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The talk (that must be had)

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NOVEMBER 06, 2012

Here is one of the most important words in the English language:

con·sent /kənˈsent/
Noun: Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
Verb: Give permission for something to happen.

Comprehend it and internalize what it means. Now internalize this: Sex cannot happen without consent.

Sex without mutual consent is not sex. Sex without consent is rape. There are no exceptions to this definition of rape, whether a person feels that he or she has been raped or not. There is also no such thing as nonconsensual sex. There’s no difference between “forcible rape,” which was the only exception in the 2011 No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that did not pass, or any other type of rape that some politicians are so good at coming up with. Whether or not a woman’s body “has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”— it doesn’t — when there is no consent, the act is legitimate rape. And by the way, when a woman gets pregnant from rape, God probably did not intend for that rape or pregnancy to happen.

Consensual sex is when all involved individuals are informed of what activities will take place and are willing to engage in them because they personally want to. Consent can be taken away at any time, even during sex. Everyone has the right to give or withhold consent and to say so verbally when one does not want to consent to a sexual act.

Every person needs to understand there can be no sex without consent as an unconditional truth. I wish all sex scenes in movies and TV shows included the conspicuous exchange of consent before showing the nitty-gritty. Exchanging consent should be a normalized procedure that all people should know how to follow before partaking in a sexual act.

But consent in sex isn’t taught or told explicitly to all people as general knowledge. One of the most authoritative and far-reaching media to teach knowledge is through American public schools, and consent is not a defining feature of sex education in schools today.

If you were to ask a random high school student about what consent in sex means, he or she is more likely to think it has to do with asking a parent for permission to have sex. I asked many of my friends who attended high schools in various states — including California, Hawaii, Idaho, Washington and Maryland — if they were explicitly taught that sex requires mutual consent. All of them answered no. The only person who told me he was taught about consent and sexual assault attended high school in San Francisco.

There are no federal sexual education policies that specifically outline consent as a requirement in classes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sex education in American schools revolves around abstinence, contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. There is also a strong emphasis on the prevention of the transmission of HIV and AIDS. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia “require that sex education include information about skills for avoiding coerced sex,” according to a 2012 study on Sex and HIV Education by the Guttmacher Institute. The beauty is that consent can be taught alongside abstinence if that is the only policy schools are willing to carry.

The problem is that because we most often are not directly taught about consent in so many words, we also aren’t taught how to communicate consent and nonconsent. This leads to the lack of understanding that consent in sex is necessary — even in marriage.

Verbalize your intentions and check in along the way during sex. Vocally ask your partner “Can I kiss you?” to “Can I sit on your face?” to “Do you want to have sex?” Verbal communication can resolve confusion about what different individuals expect from sex. Understand that you have the right to stop at any time. If you become uncomfortable during a sexual encounter, you should say so and walk away. Physical consent is possible but less reliable because body language can be misconstrued.

If you’re too drunk to ask for consent, you’re too drunk to have sex. If you are intoxicated, you are legally considered incapable of giving consent. Having sex with a person whose mental capacity to give consent is diminished due to intoxication is seen as sexual assault under the law. Be sure all partners are able to communicate clearly when there is alcohol or substances involved.

Exchanging consent and negotiating boundaries can prevent people from feeling regret or from feeling used and violated after unfavorable sexual encounters. It is important to give someone the opportunity to consider what he or she wants to do and to say no before proceeding. Discussing what you are willing to do or not to do can also lead to sexual experimentation if the desire is mutual.

Talking about consent is a necessary step, especially before doing anything with a new partner. Sometimes it only takes 30 seconds to have the talk. “Do you want to have sex?” If the answer is “Yes,” just do it. You’ll feel better about having sex with someone knowing that your partner genuinely wants to.

Contact Nadia Cho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter: @nadiiacho.

APRIL 17, 2015