Letter: 'Yes means yes' keeps sex consensual
Last October, state Sen. Curtis Hertel introduced a bill that would require Michigan sex education programs to include robust conversations about “yes means yes” models of consent (Re: The Detroit News’ June 28 editorial, “Lawmakers should say no to ‘yes means yes’”). Legislators on both sides should support this policy, because ensuring that students receive instruction on affirmative, enthusiastic consent is an important step toward dismantling a culture that has normalized and tolerated sexual violence for too long.
Since #MeToo went viral last year, women and men across the country have shared their experiences with sexual violence. The movement has been a show of solidarity among survivors and has led to prominent abusers finally being held accountable for their actions. These successes matter, but there’s another conversation we need to have: How can we create lasting cultural change and work toward a world where sexual violence is no longer a reality of everyday life?
There are many answers, but one stands out as an important and concrete policy step: teaching affirmative, enthusiastic consent as a part of sex education. As it stands, a national survey conducted by Planned Parenthood found that less than 1 in 3 adults in the country received any consent education in middle school or high school. The survey also found respondents often disagreed about what constitutes consent. That’s problematic. It’s hard to expect people to respect and value consent when many aren’t on the same page about what it is.
The lack of discussions about consent in sex education is especially concerning because we live in a culture that often attaches sex to masculinity by pressuring boys to be sexually active while shaming girls for the same thing. Films, TV shows, and even sex education classes fall into the trap of treating sex as something men want and women “give up,” rather than something that happens between equals. These narratives set up a structure where men feel entitled to women’s time and bodies and are empowered to harass and pursue women who aren’t interested — also known as sexual harassment and assault.
One way to combat this problem is by using our public education system to teach young people how to have healthy, consensual relationships. That’s where “yes means yes” consent education comes in. This phrasing, as opposed to the old slogan of “no means no,” characterizes consent as affirmative and enthusiastic. “No means no” sets lack of resistance as the standard for consent, which leaves a lot of room for error when some individuals may find themselves scared, drunk, overwhelmed, or otherwise unable to say no.
As with many aspects of the #MeToo movement, the concept of affirmative consent has received pushback from individuals who think we are asking too much. But none of this is about punishing or inconveniencing men; it’s about working toward a world where women don’t have to fear sexual violence, where people of all genders feel comfortable and confident navigating the experience.
Digital organizer for Progress Michigan