What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Consent

Ever since the #MeToo movement became widespread in 2017, women and men have slowly started to grow more comfortable speaking out about the sexual abuse that 20% of all women and 4% of all men have experienced. (And that’s just the ones we know about). I’ve always been quite outspoken about issues like this. But even I’ve been reluctant to discuss it myself until I realized that my silence made it that much harder for other survivors to stand up and heal themselves and discuss consent and other similar topics.

Consent has always been seen as a ‘tricky’ issue. But the truth is that this is something only an abuser would say — it’s actually very simple. 

If you don’t say ‘yes,’ it’s not consent. 

That’s something I’ve had to grapple with for many years, as I slowly learned that there were too many instances in my life when a man had done something to me that I did not consent to. I realized that I had been a survivor of sexual abuse and that abuse was far too common in my life and among the people around me. 

And when I look back, I can see so many things that others decided meant consent even though they don’t. 

1. Being in a relationship isn’t consent.

Having a previous sexual relationship with somebody doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have sex with that person again. Yes, most allosexual people in a monogamous relationship will get their sexual interaction from their partner. But that does not mean your partner is responsible for your sexual urges and needs. If your partner isn’t reacting to you, checking, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ makes all the difference. 

2. Being drunk isn’t consent.

A lot of people do stupid things when they’re drunk. After a few drinks, I’m sure most of us like to think we’re still mostly in control of our bodies and minds. But we’ve all experienced moments when we can’t seem to see or think straight after drinking. When that happens, the person is too drunk to consent to anything. 

3. Silence isn’t consent.

When people are in a scary situation, they sometimes just shut down because they don’t know what to do. I’ve known so many people who have been forced into sexual encounters because they’ve been too scared to say no or simply didn’t know how to. Sex should be fun and enjoyable. So if the person you’re having sex with is dead silent, you clearly need to address the issue. 

4. Being flirted with isn’t consent. 

People like to flirt — I know enough people who can’t seem to string a sentence together without including some type of flirty joke. Yes, we mostly flirt with someone to signal an attraction to that person. But again, that doesn’t mean they want to get into bed with you. If someone flirts with you all night but then retreats or simply says no, you do not get to disagree. You do not get to be angry. Respect people’s choices. 

5. Being nice to someone isn’t consent. 

‘But why have you been so nice to me then??’ because I’m a nice person. I can be nice to people without expecting something. 

‘But I’ve been so nice to you!!’ — Okay, nice guy. That still means nothing to me. Simply acting like a decent human being entitles you to nothing. It doesn’t make you special. 

6. Liking someone isn’t consent. 

If you like someone, whether they like you back or not, you have absolutely no right to their body. Being attracted to someone, physically or emotionally, doesn’t mean you get to act on it. 

“But I really like you. I can’t help myself around you.” That’s pretty much admitting you’ve got the potential for sexual assault. And that’s on you, not me. 

7. Clothing isn’t consent. 

Modesty empowers some, and nudity empowers others. How a person chooses to decorate their body has absolutely no bearing on their sexual availability or value. No, these aren’t ‘Fuck me boots;’ these are just boots. They look good on me, and that’s not for your benefit. I enjoy wearing very tight and revealing outfits because I enjoy my body — I feel powerful in my own skin. If someone wants to look, they’re more than welcome. But it is never an invitation for you to comment on it or touch me. 

8. Being sexually active isn’t consent. 

Sex should be enjoyable. And whether you want to save that for marriage or enjoy casual sex, your sexual identity belongs to you and you alone. If someone has slept with many people, it doesn’t mean they want to sleep with you. It’s not an invitation. I’m open about sexuality and sex because there’s no shame in it. And if I want to have sex with you, trust me, I’ll tell you quite clearly. 

9. Working in the sex industry isn’t consent. 

There’s a crucial difference between being a sex worker and being treated as a sex object, which many people don’t understand. And that difference is consent. That person is doing things they are comfortable with and happy with as a job. And if you’re consuming that, you have to respect the trade. So no, you can’t expect anything from a sex worker just because of their job. You wouldn’t harass a normal actor and ask them to perform in your amateur play, would you? It’s the same thing. 

10. Being begged or coerced isn’t consent. 

Sometimes, people say no. But there are still abusers who will continue trying, blackmailing, and bribing until their partner feels unable or scared to say no. So maybe they’ll eventually agree. But it’s still not consent. If you coerce someone into a vulnerable state, that’s sexual abuse, whether they eventually agree or not. 

11. Being ‘almost legal’ isn’t consent. 

I don’t know how much more simply I can put this: a child cannot consent to any sexual contact with an adult. Whether this child agrees or not, it’s rape. There is no justification or explanation. There are no ‘underage women and men’ — there are children, and there are abusers; there is no other way to put it. 

So, if you’re confused by any of this, I’m sorry to say you’re probably part of the problem. Now I hear you saying, “What? You can’t even talk to someone without being accused of rape nowadays! I just won’t even bother trying with people anymore!” If that’s you, I’m sure I can speak on behalf of us all when I say, “We would love that.” 

Originally published on Thought Catalog

Featured image via Brooke Cagle on Unsplash


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