In their 1990 hit song, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” classic rap duo Salt-N-Pepa implored hip hop fans and others to openly discuss a topic that many people go to great lengths to avoid. And though we live in a country in which the presence of sex is virtually unavoidable, it appears that only now, in 2014, we are finally ready to have "the talk." Unfortunately, as is the case with many important conversations, our nation’s sex talk comes on the heels of tragedy.
UltraViolet, an advocacy group for women’s rights, states that since Oct. 20 there are 74 U.S. colleges and universities “under investigation for mishandling or failing to report cases of sexual assault based on media reports and information from the Department of Education…” The tragedy here is three-fold: 1) the occurrence of the sexual assaults, 2) the unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases, and 3) the rape culture that is fostered on campuses because of unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases.
In response to these events, many of the schools that are under investigation are revising, or perhaps devising, their sexual misconduct policies to reflect better aid for sexual assault victims, stricter penalization for sexual assault aggressors and an improved system of communication overall. And while college and university administrators are busily drafting and redrafting policies, the current White House administration has drafted universities and media, sports and grassroots organizations as part of its newly-minted “It’s On Us” campaign. According to The White House Blog, the campaign “seeks to reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault [on college and university campuses] in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”
Given the longstanding presence of sexual assault on some college and university campuses, it can be argued that a new take on this “conversation” is long overdue. Furthermore, the question can be raised as to whether past conversations surrounding sexual assault qualified as “conversations” at all. Nevertheless, we are talking about it now. And thanks to California, we are also talking about the way we talk about it.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 967 Student Safety: Sexual Assault into law on Sept. 28, making the state “the first in the nation to have a clear definition of when people agree to sex,” said Bill Chappell from National Public Radio. “The new law seeks both to improve how universities handle rape and sexual assault accusations and to clarify the standards, requiring an ‘affirmative consent’ and stating that consent can’t be given if someone is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.”
The “yes means yes” law also dictates that “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent [and] affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.” Now that’s conversation! However, in an age where the buzz of a text message has all but replaced the sound of the human voice, some critics of the affirmative consent law suggest that requiring open and unfiltered communication between sexual partners downplays the complexity of sex.
Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, opines in her essay, "California’s Sexual Consent Law Will Ruin Good Sex for Women," that “with women generally requiring more ‘convincing’ [to have sex]…someone who requires convincing is not yet in a position to offer ‘affirmative’ much less ‘enthusiastic’ consent. That doesn’t mean that the final experience is unsatisfying—but it does mean that initially one has to be coaxed out of one’s comfort zone.” Notwithstanding the sexist and rape-theme tone of Dalmia’s “convincing” argument, her claim does beg the question: Can consent exist within a context of convincing and coaxing?
I say yes. In my mind, consent draws the line between convincing/coaxing and criminality.
Inasmuch as “convincing” and “coaxing” don’t necessarily have forceful connotations, a person can be convinced or coaxed into sex – or another comfort zone – if one chooses to consent to the convincing and the coaxing. On the other hand, if the person who is doing the convincing and the coaxing is doing so without regard for the other person’s consent, therein lies the climate for sexual assault. Consequently, I can understand Dalmia’s “obvious problem” with the affirmative consent law’s assumption that “sexual assault…is the result of miscommunication.” Let’s face it: Legislating communication between a sexual assault aggressor and sexual assault victim is a moot point.
What is not moot, however, is the steady increase in our country’s comfort with talking about sex on a broader scale. I cannot recall a time, in all of my 31 years, when sex has been discussed as openly and opinionatedly and officially as it is now. Of course, these discussions often segue into debates involving legality, morality and semantics. But the fact that we are shedding more light on sex will help us to stop giving sexual assault places to hide. Also, the more comfortable we become with talking about sex, the more confident we will be in saying yes to what we want and no to what we don’t want. And there’s nothing quite as sexy as confidence.
Stephanie Rochelle Redd uses her skills as a writer, life coach and speaker to, first and foremost, express herself and understand her self-worth, as well as help teenage girls and young women understand their self-worth. Stephanie’s newest book, Good Erotica for Good Girls: Short Stories of Consensual, Safe and Shameless Sex, is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Contact Stephanie Rochelle Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org.