Consent is Sexy... and Essential

in this guest post, Meghan Aubry, President of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at USC, writes about why consent is not only sexy but also “essential to healthy and happy relationships.”

To kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I was asked to write about the Consent is Sexy campaign. But here’s the thing: Consent isn’t sexy—at least, not in the popular culture that surrounds us. From news reports to song lyrics, getting consent is portrayed as unsexy, unnecessary, and a “mood-killer,” as one of the campaign’s posters so aptly points out. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that consent isn’t just sexy—it is essential. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the reasons this month is necessary is that many people in our society have been taught that consent isn’t sexy. We have been taught to suppress our feelings about sex, to be bashful or coy about our bodies and our sexualities, and to ignore our own or our partner’s apprehensiveness because it’s how we’re “supposed” to act in a sexual situation. As we giggle through sex-ed classes in middle and high school, watching videos of births, seeing graphic depictions of the symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, or hearing about how “if we have sex we’ll get pregnant and die” (Mean Girls, anyone?), there is usually no honest discussion of what to expect if and when one decides to become sexually active. There’s often no discussion of how to stay safe and almost never any discussion of the importance of consent (because who needs to learn about consent when no one’s doing it, right?). This faulty logic has created a cultural climate in which sex is difficult to talk about in a healthy and productive way.  

Teaching children (and adults) that sexuality is something to be hidden or ashamed of perpetuates a culture in which we need Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We must encourage education and empowerment, not misinformation and shame. And one of the first steps must be a discussion about consent—what it is, what it means, and our responsibilities when it is given and when it is not given. Most importantly, when consent is not given, or when consent is revoked, we must know that the only acceptable response is to stop, immediately.

More than a few of my fellow college students are now attempting to “re-learn” everything they’ve been taught about sex and sexuality. I understand that learning to always get consent can be difficult, given the culture in which most of us were raised. But remember—consent is sexy and is essential to healthy and happy relationships. Please, empower yourself and those around you—learn more about the Consent is Sexy campaign, and join Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands for their events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to help stop sexual violence.