When adults talk to young people about sex, the standard speech includes the warning that they must obtain consent before stepping up intimacy to the next level. Here’s the problem: guidance that centers on the term “consent” suggests that a legal standard for permissible sexual interactions is also a decent or desirable one.
Which it isn’t.
So long as discussions of consent crowd out discussions of basic interpersonal sensitivity, we should not be surprised by reports of young men who (more often than the other way round) badger young women for sexual favors. It may be legal to wear someone down, but doing so is not the basis for healthy relationships between any two people, be they of the opposite or same sex.
According to Emily Lauster, a 22-year-old recent graduate of George Washington University who now works in adolescent mental health, “You hear stories all the time of the girl not really being into it, or telling the guy she’s tired and the guy not giving her space. Maybe he’ll keep trying to initiate something physically, or take a few minutes to talk about something else before bringing it up again.”
根据22岁的艾米丽·劳斯特(Emily Lauster)所说，“你总是能听到女孩不是很感兴趣，或者告诉男生她累了，而男生却不给她空间的故事。可能他会继续尝试开始肢体上的接触，或者花几分钟说点别的，然后又提起这件事”。劳斯特近期从乔治·华盛顿大学(George Washington University)毕业，目前从事青少年心理健康方面的工作。
And so long as we normalize mere consent as an acceptable standard for sexual engagement, it will remain commonplace for young women (and sometimes, young men) to harbor feelings of confusion and regret after participating in sexual activity for which they technically gave consent, but only when pressured.
Joe Berusch, a 19-year-old from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago, said that in talking with friends about a recent New York Times article regarding sex and consent on campus, he was surprised to learn that several of his female friends “had repeated experiences of being asked over and over again.” He added that he didn’t want to think that women would sometimes “cave because it just made things easier. But I know it does happen.”
19岁的乔·伯奇(Joe Berusch)来自俄亥俄州莎克汉斯，是芝加哥大学(University of Chicago)即将升入大二的学生，他说自己在与朋友探讨《纽约时报》近期一篇关于校园性行为和“同意”的文章时，他得知自己的几位女性朋友“曾有过多次遭到反复要求的经历”，这让他感到很惊讶。他还说他不愿去想女性有时候“会屈服，因为这会让事情变得简单点儿。但我知道这种事确实会发生。”
Sexual encounters ought to be pleasurable, mutual endeavors. They should advance as partners earnestly and happily agree, not because one party merely grants permission to the other. Too often, our advice to young people trains their attention on consent, the lowest possible bar for lawful sexual activity. We routinely spell out precisely what does, and doesn’t, constitute acquiescence but say little or nothing about tuning in to the desires of one’s partner. To put a very fine point on it, we essentially communicate, “When it comes to your sex life, don’t assault or rape anyone.”
Donnovan Somera Yisrael, an emotional and sexual health educator at Stanford University, suggests that we should expand the discussions of consent to include conversations about “how you detect desire in your partner and verify that desire with consent.”
斯坦福大学(Stanford University)情感、性健康教育工作者唐诺文·索梅拉·以瑟列(Donnovan Somera Yisrael)建议，我们应当扩大对“同意”的讨论，将“如何感知你的伴侣的欲望，用同意证实它”这一问题纳入其中。
What if we reserved the term consent for its more appropriate uses, such as in the courtroom or when submitting to a medical procedure? And what if, in the place of consent, we advised young people to check for nothing less than enthusiastic agreement from their sexual partners? We could add, “I get it that healthy sex can include some uncertainty. Feeling apprehensive yet eager is all right. But if you or your partner feels apprehensive and merely willing, that’s a no go.”
When drinking is involved, even enthusiastic agreement might be too low a bar for consent, but it’s still an improvement upon the standard we hold now.
We can continue to raise consent as an issue, but let’s not suggest that healthy romantic activity typically involves situations when consent might be unclear. Instead, we could say, “If you’re unsure about whether you have a green light in the bedroom, you may or may not have a legal concern. But you definitely have a relational one. You should not feel comfortable proceeding if your partner says no more than ‘O.K. … fine,’ to something you suggest.”
“An effective lesson on consent,” said Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, an organization in the United States that promotes sex education for youth, “is not just about providing a legal definition and a script that young people need to follow.” In Ms. Cushman’s experience, teaching about consent should address “communication skills, decision making and respect for personal boundaries.”
Our surprising comfort with the term consent grows out of a reluctance to acknowledge that women have libidos, too. Only if we ignore female desire can we go along with the troublesome premise that, in heterosexual interactions, men will play offense and women will play defense.
“You can consent to having sex, but is that all we should expect from our sexual experiences?” asked Anna Rosenfeld, 23, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a former peer educator for Planned Parenthood. “As women, we should be taught to expect pleasure and reciprocation — that is a higher bar than what we are necessarily taught to think about.”
“你可以同意发生性行为，但这就是我们从性经验中应该期待的全部吗？”23岁的安娜·罗森菲尔德(Anna Rosenfeld)问道；她最近刚从宾夕法尼亚大学毕业，之前曾在计划生育联合会(Planned Parenthood)任同伴教育者。“作为女性，我们应该被教导去期待快乐和回报——这高于目前必定教给我们去思考的那些东西。”
To remind young people that sex is about shared enjoyment, we might say to both our daughters and our sons, “Know what you want and learn what your partner wants. Good sex happens where those two agendas meet.”
Of course as parents, we often feel reluctant to communicate with our children about their emerging sexual lives. Or we may be so busy warning kids about the potential downsides of sex that we forget to let them know that it also has the potential for intimacy and joy.
“The hookup culture has reinforced the lack of respect,” Ms. Lauster said. “It suggests that you’re not supposed to think of the person in terms of a relationship — you don’t necessarily have to respect the person you’re hooking up with. And I think that goes both ways — that girls don’t necessarily respect the guys they’re hooking up with.”
Given that most young people are considerate of their friends, adults giving advice could say, “What goes for your friendships goes the same for your romances: You should be kind and caring toward anyone you’re with and expect the same in return.”