A whole lot of people are confused about consent—not just old men in the Senate


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We are now weeks into a national conversation about consent and healthy sexual boundaries (or the lack thereof). And it’s getting meta.

I mean, how else would you describe this situation? A woman brings forth accusations of attempted sexual assault by a Supreme Court nominee, and after asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to have the FBI investigate her claims, she’s met with a bunch of lawmakers saying they’re going to vote the way they want to vote, no matter what she says—exactly like her alleged abuser did whatever he wanted to do, no matter what she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even breathtakingly said they’re going to “plow right through” Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations and confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh. (Guys, you know that we can hear you, right?)

Many advocates for the judge are loudly questioning whether Ford’s story is even a big deal—and bringing back brutal “boys will be boys” arguments in the process. Basically, they’re unburdening themselves of even the pretense of niceties in a push to get what they want: the Kavanaugh confirmation. (There’s that meta thing again.)

But the thing is, consent is not a nicety. It is a basic human right. Anything less is literally criminal. Thanks to the sheer number of disingenuous arguments coming out of DC, there is a lot of confusion about consent right now. But new research shows you can’t blame it all on the Beltway.

Thanks to the sheer number of disingenuous arguments coming out of DC, there is a lot of confusion about consent right now—but new research shows that you can’t blame it all on the Beltway.

A survey conducted by the Family Planning Association found that only 47 percent of more than 2,000 people included believe it’s okay to withdraw consent after you’re naked. The UK-based charity, which advocates for sexual health and well-being, also found that 9 percent believe they give up their right to say no if their date picks up the tab on dinner or drinks.

So let’s clear up any confusion: Stopping at any time, in any state of undress, is anyone’s right. No matter what, period, end of sentence. In fact, I heard almost those exact words during a recent binge-watch of ’80s sitcom A Different World. As in, the spin-off of The Cosby Show created by Bill Cosby himself. The episode is titled “No Means No“—showing that the views held by more than half of us are so retrograde that even 30 years ago, a convicted rapist was more enlightened on the topic.

And consent is not just a legal concept—it’s part of a healthy sex life, which can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and ease your stress. Some sweet, sweet loving may even be as good for you as a cardio session—not to mention the intangible, magical awesomeness of connecting with the one you love (or at least the one you desire). But all of that only happens if you’re bringing your full self to the experience.

If you’re in the camp that believes you forfeit consent once your clothes hit the floor, maybe it feels rude to you to pull the emergency brake on your hookup. Maybe you’ve been socialized to put other people’s needs and wants ahead of your own (what’s up, my codependent sisters?). Maybe it seems easier not to make a fuss, to be cool. Well, let me draw your attention to the heartbreaking story of Renate Schroeder Dolphin: She is one of the 65 women from Kavanaugh’s high school days who signed a letter supporting his good name, saying “he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect.”

But as reporters took a look at the yearbooks from Kavanaugh’s all-boys school, they noticed multiple, cryptic “Renate” references, as well as a photo of nine football players, including the judge, who were described as the “Renate Alumni.” Dolphin tells The New York Times: “I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful, and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”

To the 53 percent who leave their consent on the floor with their clothes, I say: Speak up, no matter what the Senate Judiciary Committee tries to tell you.

Make no mistake: Being the “cool girl” doesn’t keep you safe. Playing along—in Dolphin’s case, by extending her friendship for decades—didn’t keep her from being the butt of a joke against her will.

As the late feminist writer (and modern-day self-care hero) Audre Lorde wrote, “When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” So to the 53 percent who leave their consent on the floor with their clothes, I say: Speak up. It’s your life. It’s your body. It’s your sexuality. And, most importantly: It’s your world, too. No matter what the Senate Judiciary Committee tries to tell you.

Here’s what Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice could mean for the future of your health care and why he’s hardly the best person to be making decisions affecting women’s bodies.

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