By Alexa Day
Last week, California passed the Yes Means Yes law.
What is it, exactly?
Well, the Yes Means Yes law requires universities that receive state funds to use affirmative consent to determine whether sexual assault has taken place. California is the first state in the U.S. to do this.
On the practical side, it means that both sex partners must affirmatively consent to each step of the sex act. It means that nothing should happen until everyone agrees that it happens.
But there’s more to it than that.
I’m going to be frank about the typical sexual assault legislation — it’s designed to protect women. I recognize that the nation is filled with men who have been sexually assaulted, and I recognize that we as human beings are not doing enough to acknowledge and protect them. But the typical legislation exists to protect women.
I love Yes Means Yes because of its paradigm shift. It changes the salient question from “Did you say no?” to “Did she say yes?” Effectively, then, for sex partners to stay clear of the shadow of sexual assault, women are going to have to get used to saying yes to sex.
There are, of course, the critics. The opposition I hear most often is that this is not how college students go about having sex. I’ve been hearing this most often from people who haven’t been in college for some time, but that’s neither here nor there.
The challenge, according to the critics, is that when college students have sex, they’re not checking in with each other all the time to make sure all parties are affirmatively consenting. It’s possible I’m missing the point altogether, but wasn’t that the problem that gave rise to problematic consent in the meantime? I don’t feel any sort of compassion for folks who think it’s just too troublesome and awkward to keep checking for yes. For one thing, it suggests that those same people were too preoccupied to check for no.
(I heard some students interviewed on NPR, however, and they seemed more than willing to adapt to any conversational awkwardness.)
The more insidious problem is America’s apparent cultural preference that women say no to sex, at least until some societal entity gives them permission to say yes. I just read that the University of New Mexico had to apologize for content in its Sex Week programs, in response to backlash from conservatives. Sade Patterson, vice president of UNM’s Students for Life, said, “An informative workshop on diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and sexual abuse would be something we’d like to see on this campus.” She didn’t want anyone’s tax dollars supporting workshops on blowjobs and threesomes and getting laid in general. (As it happens, neither does UNM. Tax dollars don’t support Sex Week.)
I think this country needs to get used to the idea that women don’t mind saying yes to sex. We retain the option to say no, for any reason or for no reason at all. We say no to some things but yes to others. But we do say yes. We will say yes.
And I like the idea of anything that encourages sex partners — especially women — to keep saying yes. Yes to this. Yes to that. Yes to all of it.
Yes. Yes! A thousand times yes.
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