Consent is critical to any sexual relationship, whether it be a long-term marriage or a Thursday night session of “Netflix & Chill.” The problem, however, is that until now, consent has been made to seem like a dry and boring topic — something necessary, but also a possible mood killer. How sexy is it really to stop in the middle of sexual congress to say “are you willingly engaging in the act of coitus with me?”
But f*ck that noise because here’s what’s up: Consent. Is. Important.
First things first, though: Considering that consent has always been important, why are we talking about it so much and so openly now? It could be because of the incident that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio, where an unconscious teen was sexually assaulted by two football players. It could be because 2015 stats from a report by the American Association of Universities found that 21.2 percent of college seniors (surveyed across 27 campuses) reported non-consensual sexual contact. It could be because now, more than ever, male survivors of sexual assault are being called forward to tell their stories. It could be because revenge porn is affecting both celebrities and everyday people. And it could be that even those people who have survived their initial forays into adulthood don’t really know what consent truly is, how to ask for it, and what the laws surrounding it are. That’s why laws like “Yes Means Yes” — which focus on prevention and education, as well as promoting “enthusiastic consent instead of just ‘no means no'” — are becoming more and prevalent. And it’s all leading to a discussion of consent that’s open, frank, and honestly, even mood-making.
Don’t believe it? Check out FCK YES, a new video series that explores ways in which couples can incorporate boundaries and negotiation directly into their foreplay. The first episode’s all about protection — what do you do when neither of you has a condom? — and showcases exactly how a couple might navigate the tricky subject of obtaining the proper equipment for their night of passion while respecting each other’s limits.
Here’s the first episode, which is only somewhat NSFW and, while cheesy, may even be a little bit of a turn-on:
The series, which aims to show exactly what enthusiastic consent looks like, according to its creators, also wants to make one thing clear to couples: consent is both part of the sexual experience and can change at any time. As Elisabeth Aultman — co-creator of the videos — told Bustle: “We also hope to demonstrate that a ‘yes’ is not an object, it’s not a check mark on a to do list, it’s not a signature on a contract — it’s a play in a team sport where winning is defined by everyone having had a good time.”
Another place in which consent is getting a truly sexy treatment is adult film. Jessica Drake, who’s an award-winning adult actress, sex educator and director, makes enthusiastic consent a cornerstone of her signature how-to series, Jessica Drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex. Not only is the subject of consent a major portion of her shoots themselves — I went to one last year, and Drake consistently directed performers to verbalize that they’d like their partner to keep doing what they were doing or go further — but each scene educates the viewer how to ask for permission in a way that’s playful, open, and non-threatening.
“If we’re talking about sexual consent,” Drake tells Uproxx, “it means an ongoing process of negotiating what someone, whether it’s me or a partner, is willing to do.” Drake says that when she speaks at college campuses — and she does so often — people inevitably make a bee-line for her after her presentations to talk about how to do consent correctly. One thing she’s noticed is that in order for education on consent to work, it has to be truly inclusive and must focus on all sexes, genders, and orientations.
“I think that there is still a lot of stigma and shame attached to a male who’s sexually molested,” Drake says. “People are like, ‘Oh no, it can’t happen to guys,'” or if a girl does something unwanted towards a guy, people sometimes their attitude is more like, ‘Oh wow, you lucky guy,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.’ I think by pushing this information out into the open, it helps people realize that it can be a two-way street. I’m not just speaking about heterosexual couples, either. It has to be all inclusive. When we’re talking about that dynamic, certainly women can do this to women, men can do this to men. Everyone needs consent education.”
An that education includes learning how to say “yes” when you want to. “I think that we also have to acknowledge that consent is not always a verbal thing,” Drake says. “You can say yes, you can also not your head, you can make a “mm-hmm” noise; there are many, many ways to do it. It doesn’t have to be a mechanical process.”
Drake’s not advocating that we show a series like FCK YES to kids, but she does think it’s important that the conversation starts as early as possible and in a way that makes people comfortable instead of frightened. One of the reasons that consent is so important to her is due to her own experiences of wanting to say no and not exactly knowing how. That led to sexual situations that she says were less than optimal, something that will hopefully change now that people are learning how to express their desires more openly and set their boundaries with more confidence.
“I look back to when I first started having any type of sexual activity when I was growing up,” Drake says. “I was always very experimental, I always had ideas that I was different. I didn’t have resources. I didn’t have anyone to go to and I certainly didn’t even have a skeleton of sex ed. I had the basics, I had anatomy, and some fear-based sex ed.”
That lack of knowledge doesn’t end at childhood, though. The reason why FCK YES and Drake’s how-to series is so important is that kids who don’t know how to say yes or no become adults who don’t know how to do it, either. “No one told me it was okay to say no,” Drake says. “That sounds really obvious now, as a grown woman, but when I was 13, I was making out with boys, and both of our hormones were raging, and I didn’t want to go any further than a certain point, and I knew what that point was, and time and time again, I went further than I was comfortable going. I’m not saying I ever said ‘no,’ but I definitely wasn’t saying ‘yes’ and I definitely wasn’t comfortable. That’s the first time consent became a huge issue with me.”
It’s important to remember that even books, classes, and videos won’t change the conversation around consent overnight. While something like FCK YES may be helpful to a lot of people, it’s also important that consent becomes a major part of any sex ed program. We already know that teaching abstinence only just makes for ill-informed teens who are still having sex. And no one’s saying that sex-ed programs should focus only on how great sex can be. But teaching tomorrow’s adults how to say “yes” in a healthy way while also discussing ways in which sex can sometimes be dangerous? That’s just going to make it a little bit easier for everyone involved.