The other day I was interviewed for a local glossy on sexual consent in teens. This interview was inspired by and followed the January 9th piece in the New York Times entitled “Campus Sex . . . With a Syllabus.” It features Josh Kalin of “Party with Consent” who provides talks to college students on this very topic with the purpose of education and prevention.
How teens and college students understand consent is mind-boggling. The article states an interesting and scary fact-that while 61% of men rely on nonverbal cues to determine a woman’s consent, only 10% of females report actually utilizing their body language over their spoken word.
Based on this simple piece of data it is clear that a program such as this is imperative. In fact, IMO his program or a program of sorts should directly follow and be included in the University of Michigan’s (where my kids attend), and most likely other universities and college’s, mandatory preparation – Alcohol and Drug awareness online education course- for freshman year for not only students but parents as well.
The idea of misinterpretations rises exponentially when you include in the definition of consent a nonverbal response. Actually, it increases with anything over and above a definitive “yes”. Consent is permission-it is a clear yes or a clear no. A subtle nod, an unzipping of the pants, or an unbuttoning of a shirt, even getting in a car to go to someone’s room-could signal consent.
Clarity is the second issue with sexual consent, actually even more important than the method of communication. I told the interviewer there should be something called “competence to consent”-that is, by definition, the persons involved in the negotiation-the one asking and the one receiving (not always clear either) should be in rational mind to understand the meaning of the agreement. That is–they should be sober. Much of the article references the huge prevalence of alcohol on college campuses. Alcohol we know changes the senses, the perception and can alter our interpretation of an event.
The legal definition (this is a legal term) legal capacity or qualification based on the meeting of certain minimum requirements of age, soundness of mind, citizenship, etc. There is competency to stand trial, competency for guardianship and many other competencies we are required to submit to on a daily basis, some legal some not. There is a checklist of responses to qualify for the former.
Either way one needs to define whether or not they are in a position to make a determination as to whether or not they are able to consent or not consent. Or, like most teens, they can just do it.
You can read the article here.