Consent. It’s a simple word, one that seems quite easy to understand at first. It is a word that has been in our collective vernacular for years. It is used to explain any kind of permission we give for something to happen or to acknowledge an agreement between two people. We sign consent forms for medical procedures; parents sign consent forms so their kids can go on field trips. It isn’t hard to understand.
Consent happens between two parties. One individual can choose to either consent or decline, and the other individual can decide to respect the other’s decision or ignore it.
Understanding consent means understanding the responsibility each of us has for our own actions. Signing a consent form or a waiver for skydiving means you personally must acknowledge the risk you are taking by willfully jumping out of a plane. On the other hand, if you refuse to sign the form and the pilot pushes you out at 3,000 feet, they have to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences that come from disregarding another human’s autonomy.
Although the skydiving example seems extreme, it demonstrates just how important it is to respect another person’s decisions. It comes close to capturing the weight consent has, especially in regard to sexual activity. When someone says yes to a consensual sexual relationship, they have to be ready to bear the consequences of their choices, whatever they may be. Likewise, if someone decides to ignore their partner telling them “no,” they must be ready to suffer the consequences of taking away another’s autonomy.
While the conversation surrounding consent always matters, it merits another conversation in the weeks leading up to Beach Weekend, a favorite Wake Forest tradition. So often it seems that the intersection of alcohol and sex can muddy the waters of consent, so let us clarify this.
Consent isn’t a chain reaction. Saying yes to a kiss on the dance floor isn’t an automatic yes to kissing in the bedroom, or removing clothing or anything that follows. An accepted invitation to Beach Weekend isn’t a guarantee of consent for anything that follows, nor is accepting an invitation to Beach Weekend a requirement to go along with whatever the other person wants.
There is no transaction that buys someone’s consent to any and every activity people may partake in. Sex is not contingent on decorating a cooler, buying beer or spending the weekend together. It exists as an independent decision. Just because a girl said yes to Beach Weekend does not mean she is saying yes to sex.
Finally, alcohol isn’t an excuse to ignore the desires of another person. You cannot say, “I didn’t know what I was doing, I was drunk.” Plenty of people know not to get behind the wheel of a car after a certain number of drinks — why is sex different? Don’t get behind that wheel if you can’t keep yourself from hurting other people once you do.
Be safe this weekend. Treat each other with respect. And when someone says no, stop.