Behind Closed Doors: Consent 101 Course Syllabus

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September 5, 2017

12:55 AM

“It takes two to make a thing go right” — Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock

Whether you’re a senior or a first-semester freshman, the start of the school year means that your social life is revving up again to match the rapid pace of your class work, and that’s sure to leave you feeling pretty frisky. At least a quarter of you have just undergone Orientation, and your minds are still buzzing with warnings about the dangers of drunken romps and the importance of consent. But here’s the thing: consent doesn’t have to be scary and foreboding. Consent can be (and frankly, always is) incredibly sexy, and if you’re doing it right, it’s also incredibly easy. So, this week, we’re going back to the basics. I’m talking COLL 100 basics: “big questions and big ideas.” Welcome to Consent 101.

Third wave feminism and our crazy millennial values have jointly crafted a celebrated, new sex-positive culture out of the very guarded, restrained, sex-negative(TM) culture that came before it.

The negative culture is still prevalent to an extent — like the idea that sex and bodily experiences aren’t “decent” topics of conversation, trivializing sex education and building up a taboo around sex — which makes this column oh-so-titillating and shockingly audacious. (William and Mary is For the Bold, after all.)

However, a lot of sex positivity actually normalizes aggressive dating/sex habits. We’re told to get out there and take what we want — it’s allegedly our millennial birthright. Pair this with the demands of masculinity to pursue, take control and get laid, and you find yourself with a culture that fears consent while normalizing casual sex. The latter simply does not work without the former.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

• ask for consent for every act that they wish to engage in

• recognize that consent for one act does not indicate consent for any succeeding physical acts you also want to engage in, and that pressuring someone into a “yes” is not the same as asking for their “yes.”

Grading requirements:

Communication ………………………………………………………..100%

Participation in Physical Activities ………………… Not Required

All requirements must be met to succeed at consent. In some instances, non-verbal tests may be accepted if a non-verbal inquiry for consent is issued and met with a clear, active verbal or non-verbal “yes” (note: only verbal inquiry and affirmation combos hold up in court).

Pressuring someone to change their “no,” “meh” or silence into a “yes” will result in automatic failure. Late inquiries for consent are also not acceptable.


Plagiarism Policy: Feel free to copy and adapt any dialogues on consent that you like to suit your purposes. Honor Code be damned! Some free examples:

• “May I kiss you?”

• “Is it alright if I touch you here?”

• “Would it turn you on if I … ? Can I … ?”

• “I want to …” — these last two bullet points are basically like verbal sexting. Who says I’m not hip?

• “Is this good?”

• “You okay?”

• “Tell me what you want me to do.”

• “Do you want to have sex?”

• “Do you want me to stop?” (not to be said with a passive-aggressive tone)

**The ellipses indicate an invitation to be creative, not a suggestion to ambiguously trail off and not ask someone EXACTLY what you want to do.

Description of course requirements:


• On asking for a “yes” and looking out for a “no”: Consent is not the absence of a “no,” it is the presence of a “yes.” How can someone tell you “yes” if you don’t ask for it? If you’re only looking for a “yes,” then you might misread someone’s body language because YOU want a “yes,” not necessarily because they do. And besides, asking for consent is as simple as checking in with your partner to ensure that they are enjoying themselves and feeling comfortable.

o Ask a clear yes-or-no question regarding the exact activity that you want to engage in. Specificity counts. If you are the person attempting to initiate a kiss, touch, sex, etc. you shouldn’t assume that the person you’re wooing wants to do everything that you do, when you want to do it. They’re not mind-readers, nor do they have the exact same needs, desires or sex drive as you. You need to ask, and be specific.

(ex: “Would you like patient anilingus?” — credit to a friend’s anonymous tinder match for this one. Say what you will about the act described here, you cannot deny that the asker is incredibly clear about their intent.)

Ways to say “yes”:

• “Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical” — Olivia Newton John

•  “Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk” — also Olivia Newton John

• “Let’s get it on” — Marvin Gay

• “Yes,” “Sure,” “Yeah,” “Hell yeah” or even a sultry “Mhm”

• Finding your “no”: Do not stay silent to spare anyone’s feelings. Do not feel bad about saying “no,” especially if you have to say it more than once (which, AHEM, you should not have to). If you don’t want to be physical with someone, or even if you’re not sure, there is no reason to feel bad about saying “no.”

Non-verbal tests: There are a whole host of ways of checking in with your partner that aren’t entirely verbal. Now, I DO NOT think that it’s a good idea, especially with a new partner, to pursue physical intimacy solely based on non-verbal cues. However, in some instances, it can be possible to ask for consent non-verbally.

If you’ve kissed someone, you probably already know this. You’re familiar with the moment when the two of you are closing the gap between your faces? The pursuer leans in, pauses to check and make sure that the kiss is wanted, and ideally, the receiver of the kiss closes the last inches of distance. It’s like a little consent waltz: the pause is the question, and the receiver is in control of the response. However, these non-verbal tests, like the verbal ones, only work if the initiator is actually “asking” for a “yes,” not just trying out whatever they want and waiting for a “no.”


Participation is not mandatory. If you are a person with functioning testicles, you receive a “no,” and you complain that you are being blue-balled, remember that the only person to blame for you not ejaculating is yourself. Find a nearby bathroom and practice self-care. Masturbation is empowerment.

Final(ly): Communication doesn’t make you weak; it makes you a confident, strong individual whose self-worth isn’t so fragile that it snaps under pressure. And besides, asking for consent and telling your partner exactly what you are and aren’t comfortable doing will help you have better sex because:

1. You will be certain that both of you want to be having sex. That means each person is actively trying to make the other person feel good. Sex is to share, not to give or take, and sharing is caring.

2. If you’re comfortable asking for consent, then you will be comfortable asking your partner explicitly what they want and communicating what you want. If you’re not communicating, you may be pleasantly surprised or you may be unpleasantly surprised. Why take the chance when you could be having really really good sex that is actually what both of you want?


Commence practice of consent immediately

**Supplementary Resources:

• A funny British animated video about how consent is like making someone tea:

• “The Heart” podcast, season: no (2017) (Trigger Warning) explores various true narratives of consent breaches from both survivors and perpetrators. A tactful, empathetic and #bold piece of journalism

Elizabeth Barto is a Behind Closed Doors Columnist (not professor) who wants to help all you students make a thing go right.

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  • Elizabeth B.