Maybe it’s kissing her on the cheek and lingering a second longer than expected. Or leaning over and caressing his neck to share a whisper into his ear. Or maybe it’s pulling out a five-page contract outlining exactly what sexual contact can occur over the duration of the next four hours.
The legal boundaries and questions surrounding sexual interaction don’t exactly provide the best sexual stimulation. However, that doesn’t mean that those conversations are any less important to have. It comes as no surprise that the University’s office of Institutional Opportunity and Access—the office that handles all sexual assault and harassment claims—has received a large amount of criticism for their online sexual assault prevention training, which depicts a young heteronormative couple literally bringing a lawyer into the bedroom to negotiate their legal consent.
While the satirical tone taken by IOA on such a serious topic shouldn’t be tolerated, it’s also crucial to question the student response to this misrepresentation. After listening to several campus conversations on consent, it’s becoming clear that the catchy slogan “Consent is sexy” is an increasingly popular go-to phrase to encourage sexual communication and counter the contract-in-the-bedroom mentality.
But is permission really sexy? Language is powerful and the implications created by the message of consent needing to be sexually appealing is dangerous. The notion easily becomes “Consent should be sexy” and lack of consent is “Unsexy.”
But non-consensual sex isn’t just unsexy…it’s rape.
Sexualizing the permission to invade someone’s autonomy is a step backwards in the consent conversation. Our discussions about sexual consent shouldn’t have to be marketed as the cool thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do. Additionally, by creating this association we also implicitly associate non-consent as unsexy — discouraging the right to say no, or even have a full discussion on what is comfortable. Instead, the focus becomes maintaining the eroticism of the moment. Rebranding consent is not the solution.
These last few months at KU have forced enormous strides in the discussions surrounding sexual assault. The fact that the culture surrounding sex and consent is being challenged is absolutely phenomenal and even empowering. However, as we proceed, it’s important to decide the best way to frame these conversations.
Sexualizing our consent works against the end goal we’re working toward. Is IOA’s satirical video on consent acceptable? Absolutely not. But, neither is the conflation of sex appeal and consent. We need to shift the conversation away from selling the sexual appeal of consent to emphasizing its necessity. If you think consent is sexy, that’s fantastic. But your consent is important—and not just because it’s sexy, but because it’s a your basic human right.
TJ Blake is a sophomore from Hutchinson studying political science and strategic communications