On Consent: When is ‘Yes’ Really ‘No?’

1467040149 (1)When we are children, we are taught that ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no.’

As we grow up,  many of us begin to realize that human interactions are rarely so conveniently simple, so divided into neat binary categories of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

How many times have you agreed to something that you didn’t actually feel like doing? Perhaps, you said ‘yes’ even though you weren’t a 100% sure or maybe because you were looking to avoid a conflict?

Sometimes we say ‘yes,’ when we mean ‘maybe’ or even when we mean ‘no.’

There can be all sorts of factors at play.

We can be tired, nervous, unwell or fearful. These states can lead to situations where a ‘no’ might become a ‘yes.’

This is particularly true when there’s an imbalance in the power dynamic between two people. We are less likely to refuse a boss or or other dominant person in our lives – really anyone who holds power over us – for fear of upsetting that person.

Now consider sexual consent. This an area of human interaction where there are all sorts of heightened feelings on both sides. Communication can be difficult. But it is during these moments when it is so important to really listen to what someone is saying and find out what someone really wants.

Let’s consider two date scenarios. The first scenario, you have immediate chemistry with the person and you talk all night. They make you feel safe, heard and desirable. They ask if you want to have sex.

The second scenario, someone takes you for a lavish dinner, keeps the wine flowing all night and presents you with an expensive gift. On the way home, your date bursts into tears, complaining about serious money problems. The person then asks for sex.

Consider how you might feel in either scenario. Are there strings attached in the second scenario? How might your ‘yes’ in the first scenario be an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ while the other might be clouded by feelings of obligation and pity.

When is a ‘yes’ really a ‘yes’?

  • A ‘yes’ isn’t really a ‘yes’ if it is coerced.
  • A ‘yes’ isn’t a ‘yes’ if the person is drunk or high.
  • A ‘yes; isn’t ‘yes’ if the person is scared.
  • Silence isn’t a ‘yes.’

Unless you are certain, very, very certain, you can not be sure you have consent. If that a ‘yes’ is really an enthusiastic, unequivocal yes – it isn’t consent.

This is something we need to teach our children.

Here’s a great video about consent that I love and use a lot during my presentations.


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