For some students, this is your first year at SFU and you’re probably excited (and nervous!) about what the first year will hold. I remember feeling the same way, wondering where my classes would be, what the people who lived in my residence would be like, whether or not I’d be invited to the good parties…normal first year questions! One thing I never thought I would have questions about was consent. I learned in health class in high school how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and how to prevent STIs, but I never learned how to actually practice consent in any of my sexual experiences. I became painfully aware of this in my first year as I and my peers struggled to navigate new experiences, relationships and boundaries. I’m in my 4th year now and every September I see new students coming in, probably with many of the same questions that I once had about classes and parties, but maybe not even thinking about how consent will affect their experiences at SFU. So here’s 5 things I wish someone had told me about consent before starting university.
1. Coercion is Not Consent
This should be simple. Having to get someone drunk so that they’ll sleep with you, or pressuring someone so many times that they give in just so you’ll leave them alone, doesn’t sound very consensual does it? But speaking from experience, it’s not that easy. I thought that as long as I was eventually saying yes I was giving my consent because we’re taught that ‘no means no”- so how could it be anything but consensual if I wasn’t actually saying no? It took a long time for me to understand that I wasn’t saying yes on my own terms and that pressure tactics or other forms of manipulation don’t give you the space to freely and enthusiastically say yes.
Buying someone drinks with the intent of getting them drunk enough to engage in sexual activity
Blackmail—“I’ll tell everyone we did it anyways so why not just do it”
Guilt-tripping—“If you really loved me, you’d do it”
It’s important to remember that only a freely given yes means yes and that we need to move past the simple no means no that we learned in high school.
2. Saying Yes to One Activity Isn’t Consent to Everything
In much the same way that coercion isn’t consensual, saying yes to one activity (i.e. kissing) doesn’t mean you’ve automatically given your consent to anything else. If you change your mind or decide that this is as far as you want to go tonight then that’s it. Your partner needs to respect your decision and not pressure you to continue anything you aren’t comfortable with. So many times when I was living in residence, I would hear my friends complain that their partner led them on or was being a flirt or a tease by consenting to one activity but refusing to “seal the deal”. Sorry folks, that’s not being a tease, that’s having healthy boundaries and refusing to let someone cross them. When someone sets a boundary, you need to respect it which brings us to…
3. The Importance of Boundaries
What even is a boundary? You’d be surprised how many students have trouble answering this question. But when you think about it, it’s actually not that surprising after all. No one at school taught us how to set our own boundaries or how to advocate for ourselves when those boundaries were crossed. But knowing your boundaries—those invisible lines that can’t be crossed-- is essential for having healthy sexual experiences and so is respecting other people’s boundaries when they communicate them to you. So it’s important to check in with yourself and think about what your invisible lines are. What are the things you need from your partner in order to feel safe? Maybe it’s always using a condom or maybe specific rules about toy use. Whatever they are, your boundaries are valid and your partner needs to respect them. And the exact same thing goes for you as well, whatever lines your partner communicates to you need to be respected by you as well. Trust me, your sex life will be SO much better and healthier if you incorporate basic communication!
4. It’s Sexy to Ask for Consent
One of the things I used to hear all the time was that asking someone for their consent “ruined the mood”. This couldn’t be more wrong! Asking someone for their consent is respectful and mandatory but it can also be super sexy. Besides helping to set the vibe even further, asking someone for consent is an essential part of good communication, and communication makes for a way better sexual experience (trust me). Want to get better in bed? Start by asking your partner what they want. Which brings me to…how do you ask someone for their consent without killing the mood? Try these:
I really want to kiss you…can I?
Do you like that? Does that feel good?
I think we should get rid of some of these clothes… do you want to take your shirt off?
Are you into this right now?
How far do you want to go?
5. Where and How to Get help
Navigating relationships, boundaries and consent can get to be a lot and I wish I had known that I didn’t need to do it alone. There are so many resources out there for anyone looking to get a little more educated or looking for help and support. A great place to start as an SFU student is the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO)! If you have questions about relationships, or if you need support dealing with sexual violence check out their website for contact information or come by during drop-in hours. It’s a free, confidential service for all SFU students, faculty and staff and the staff can do everything from answer your questions. Other on campus options include Out on Campus, The Women’s Centre, Indigenous Student Centre and Health and Counselling. Off-campus you can try WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, BC Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse or VictimLinkBC.