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Responding to Izzy Posen’s article on consent classes, Shreya Sen argues Consent classes aren’t warning about sex itself, but rather the lack of consent in sex, and that Posen’s article overlooks the actual purpose and importance of consent classes in University.
While reading the article headlined Consent Classes Take Us Back To Sexual Stigmatisation, I felt a deep discomfort settle inside me.
‘I … hope to reach anybody who shares similar views to him, while giving voice to those with similar views to me’
I couldn’t seem to articulate this discomfort so I reached out on different platforms to see if I was alone in my unease. I wasn’t, and as I read responses from others, I began to find structure and coherence in my own thoughts. This response article is therefore a mix of my own words along with those of several others (quoted anonymously throughout the article). In this article, I will be dissecting each of the source article’s paragraphs and be explaining why some of the statements made in it were concerning. I will be addressing the writer of that article directly but hope to reach anybody who shares similar views to him, while giving voice to those with similar views to me.
‘Intersectionality is not a collection of ‘silly statements’. Racism, sexism, homophobia- these are all very real problems’
To begin with you argue, with not much relation to the rest of your article, that the Intersectional Feminist Society ranted about marginalised groups and you said ‘they wouldn’t be intersectional if they didn’t make silly statements like this every now and then’. Intersectionality is not a collection of ‘silly statements’. Racism, sexism, homophobia- these are all very real problems that are being called out by groups like the iFemSoc.
— Bristol Uni iFemSoc (@BristoliFemSoc) September 24, 2017
As for the intersectional aspect of consent in terms of hate crimes like rape, it is a complex issue that the iFemSoc are probably a bit more aware of than ‘heteronormatives’. Google-searching the connections between, for example, women or LGBTQ+ groups and sexual violence should help one get a start on understanding the topic. I am also choosing not to comment on a few other lines in that paragraph because I might end up writing for a while about its insensitive nature.
Their purpose is to inform that without explicit consent, it isn’t just unhealthy sex- it’s sexual assault.
On to the actual purpose of your article. First, you argue that the ‘problematic’ part of sexual consent classes are the ‘message they impart about sex’. I feel like you might be confusing the purpose of consent classes with the purpose of more general sex education classes, which look at more aspects of sex than just consent. From my attendance in sexual consent workshops in University halls, I distinctly recall that the purpose of the sexual consent classes are to openly discuss how sexual consent functions in order to bring everybody on an even playing field about how to give consent. This includes how to identify consent, what can count as non-consent and what situations can shift into sexual assault.
The purpose of sexual consent classes are in the name itself. They’re to inform about and around sexual consent. Nobody is denying that sex can be ‘therapeutic, healthy and exciting’, but consent classes aren’t implemented with the purpose of relaying this message. Their purpose is to inform that without explicit consent, it isn’t just unhealthy sex- it’s sexual assault. So saying that the message these consent classes impart about sex are ‘problematic’ might be a dangerous idea to have.
‘The idea that people don’t need these sexual consent classes thus feeds into a denial of rape culture,” which no one needs reminding is a harmful prospect’
Following on, you argue that ‘the basic idea behind consent is very simple: ‘don’t be a dick’. I wish that ‘don’t be a dick’ was enough to deter people from ignoring or overlooking non-consent but it isn’t, as much as we might think it is, that cut-and-dried. Statistics show that despite such a basic concept, it has been reported that 1 in 3 female students in UK Universities have been sexually assaulted on campus. As one of the anonymous students I spoke to said, ‘the idea that people don’t need these sexual consent classes thus feeds into a denial of rape culture,’ which no one needs reminding is a harmful prospect.
Discussing sex ed with students- one tells me that they had two classes on how to put a condom on and half a class on consent. #rapeculture
— Nadine Boulay (@Lavendrrr) September 29, 2017
My experience as both a member of staff and the JCR in a University hall, which gave me the chance to work closely with pastoral staff, further developed my awareness of how common sexual harassment cases in Universities are. This only added to my desire to speak out about the importance of consent and made firm my stance that consent classes in University are of real necessity. Now whether people think consent classes in University are as effective as they could be is another issue entirely, not one that I will be looking at in this article.
‘Sex in terms of consent isn’t just ‘bad’ if you do it wrongly, it’s sexual assault. It can amount to rape.’
Another concerning factor in this paragraph, flagged up by several people that reached out to me, was that you seem to be equating non-consent with bad sex. Sex in terms of consent isn’t just ‘bad’ if you do it wrongly, it’s sexual assault. It can amount to rape.
Finally, you argue that verbal consent, which is pushed for in consent classes, shouldn’t be necessary, and ‘takes away the whole fun and purpose of sex’. I’m not sure why verbal consent should take the sexy out of sex. In regards to your position that consent should be implied not verbal, ‘communication is complex and people who don’t know each other well can misread each other easily, so relying on implied consent is a minefield. And there’s no reason that asking if something is okay should ‘take away the whole fun’.
‘If a person really cares about not sexually assaulting someone, they would not oppose learning about it’
I understand where you’re coming from about spontaneous sexual encounters and that ‘in the heat of the moment’, things could go better if words aren’t spoken. But conversely, they can go very wrong. Another woman who reached out to share her story with me listed the ways in which somebody sexually assaulted her. She said: ‘all of the situations mentioned above happened in ‘the heat of the moment’ and even for me it wasn’t always clear in the very moment that I’d been experiencing sexual assault. What I want to say with this is that consent is probably very different from what a lot of people actually think and if a person really cares about not sexually assaulting someone, they would not oppose learning about it.’ Consent, as she recounts, has so many further complexities that need to be learned about.
For example, some men who have sexually assaulted women do not even consider, or realise, that what they did was sexual assault or rape. Furthermore, not all sexual assault perpetrators are monsters that lurk in shadows, they can also be people around you, who might not even have the intention of violating in this way.
‘The idea that communication ruins sex is just baffling’
There seems to be this notion that sexual assault occurs only when one person explicitly forces themselves onto another while the other protests loudly. But it isn’t always like that. For instance, it can be a situation where one person is too scared to take the initiative to say that they aren’t comfortable or that they don’t want it, so in these situations- asking and receiving a verbal confirmation is really important. It was also said to me that ‘the idea that communication ruins sex is just baffling’, and that ‘if people are, when it comes down to it, too embarrassed (or have a profound discomfort or anxiety) to talk to their partners about sex and a potential sexual encounter, then they become unwittingly dangerous through misunderstanding.’
‘Explicit consent and consent workshops aren’t ‘sexual stigmatisation’, they’re precaution’
Explicit consent and consent workshops aren’t ‘sexual stigmatisation’, they’re precaution. Consent classes aren’t warning about sex itself, but rather the lack of consent in sex and that is a really important distinction to remember. As for the complexity of consent- I mentioned earlier and I hope it’s evident from my article that consent is a complex matter. It isn’t as simple as ‘don’t be a dick’ because if it were, it wouldn’t be such a widespread problem.
— Maya Jones (@mmayajones) September 27, 2017
Furthermore, consent classes should be repetitive and are not built to talk about the goods of sex. They’re built to spread awareness about the subtleties & extremities of non-consent and the situations in which sexual assault can occur. They’re repetitive to help ingrain and develop the understanding of these in students to make sure everybody is on equal grounds about it and so that people remain safe. I’d like to end with a quote from this article:
‘The (consent) workshops bring home the difficult truth that we are all capable of violating someone else’s consent, while creating a safe space to discuss the meaning of consenting positively and enthusiastically. They are empowering, and absolutely necessary.’
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