Yesterday I was asked how a guy could be certain he’d gained consent to have sex; essentially, how not to rape. I was taken aback. “The answer is ‘no’ by default until you obtain a ‘yes’. Always ask permission.”

“But what if a girl says yes, then changes her mind?” he wanted to know. A fear, he said, based on stories he’d heard, tales he’d read. The mythical girl who cried “rape”.

I was about to give the standard a person can change his or her mind at any point, and you should stop, or it’s rape, response, but felt that wasn’t quite enough. What he feared was believing he had obtained consent from someone who did not want to have sex. Maybe he or she had too much to drink. Maybe they were reluctant, but not assertive about it. Maybe they felt obligated. Maybe they felt any number of things, but wanting to have sex was not one of them.

Consent isn’t the absence of a “no”. It’s also not a passive or inebriated “yes”. Consent is sober enthusiastic participation. If you are at all uncertain about how your partner feels, if there is any room for doubt, then the answer is “no”.

People don’t have to act in the moment. If a person is willing to have sex with you (and not while under the influence or under duress), they’ll have sex with you on another occasion. If they’re not, they probably didn’t want to have sex with you in the first place.

You can’t un-rape someone. But you can have another opportunity to engage in consensual sex with someone who actually wants to have sex with you. If you don’t know the difference, grab a number, make a date, and wait for a sober, enthusiastic yes.

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In the heat of the moment

In the heat of the moment

Negotiating safe sex should be straightforward. But when those involved fear rejection and judgement, when we associate asking for a condom with calling someone ‘dirty’, when we are socialised to defer to others, it gets complicated.