Why have a campaign dedicated to Coogs getting consent?

Most incidents of sexual misconduct, particularly sexual assault, regard some lack of understanding or respect for what consent means. The aim of Coogs Get Consent is to involve the entire campus community in a dialog regarding the concept of consent and to ensure that every Coog takes responsibility for reducing the risk of sexual assault at the University of Houston (“UH”)

What is Consent?

Consent is agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves, the consequences of that action, and having the option of saying no. In a sexual situation, consent works the same way – before engaging in a specific sexual activity, an agreement must be made between the partners.

The problem some students have with this concept is that some forms of consent are more effective than others. Thus, EFFECTIVE CONSENT IS…

  • Unambiguous: Effective consent is when partners demonstrate a clear and mutual understanding of exactly what they are consenting to and permit that activity to happen
  • Freely given: Consent cannot be coerced or gained by trickery, intimidation, threats or acts of violence. Any form of sexual activity attempted or committed by a Coog with another without his or her consent is sexual assault, a possible violation of UH policy, and perhaps the law
  • Active: A person can give consent and then change his or her mind. Therefore, the best practice would be that you ask your partner for consent at every stage of the sexual experience; if you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, ask your partner if that’s what he or she wants to do. If you do not ask for consent, you are at risk of doing something the other person does not want you to do. You might disrespect and/or hurt someone. Worse yet, you might put yourself at risk of breaking the policy or the law by committing a sexual assault
  • Unassuming: Consent cannot be implied or assumed, meaning, someone’s silence does not equal consent or a “YES!” Moreover, someone “freezing” – or failing to fight to keep the person from performing an unwanted sexual act is also not consent. To make sure you and your partner are safe, make sure you don’t assume anything and get the “YES!” before you make your move

What is NOT effective consent?

Look at it this way: If effective consent is a “YES – we can do this!” then anything short of that is ineffective and should be treated as a “NO.” For instance, just because your partner went on a date with you, flirted with you for hours, said you were cute several times in front of your friends, and agreed to go with you to your apartment at 3:00 am does not mean that s/he has agreed to have sex with you. Or even if s/he has agreed to sleep in the same bed as you, or engage in a specific sexual act with you, that does not mean that s/he has agreed to any sexual activity beyond that. Maybe s/he wants to, maybe s/he doesn’t. But unless s/he tells you what s/he is consenting to, you don’t know for sure. And if you do not know for sure, you should stop until you do

What is the best way to get effective consent?

The best way to get effective consent is to eliminate any mystery, confusion, or misinterpretation of your partner’s body language or communication by simply asking what she or he would like to do with you. In other words, get the “YES!” before you engage in any sexual activity that has not yet been agreed to

Failure to obtain effective consent not only shows a lack of respect for your partner and your fellow Coogs, but it also greatly increases the risk of sexual assault. Nobody wants that

Are there circumstances when a person cannot give effective consent?

Circumstances in which a person CANNOT give effective consent (no matter what s/he might verbalize):

  • When coercion,  trickery, intimidation, threats or acts of violence are used
  • The person is asleep or unaware that a sexual assault is occurring
  • The person does not have the legal capacity to consent (such as being underage)
  • The person is “out of it” or incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication. Click here for more on that topic

How do you know if the person you are with has given their consent?

You know that your partner has given his or her consent because s/he will communicate that to you. Often, the problem is that consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways with some ways being more effective than others. Therefore, as potentially awkward as it may seem, talking about the sexual activity before you engage in it, or getting the “YES” before you get the “NO,” is the most effective way of knowing that your partner has given his or her consent

By the way, if someone is silent, looks uncomfortable, or “freezes,” please do not assume that you have consent because s/he has not told you “NO,” or pushed you away. Always remember that while the burden of consent is shared, meaning you and your partner have to agree to engage in a specific sexual activity, you have the responsibility of fully knowing if your advances are wanted. For instance, while being aware of body language in general might help you decipher if your partner is consenting and feeling comfortable, or not consenting and feeling uncomfortable, it is always best to stop and ask so that you know for sure that everything is o.k.

You may feel that asking for consent is awkward or a mood killer. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as asking, “Can I kiss you?” If anything, by asking for a kiss, instead of taking one and possibly making him or her uncomfortable (and assaulting them by the way), you have really turned up the mood. Think about it: How would it make you feel if someone told you “Yes – you can kiss me” versus your winging it, hoping that your partner actually does want to engage in that specific sexual activity or not.

