The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

No gray area with consensual sex

'Maybes'and silence do not translate to 'yes'

There has been some confusion on campus lately about consensual sex and the Students for a Safe Campus would like to set the record straight. UMaine students need to be concerned with sexual consent and aware that sexual assault happens all the time.

Consent is not confusing. There are only two options: yes, let’s go for it; or no, step back buddy! Consent is mutual, when the people involved have full, open and complete permission from one another to engage in any form of sexual activity.

Consent isn’t just a matter of not hearing ‘no.’ It’s about making sure you have an enthusiastic, wholehearted ‘yes.’ Without getting a distinctive ‘yes,’ that sex is illegal. That’s wrong, and that’s rape.

Consent cannot be given when there are drugs or alcohol involved; when it’s a no, maybe, or silence; when it’s forced, coerced or unwanted.

What if the person you’re interested in says ‘maybe’ or says nothing? This is compliance, not consent. When you comply to do something, you go along passively. It’s important to distinguish that just “going along” with an activity might be fine in some scenarios – to go see a movie with friends, to sweep and mop the floors, to go with your parents to the opera. In each of these cases, there might be a different level of willingness rather than acceptance of what’s happening. This is not okay when sexual activity is involved because the stakes are so high. If you don’t really want to go to the opera, but you do so to please your parents, that might be fine, but this is not OK if it means having sex when you don’t want to.

In addition, using coercion to get consent is illegal. If you do not get a yes, you go no further. It is not your job to work out the answer you want. Consent means active, full agreement and participation in that decision.

Think back to when you were six, you had to get permission every time before crossing the road because traffic is always different from one moment to the next. Sex is similar. Relationships aren’t set in stone. You need permission to have sex, each and every time you have any type of sexual activity.

One common question is: What if they’ve both been drinking and are drunk? Think about it: In what ways has alcohol ever affected your decision making? Alcohol kills consent.

Let’s make this clear since alcohol muddles it up: Nonverbal clues are harder to give and to read when alcohol or drugs are involved. The same is true for verbal communication. Therefore, someone who is drunk or under the influence of other drugs cannot give consent. Even if they say yes – it doesn’t count. So if you get a ‘yes,’ but the person is drunk, it’s not valid.

Students for a Safe Campus challenges you to think about consent in your personal life. What does sexual consent mean to you? How have you or your past partners asked for consent in past relationships? How do you think someone should ask for consent?

Natalie Owens is a fourth-year women’s studies major and member of the Students for a Safe Campus.