This American Life
recently ran a show called Birds & Bees
about explaining tricky things to children. The first act focuses on university freshmen attending presentations about sexual consent. The presenters' goal is to get students to internalize that explicit, specific, verbal consent is required before having sex. But the students are perhaps more interested in the subtleties of how to get a "yes" than the need to obtain one.
If we followed the "consent workshop" model literally, it would lead to some really awkward conversations:MAN AT BAR:
Hello.WOMAN AT BAR:
I think you are attractive.WOMAN:
Thank you for the compliment.MAN:
Would you like to engage in sexual intercourse?WOMAN:
Yes, I would like to do that.
Actual consent negotiation is way less direct and more fluid. Importantly, it also builds on a lot of context that is basically impossible to simulate in a room with a whiteboard, a few dozen chairs, and a bunch of curious teenagers.
Since sexual negotiation, not to mention sex itself, is almost always done in private, people don't have a lot of opportunities to learn how to do it by observation. "Can I watch while you obtain consent to have sex with your partner" would be an off-putting question to almost anyone. Media doesn't help much either: movie sex usually looks spontaneous not because Hollywood has an anti-consent bias but because it makes for a more enjoyable story. The hero and heroine don't negotiate the sex they're going to have for the same reason we don't see anyone making exact change or tying their shoes in a movie: it doesn't usually advance the plot or add to the value of a scene.
So if people don't want to demonstrate actual sexual consent in public and it's unlikely to be modeled in popular cinema, what can we do? Let's create our own consent-focused short films.
In a one minute YouTube video a few people can easily create a realistic context and have a reasonable conversation about negotiated consent. Rather than a stilted conversation in a classroom it can be set in an actual bar or a bedroom. Instead of an all-verbal skit, actors can show the crucial role that body language plays. And with a lot of videos available, the negotiation can take a lot of different directions: sometimes ending with a "yes," sometimes with a "not now," and sometimes with a "no thank you" and showing folks how to gracefully respond to each answer. People would learn not just that consent is crucial but also how to effectively get consent. People would learn not just "No means no" but how to both give and receive a "no," life skills that a lot of people struggle with even in nonsexual situations.
So let's make this happen. Let's get thousands of people making YouTube videos about how consent works for them. Let's upvote the ones that are impressive or wise or funny. Let's hashtag the pants off this thing and have it go viral like HSV. Let's get videos from straight folks, gay folks, kinky folks, vanilla folks, confident folks, shy folks, polite folks, and blunt folks. Let's get amateurs and professionals. Let's get people talking about how they like to be asked and finding out how they can be better askers. Let's have less rape and more consensual sex.