An Open Letter To Guys About Consent [Sexy Time]

Dear guys,

I’d like to preface this by acknowledging that it’s not completely your fault your collective perspective on sex kind of sucks. I mean, you’re just living in the world that your forefathers have created for you. A world that privileges your gender over all others. A world where your intelligence, capabilities and contributions to said world are overvalued. A world where women have historically been perceived as inferior, weak, and only useful for procreation and as a vehicle for your orgasm. Moreover, society expects you to be hypersexual. You’re not supposed to be able to control your sexual urges. I get it. That’s a lot of f*ckery to challenge, especially since it has been instilled in you for years and years. Luckily, some of you do unravel all of that grossness, and evolve into delightful, critically thinking men who don’t absorb everything that’s thrown at them, and who see women as complex and more than competent human beings who are not merely on this earth for your carnal pleasures. You get that women like orgasms too and, more importantly, you respect a woman’s right to say no to your advances, and you’re offended by the notion that you can’t control your sexual impulses.

Congratulations. You’re a semi-decent human being.

However, some among you aren’t quite so actualized. You think that you’re entitled to women’s bodies. Sometimes that means whining about “friend zoning” (sorry, being nice to a woman doesn’t mean she has to sleep with you in return). Sometimes, this entitlement manifests itself in far more sinister ways like performing sex acts on a woman who has either explicitly said no to you, or is incapable of granting you consent (ie, she’s sleeping or blacked out, or recklessly intoxicated). At best, your entitlement is obnoxious. At worst¬† it’s criminal, depraved, and utterly intolerable.

Somewhere in the middle lies that grey area where you kind of noticed that she wasn’t that into it, but you kept pressuring her and needling her into doing things. This is the trap some of you semi-decent guys fall into. There’s this insidious idea of “blanket consent” that has permeated the way a lot of people think about consent. Like because someone is cool with making out, that means that they’re down for oral, or because oral is on the table, then penetration is too. That assumption doesn’t take into account boundaries, or a shift in comfort level. It doesn’t promote the idea of steady, constant communication while you’re hooking up. It doesn’t encourage you to read the signs – to notice that she looks nervous, or sounds hesitant, or in general doesn’t seem at all into it.¬† So instead of subscribing to the idea that a woman loses the right to say no to you after a certain point, you embrace the idea of enthusiastic consent.

Yes, enthusiastic consent exists and it’s really hot. Only proceeding to have sex with someone who actually seems to be enjoying themselves? Not really controversial, right? Not at all. Think beyond the idea that “no means no” or “she would’ve said no if she didn’t want it.” In an ideal world, she would feel totally okay speaking up, but we live in a messy, complicated world where sometimes people suck at communicating, especially in stressful situations. So when you’re hooking up with someone, do your best to create a warm, open atmosphere. Ask questions. Don’t nag her when she appears reluctant to do something. Treat women like human beings, not blowup dolls.


Someone who’s just trying to help you be a better you.

[Lead image via Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock]



    1. tracy capstan says:

      this is a great article and also long time in coming.the whole dating/hookup scenario would be safer and in general more fun if guys were respectful of the girls’ wishes.

    2. SB_sun says:

      Whiny, unrealistic rubbish. This is just the author venting about her experience with guys, without any worthwhile analysis. If she's not happy with most of her experience with guys, she ought to become more proactive about approaching the guys she thinks are upstanding and more "actualized". Maybe you just need to improve yourself to get quality mates. It works both ways.

    3. Jenna says:

      I have to say, this article is missing a big, giant chunk of the puzzle. I'm just going to preface this by saying that I am a woman and I have been sexually assaulted. I know what it is like to have my ability to consent taken away by someone. But, the responsibility isn't all on men. If a girl is uncomfortable but isn't stopping him, how is that not partially her responsibility? If she says no and he continues, then it becomes his fault. If she just "looks nervous," is he supposed to read her mind? (Side note: many men are not awesome at picking up on subtle clues.)

      In an ideal world, communication will always be open, honest, not intimidating, and done in sobriety. But, this is not an ideal world. BOTH genders need to learn respect and personal responsibility for their own actions. Please don't get me wrong. I am not blaming any victim of sexual assault for their situation. But, in many situations, both parties are nervous or drunk and you can't put the blame all on the male. That just takes power away from women. And it's not ok to have this generation of women running around saying "well, I was uncomfortable but I didn't say anything. He raped me." So, to the author of this article, maybe you should write an open letter to women encouraging them to speak up for themselves because that is the only real solution to this communication gray area.

      1. Jasmine - Northern Arizona University says:

        Hi Jenna,

        Thank so you so much for your thoughtful comment.

        First of all, I'm really sorry to hear that you've been sexually assaulted.

        Secondly, I absolutely agree that communication is an important part of the puzzle, and generally every article I write is aimed at women, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and *talk* to their partners. What I was trying to address with this article (and I'll fully admit that I either failed or could've done better in expressing this) is the seeming dearth of articles aimed at men, encouraging them to actively seek consent. Society already places the burden of preventing non-consensual sex on the woman by questioning what was she wearing, if she was drinking, had she had sex with this person before, did she have a reputation for being promiscuous, etc, etc, etc, but there is not nearly enough emphasis on the guy's role in, you know, not being a rapist.

        Without a doubt, women should communicate, but I also feel men shouldn't just assume that "not saying no" means "yes" (nor should women make that same assumption, but since the overwhelming number of sexual assaults is perpetrated by men, addressing them is more relevant).

      2. Jenna says:

        Well, I do agree that it's good to encourage men to seek this type of consent. As I said above, in an ideal world all communication would be enthusiastic and open. It sucks that women do have the burden of preventing non consensual sex and it is certainly positive to encourage men to care about the entire situation as much as women do.

        But, I feel like I've read a plethora of articles and/or comments lately about men respecting boundaries and fewer about women learning to assert themselves form the gate. This is what motivated my comment (rant?) above. But, either way, thank you for writing the article and even having the conversation. I think women of our generation (and men too for that matter) are so much more in tune with the nuances of sex and gender issues. When we are raising children of our own someday, I think we will be in a good position to teach them respect and communication about these crucial issues.

    4. Miss says:

      Study after study on human behavior shows "saying no" isn't what folks actually… especially women. They look to preserve a relationship or the other person's feelings by politely switching topic or letting them down easily… and study after study shows men totally get when women just aren't "into it" or interested. Dudes know when she's not wanting to actually have sex… the rapists just don't care.

    5. Steph says:

      This really hit the nail on the head so to speak. Really well written, and expertly said.

      1. Steph says:

        Also I just noticed that you are from NAU? Wow talk about a small world, I am from another school in AZ talk about #zonaproblems.

    6. Ecclesiastes says:

      The law is clear on a few points relevant to this:

      If you ask twice and she says no a second time, you've just committed a crime.
      If she changes her mind about having sex with you up to a week after the event, you've committed a crime.
      If she and one friend accuse you of violence or coercion or even just that they worried about you and it's your word against theirs, you lose ( VAWA ). You've committed a crime.

      Oh yeah. Remember that while mortgages can be dismissed in bankruptcy, student loans can't. If you date while you're a junior or senior, then you're an idiot and deserve what happens to you.

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