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The New Consent Narrative: Episode 2 — Considering Consent

Considering Consent

In the second episode of The New Consent Narrative, Jilly Mcbane and U student Oliver Liston talk about some of the nuances of navigating dating and sexual relationships as well as how college students understand consent and communication. The New Consent Narrative is a podcast from the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education about consent and breaking down myths and misconceptions about relationship and sexual violence and what you can do about it. The podcast is hosted by Jilly Mcbane, a student staff member at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education. Brooke Adams is the podcast producer. Theme music is by Lobo Loco. Special thank you to Robert Nelson of the Marriott Library for technical help.



Jilly Mcbane: Hello, and welcome to The New Consent Narrative, a podcast where we focus a new lens on relationship and sexual violence and what you can do about it. Our aim is to share information in a relatable, easy and digestible manner for college students who want to be a part of the solution but may not know where to start.

My name is Jilly McBane. I am a sophomore at the University of Utah studying Health Society & Policy. I am passionate about ending sexual violence, which is why I work as a student staff member at the U's McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education. I am hosting this podcast to hopefully get our messages across to more people.

I also come from an upper middle-class background, and I identify as a white, cisgender woman, which shapes some of my perspectives on the topics we discuss.

Today, I am joined by one of my close friends who I met here at the U, Oliver Liston. We've had conversations about this stuff in the past, including relationships, consent, boundaries, et cetera, and I really like Oliver's perspectives. I thought it'd be fun to continue the conversation on this podcast. So welcome, Oliver!

Oliver Liston: Thank you so much for having me, Jilly. I'm honored to be here.

Jilly Mcbane: Would you mind telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and your identities?

Oliver Liston: Of course. My name's Oliver. I am a computer science major here at the U. I'm a sophomore. I'm from Salt Lake City. My identities, I'm white, cisgendered, heterosexual and I like that we share those. I think that's helpful.

Jilly Mcbane: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that, Oliver. In this episode, we're going to talk about some of the nuances of navigating dating and sexual relationships as well as our understanding of consent and communication, and hopefully we'll cover a whole lot of things that are relevant to college students like us.

Oliver Liston: Yeah, I feel like a lot of these issues are really relevant and sometimes more than we realize in college and I hope that if we focus more on communication that we can solve a lot of these issues. I really like that we're talking about it here today.

Jilly Mcbane: Right. Well, then let's get started with a buzzword to get this conversation going. How do you think your approach to and understanding of consent was shaped?

Oliver Liston: I'd love to say that growing up my parents really taught me what consent should look like and they just raised me with good values. And while I'm so grateful for my parents and I think they raised me with really good values, they never actually had any direct conversations about consent with me. And I mention that because I think it's very indicative of a greater societal thing that even super great people and super respectful people are a little bit too uncomfortable to talk about consent. I mean, I certainly am and I feel that it's an easy topic to avoid.

Jilly Mcbane: I would totally agree. I think that my mom would say now that she would've wanted the topic of sex to be much more approachable for my siblings and I growing up. And we also know that a lack of education at schools or a lack of open conversation between parents and children about sex has been correlated with people not knowing what they're doing, a lot more misunderstanding about consent later in life, especially as people get to college. So, I'd like to ask you, how do you see these misunderstandings or complications happening?

Oliver Liston: Well, I just think there's a lot that can go wrong when you don't learn how to do something. I mean, everything we do in our lives we're taught how to do by somebody else with this as one of the few exceptions, consent being one of them, and really just how to proceed in sort of a romantic setting. That's not something that's described to us for obvious reasons. I mean, it'd be pretty uncomfortable to learn about that in school and I don't think people would like that. So, I think most of it just comes from a whole we don't really learn how to do this thing. It has a lot of implications in our life.

Jilly Mcbane: And we don't know what we're doing because we're not taught it. And then in those encounters, there is also this kind of lack of communication. In my mind, I think that intimate encounters should be a space where people can be vulnerable and openly communicate what they want and what they don't want. But a lot of times this kind of true expression doesn't actually happen. Part of that might be because there's kind of a smoothing of the interaction where neither person really knows what they're doing. They don't want to embarrass or disappoint the other person. So, they kind of just follow through with what's happening in this sexual encounter, whatever it might be, even if it's not exactly what they want.

