SHS: Think consent first, think consent often

SHS Sexual Health Team

The Birds and the Beavs is a weekly column answering your questions on the topics of sexual health, consent, and relationships, written by the Oregon State University Sexual Health Team.


This week’s column is answering questions about consent. Consent is often a buzzword on college campuses, and while it’s talked about a lot here at Oregon State, especially during the start of the year, many students may still be left with questions. This week’s column is answering your questions about consent. 

Consent is key in a healthy relationship, whether you’re borrowing someone’s pen, making out or having sex, it’s a step that can’t be skipped or skimmed over. Consent should always be freely and actively given, reversible, informed, mutually understandable and ongoing. 

Consent should be practiced in non-sexual parts of your relationships as well. Practicing consent in all of your relationships, and in all settings of your life, will not only build stronger relationships, but will make you more comfortable asking for and negotiating consent in your romantic relationships. 


Q: “How do I ask for consent? Isn’t it awkward and pretty unsexy?”

A: Consent absolutely does not have to be awkward, and in reality, it can be pretty sexy. There are probably a lot of ways you are already asking for consent, that you may not even realize. Phrases such as ‘Do you like that?’, ‘Do you want me to keep going?’, ‘Does that feel good?’, ‘Do you want me to (insert chosen action)?’, are all checking in with the person you are engaging with. Not only do these phrases ask for consent, they also give someone an opportunity to reinforce what they enjoy, and what would make the experience even better for them, which in turn will help make the encounter even better, and leave everyone involved happier and more satisfied. 

Q: “If I’m flirting with someone, how do I know where the line is between ‘playing hard to get’ and ‘leave me alone’?

A: I generally hate to quote romantic comedies, and don’t tend to think of them as having positive or realistic relationship advice .That being said, in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, one of the main characters shares a pretty good rule that you can apply to this situation and many more like it: ‘If a guy doesn’t call you, he doesn’t want to call you.. If a guy wants to see you, he will see you’. This doesn’t just apply to heteronormative relationships, or to male identifying folx. If the person you are flirting with seems like they aren’t in to the conversation, they probably aren’t. The idea that people play ‘hard to get’ and in particular, that folx who identify and/or present as femme/female, play ‘hard to get’ or are passive players in sex and dating is pretty outdated. If someone is interested in talking with you, or spending more time with you, you will know. So if you’re flirting with someone, and you’re unsure if they’re into the conversation, leave them alone. If they were ‘playing hard to get’ and they really do want to talk to you, that person will seek you out and make it known. 

Q: “So I know consent can’t be given when someone is drunk, but what if both people are drunk?”

A: Even if both people are drinking, and even if that makes it harder to determine who is responsible for gaining consent, it can still be determined that one person should have known that the other could not give consent. In many cases, even if both people are drunk, there tends to be one person who is much more drunk than the other.

It is the initiator who is responsible for gaining consent. If a “reasonable person” not under the influence of alcohol, would consider an individual to be intoxicated, they are too impaired to effectively give consent, no matter what they might verbalize. 

But it’s also possible for the initiator to change through the course of activities…the person initiating one activity may not be initiating another activity. And if the initiator is incapacitated but the other person is not, that other person is responsible for not pursuing sexual contact with the incapacitated individual.

Being drunk is never a “legal” defense for having committed a crime (for example, being drunk would never excuse a person from mugging another individual). Also, sex is something that should be mutually enjoyable and fun, so how can we ensure that to be true when alcohol is involved? Why risk the opportunity of having great sex for sloppy, unsatisfying sex that may not be mutually wanted?

Plus, if it’s someone you really like, waiting until you’re both sober means you’ll both actually remember it and be excited about it! You’ll have the rest of your mutual OSU years ahead to get there when you’re both ready, and sober. 

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