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Sexplanations: Consent culture off-campus

Sexplanations: Consent culture off-campus

Sexplanations is an anonymous Q&A column about sex, sexual health, sexuality, gender, relationships and the promotion of respect at Grinnell College. Questions are answered collaboratively by the Sexual Health Information Center (SHIC), the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) and the Office of Wellness and Prevention. If you have a question or comment, submit it anonymously at or email [howeemil].

I’m interning in a big city this summer and living on a large college campus. At Grinnell, we talk a lot about sexual respect and consent, and I know my friends at state schools don’t hear about it as much. How do I navigate consent and stuff off-campus?

Navigating consent can seem confusing regardless, but it seems especially hard to navigate when you aren’t starting with a baseline of language, knowledge and values. Earlier this semester, Isabel Cooke ’16 did a workshop on healthy relationships, specifically how to be one half of a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, we can’t control others. So, thinking about how we contribute to healthy relationships and giving and getting consent is important.

Cooke highlighted the importance of communication skills in creating a healthy relationship. Good communication is thorough and specific. Good communication brings out subtleties and examines them. Each action and activity requires a conversation as simple as “are you comfortable?” and “do you like …?” Communication is not always enthusiastic, but consent is. Communication is not always verbal, especially when you’ve spent a lot of time with a partner and have a good understanding of their nuances and quirks, but consent should be.

Good communication includes being a good listener, and being a good listener is an important part of getting consent. Listening to body language and for enthusiasm helps us better understand whether a partner is interested in continuing with an activity. Listening respectfully allows us to respond respectfully to a partner since we are better able to hear and acknowledge everything they are trying to say. This also demonstrates to a partner that we respect them.

Finally, practice! In the heat of the moment, for so many reasons, it can be hard to respond in the way you’d like to, but if you take the time to practice very specific combination of words, phrases and body language that you would like to use to get out of a situation, you are able to better respond in the ways you’d like to. If you’re refusing, these can include saying someone’s name to hold them accountable, offering another activity or offering a “because statement.” If you’re responding to refusal, stop immediately, share your appreciation for them sharing their feelings and offer a different activity.

Using alcohol or other drugs narrows your focus and inhibits your ability to perceive and understand others’ verbal and nonverbal cues. Good communication should be thorough and requires good listening, so it’s a lot harder to be a good communicator while using substances that negatively affect those abilities. This is especially challenging when we are in new environments, as it places us in a more vulnerable position — trying to process both the new environment and the communications of others.

Finally, consent is something you can use every day. Make sexual respect a value of your new community; set the tone for others by talking about and modelling sexual respect and consent in everyday conversations. When you’re touching someone’s shoulder or including people in an activity, ask if it’s okay or if they want to participate, and respect their answer. Talk about sexual respect in a broader, global context, and challenge yourself and your peers to really think about how you contribute to the culture of consent and sexual respect in your daily life.

If you’d like to think about consent and sexual respect outside or inside the Grinnell community, contact [jacobsen] or [howeemil2], and check out, starting with their “Essential rules for the consensual road” in their article “Drivers Ed for the Sexual Superhighway.”

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