And then I also think that people might be asking for things, thinking that they're doing it in an impartial and non-pushy way when they actually do have kind of underlying expectations. There are kind of these unintended worries or consequences about either if you say yes or no to certain things, whether that gets disrespected, violated or taken advantage of. And I think that if we aren't communicating in that moment, I don't know where our understandings of these roles or what we're doing is supposed to come from. Do you have any idea where you think these roles or our understandings come from?

Oliver Liston: Yeah, I think that's spot on. I think we sort of draw these conclusions from subconscious ways. So, whether it's conversations with our friends, I think is a big one. I think I've definitely had a lot of, or I've just overheard or been a part of a lot of conversations just socially with people my age where everybody is sort of portraying this unrealistic explanation of what a hookup should look like. And I think that's super common among men. I'd be interested to hear what the role is with women, but I guess that with men, you sort of understand that you should be this guy that goes and gets what he wants and doesn't really listen as much.

And mainly I think that it's not normalized for us to talk while we're in an intimate moment and I think that's a big thing because there are so many different complications that can happen. Like you were saying, I think a lot of them could just be ironed out if we were just willing to talk to our partners. I think there's definitely this notion of talking is uncomfortable during sex or intimate moments, but I'm not sure that just the conversations you have with your friends are where it all comes from. I think it's just a wide societal norm. And I'm curious if you have any ideas of how we're influenced by our society.

Jilly Mcbane: I mean, I would totally agree with you that conversations with friends, especially about the intimate details of an encounter are very relevant and they shape our expectations or our understandings of what we think is supposed to happen. I'd also like to bring up popular culture, the movies, TV shows, lyrics in songs. All of that has such an important role in our understanding of hookups and consent. Everyone knows that characters in movies follow these idealized scripts that make men out to be always ready to engage in sex and women, kind of the gatekeepers of it who may be more shy or more passive and eventually cave or make the decision about whether or not the hookup or the sex will actually happen.

And I think that the way we've seen this happen over and over in movies has translated to what we think hookups are supposed to look like in real life. And there's actually a word for that, too. We call them sexual scripts, which are all of the expected behaviors or series of events that we think are supposed to happen in a sexual context. So, like I mentioned, the man might be kind of the pursuer and then the woman is kind of the gatekeeper, but both parties may feel uncomfortable freely saying no. And these expectations are very much shaped by heteronormative culture and traditional roles that just get ingrained over and over again through these messages.

Oliver Liston: Yeah, I think that's a really good point. I've never actually heard that term sexual scripts and I really like it because in my mind, there's no sort of script of how you're supposed to conduct yourself, but there definitely is and it's what we draw from society. So, it's like we don't know what we're supposed to do and then we rely on this implicit societal script and we just proceed with our actions like we've seen in movies. Movies are a great example, but you really get it from everywhere.

And I think you notice in movies a lot that women are never really pursuing sex. And I think that puts men and women in a position where they need to follow the sexual script because they expect, I think men expect a lot of time that like, "Oh, I'm okay to pursue this until I can't anymore, until I don't want to anymore." And we talked about this a little bit, but I'm curious about how you feel, maybe not you personally, but what the sexual script for a woman is.

Jilly Mcbane: Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with that, and I was trying to think to myself, what are examples in movies where we see this happening? And, of course, The Notebook came to my mind. That's such a popular movie for our age group. People talk about it all the time and in one of the scenes we see the main character, Noah, literally climbing up onto a ferris wheel to get Allie, the female main character, to go on a date with him. And she’s declined his asking before previously, she said she didn't want to, but he is so persistent and pushy and almost borderline stalks her before getting to this moment where she finally says yes. He pushes over and over again, and I mean, there's of course a whole story, but they end up falling in love. So, we're like, "Oh, that's okay. He did that because it all worked out."

We kind of dismissed this harmful behavior because it seems to all work out for him in the end, even though that's a romantic scenario rather than a sexual one. It really illustrates how people use force and persuasiveness to get what they want. And in our work, we actually call this coercion, which is where one person basically pleads or pushes another person to get what they want. So, if it's in a sexual scenario, they could be saying things like "Please," just over and over again, or saying, "We've already gone this far. I can't help myself." And sometimes it might even be flattering to the other person. I think for women it might be like we are supposed to take that as it being flattering, it being a nice thing, it being banter, you know, flirtatious. But it actually can be really harmful and it's so normalized, which I think is really concerning.

