College-Aged Men Take Cues Like Eye Contact & Moaning As Consent, Study Finds

Consent can be blurry, and with the amount of victim-blaming and highly-publicized sexual assault trials that make the news, it’s more important than ever to understand. Now, a new study has been released that delves into whether college men truly understand consent, and if they practice it in their day-to-day lives.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the answers to those questions are, roughly, yes and no. College men who responded to the study seem to understand what consent is, but they are not asking for it when they have sexual encounters — rather assuming that they have it through other, more ambiguous cues.

In “Moaning and Eye Contact: College Men’s Negotiations of Sexual Consent in Theory and in Practice,”  Ph.D. candidate Nicole Bedera at the University of Michigan questioned heterosexual undergraduate men on whether they understood consent policies and if they were using them properly.

“Overall, the way the respondents sought consent in their sexual encounters did not match up with the strategies they claimed to invoke,” she found.

While the men agreed heartily that they asked for consent when they had sex, when asked to describe their sexual experiences, they often named cues like heart rate, moaning, and eye contact to indicate consent. They also took consent to one sexual act to mean consent to all sexual acts.

Bedera is quick to note that moaning (the most commonly used nonsexual signal of consent) can indicate pain instead of pleasure, and that eye contact is highly ambiguous.

“While male students approve of, understand and generally say they follow campus policies about affirmative consent, they don’t consistently apply known strategies to secure that consent in their own sex lives,” Bedera concluded.

In terms of consent, unsexy as it may be, asking for it aloud is the best and safest way to obtain it.


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