. This is common since consent is a complex and broad topic.
In theory, we all have an idea of what consent is, but it can be difficult to carry out in practice. Some people may think that a simple “yes” implies consent, while others may think that consent also involves other factors like body language, mutual signs of pleasure, etc. The truth is that consent does involve many more factors than just simply saying “yes” or “no.” Someone can say yes to something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want or desire that interaction. The most pleasing sexual experiences are the ones where everybody involved has that want and desire for it.
There are many reasons someone may consent to sex that they don’t truly desire. For example, they may feel pressured to conform to societal norms and expectations. They also may be hesitant to say no because they don’t want to start an argument and unintentionally upset their partner. This can be especially true if they have been socialized their whole life to please others before themselves.
Only acknowledging the “yes” that someone may give during a sexual interaction and ignoring other signs of consent that express want and desire may cause harm. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own pleasure that we easily overlook or even dismiss the moments where our partner spaces out or tenses up. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to be in tune with our partners emotionally and mentally, the same way we are physically.
In doing this, we create an environment where everyone has complete bodily autonomy and control over themselves. This also can help avoid creating any potential power imbalance that can manifest in sexual violence. It is important to recognize the harm that we may cause by ignoring signs that our partner isn’t enjoying themselves.
Instead, we should look for and be aware of signs they are enjoying themselves and ensure that both partners are displaying want and desire continuously throughout the entire interaction. In the end, this will help us engage in healthier sex where everyone is being pleased, a win-win situation!
Note: Learn more about the You Might Be Causing Harm If . . . campaign and other topics covered at this link.
Yulisa Padilla (she/her/hers) is a senior majoring in sociology with minors in business and in health. She is a student staff member at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education.