Now, Oliver, I'd like to really ask you to convert this conversation. How do you think that we could work towards healthier communication and navigation in these different sexual encounters?

Oliver Liston: That is a really big question. I like it. I like that example of The Notebook because I mean, if you've seen that movie, you'd be like, "Oh, come on. It's cute and it's romantic," and that's true. But then you have to think about if this is what we're promoting, then can it be taken wrong? And that's the big thing is I think maybe men are frustrated that they're sort of taught that it's okay and that they should pursue women. And then they're like, "Wait, what did I do wrong? I was doing what I thought was okay." And I think the solution to that, to answer your question, is just to, whether it's verbal or non-verbal communication, listen to your partner. So, pay attention to their body language and just ask yourself, I think we've talked about this, just ask yourself, are they having a good time? Are they enjoying themselves? Are they comfortable?

I think that's the main thing because as long as you ask yourself that and ask them that, ideally you communicate verbally, I think. But sometimes that's not always the most smooth. And when you do want to keep up this role of being romantic and knowing what you're doing, then maybe that's not so comfortable. So, it's a fine line you really have to walk. But I think the answer may be a little simpler than we make it out to be, because I think a lot of times we talk about oh, this is as a man, this is how I have to conduct myself to avoid all these situations, of being accused of something.

And it's like, well, it's a pretty surefire way to make sure you're not getting accused of anything is make sure you're not causing any harm. And I think that's easier said than done for sure. But also, if you just check in and make sure your partner's okay and that they're comfortable and enjoying themselves, then I think we can avoid a lot of those situations. But it is really hard because we see in our society we feel like we have to act in ways that maybe aren't even comfortable to us and let alone comfortable with our partners.

Jilly Mcbane: Right. I really like you saying all of that and describing all of that. And I'd like to add that in doing this work, we've actually found that there is so much to be learned from our queer counterparts, which is one of those things is this idea of paying attention to our partner, not just what they verbally say, but what they're non-verbally communicating. It's this idea called tuning in. And because a lot of the messages we receive about sex and consent, whether that's in a traditional or in educational sense or just through the movies or through the media, any of that, it's a lot of the times very catered towards straight people.

Queer folks have had a lot more of a responsibility to figure out how to navigate sex and hookups, but fortunately, this can and has led to healthier norms where paying attention to what their partner is feeling is much more expected and normalized. It's like this ongoing process where they communicate with, they connect with and they understand their partner, their mood, their feelings, their non-verbal cues, how comfortable they are, how tense they are. All of that has led to them developing these healthier scripts basically. And they have gotten better at using these signals to either stop or slow down when they need to, rather than say, going all the way because they feel like that's what they're supposed to do.

Oliver Liston: That's really interesting.

Jilly Mcbane: Yeah.

Oliver Liston: I've actually never heard of that, so I'm glad that you guys are learning about that or that you have that sort of perspective. Because I must admit, I don't, I mean as a straight man and I don't have a lot of non-straight friends, to be completely honest. I don't really get that perspective. And I think it's kind of funny that there's this, there's these whole other roles out there that I think are probably a lot healthier, it sounds like. And I think there's definitely something of us learning from that.

Jilly Mcbane: Yeah, I definitely agree. I mean, there's so much value in just educating ourselves, learning about these things. And like you mentioned earlier, having conversations like these because all of this stuff, like consent and navigating relationships, is made out to be so simple and so easy. But I feel like we're all just a little bit confused.

Oliver Liston: I would agree. I think it's super complicated, but also I think we can really simplify it in just asking ourselves what we know is best and asking our partners, like what they would prefer.

Jilly Mcbane: Right. Well, we have had a great conversation today, and I want to thank you, Oliver, for joining me. If you're listening, make sure to tune in next time because we're going to be talking about how we can apply some of what we've talked about today to reduce harm in our own lives. And we'll also be joined by another special guest.

I am your host Jilly Mcbane from the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education. Our producer is Brooke Adams. Theme music is Lobo Loco. And special thanks to Robert Nelson of the Marriott Library for his technical help. Thank you for listening.