Try it for yourself – practice these creative ways of obtaining consent:

  • I really want to hug / kiss / …… you. Can I? or What do you want to do with me?
  • You posted/sent me a text/email earlier saying you wanted to hug/kiss …… me. Do you want to do that now?
  • I really enjoyed doing ….. with you. Do you want to……with me again?
  • Do you like it when I do this? What don’t you like? What would you like me to do for you?
  • Is it o.k. if I take off my/your  shirt / top / bra / pants?
  • It makes me hot when you kiss / touch / ….. me there. What makes you hot?
  • Have you ever …. ? Would you like to try it with me?
  • Is there anything you don’t want to do?
  • Do you want to go further?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Do you want to stop?

Slowing Things Down

Taking your time, making sure you are both comfortable, and talking about how far you want to go will make the time you spend together a lot more satisfying and enjoyable for both of you. Sometimes things move very quickly. Below are some things you can say to slow things down if you feel that things are moving too quickly:

  • Can we just hang out or kick it tonight? I am not sure I am ready for this yet
  • I don’t want to go any further than kissing, hugging, touching, etc.
  • I want to chill or stay like this for a while
  • I want to slow down

Stopping

It can be uncomfortable to slow down or stop when you are in the middle of things, but no matter how excited you are, if your partner asks you to stop – ALWAYS respect that and STOP! You or your partner have the right to stop at anytime – even if you or your partner agreed to the sexual activity earlier. Below are some things you can say or do if you want to stop:

  • Say “No!”
  • Say “Stop!”
  • In a situation where the other person isn’t listening to you and you feel unsafe: 1) you could make a scene then quickly move to safety; 2) say “I need to go to the bathroom/toilet”; or 3)  pretend you are going to vomit – It’s amazing how quickly someone moves away from you if they think you are going to be sick..

What does no mean really?

“No” means it’s time to stop:

  • It doesn’t mean “slow down.”
  • It doesn’t mean “persuade or convince me”
  • It doesn’t mean “Carry on” or “keep trying until I give in”
  • It doesn’t mean “Yes, until I scream or start crying or hit you”
  • “I’m not interested” means “No.”
  • “Leave me alone” means “No.”
  • “Don’t touch/call/text/email/friend or poke me on Facebook or any other social media” means “No.”
  • “I’m not sure if I’m ready” means “No.”
  • “I don’t know if I want to” means “No.”
  • “I think I’ve had too much to drink” means “No.”
  • “I don’t want to get AIDS” means “No.”
  • “I’m scared” means “No.”
  • “Not now” means “No.”

How to say “No”

Don’t assume your partner knows you so well that s/he just knows what you want or don’t want. In other words, don’t assume that your partner will “get the message” without your having to say what you are feeling. The best way for your partner to know how you feel, how far you want to go, or for them to stop is for you to tell that person. If you want to stop, say “No.”

Remember, you always have the right to say no and you can say it any way you want to – but the most effective way to say it is like you mean it so that you don’t give mixed messages. Say “NO!” then back up your words with your body language and if you are uncertain about what you want, ask your partner to stop until you are certain. Here are some ways to do that:

Be direct:

  • This is not going to happen. Please respect my decision.
  • I don’t want to have sex right now
  • I am not comfortable with you touching me – stop

Be proactive:

  • I am not sure where this is going – but I want us to talk about our expectations
  • I appreciate you inviting me over, or offering to walk me home. I just want to be clear that this does not mean I am going to have sex with you

If you like him/her:

  • I like you a lot, but I am not ready for a sexual relationship
  • I want to get to know you better before I consider sex. How about we go to a movie?

Be clear about your limits:

  • You may agree to have some forms of sexual activity but not others. If the person tries to go further than you agreed to, firmly say “STOP”. Do not apologize

Remember it’s okay to change your mind:

  • I am no longer comfortable doing this. Please stop

Respond assertively to guilt tactics or pressure:

  • I have already told you that I am not interested in having sex. You are not listening to me / respecting me
  • Stop trying to convince me, I am not going to change my mind
  • Whether I like / love you is not the issue

When he/she won’t stop after you have said “No”: 

  • STOP! (raise your voice – shout if you need to). I am leaving / I want you to leave!

When is it OK to say no?

It’s ALWAYS OK to say no.

  • You may feel you’re not ready for sex in your relationship
  • You may have strong beliefs about sex before marriage
  • You may feel that you want him, or her, as a friend – but not as a sexual partner
  • You may feel attracted to your partner, but you want to go slow
  • Your partner has not been open or honest about their HIV and/or STD status
  • You may have agreed to sex with your partner – but now you feel differently

You should never feel you have to give consent to anyone for any reason.