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Feminist scholar’s research finds that ‘yes means yes’ sex policies don’t work in practice

Check your (consent) privilege

New York, California, Connecticut and Illinois all expect college students to get the “affirmative consent” of their partners before having sex. Otherwise, it’s sexual assault under state law.

Many other colleges have voluntarily implemented “yes means yes” policies that automatically judge a student (usually male) responsible for sexual misconduct if his partner (usually female) says later that her apparent consent was not valid.

Those laws and rules badly misunderstand how students actually approach sex, according to research by a self-proclaimed feminist scholar at San Francisco State University’s Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality.

Prof. Jason Laker and his research partner, Santa Clara University’s Erica Boas, have spent the past four years interviewing students about how they initiate and agree to engage in sexual activity – and it’s nothing like affirmative consent requires, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Their first research project focused on heterosexual freshmen at a Bay Area university, and the most common answer to how those students agreed to have sex was “it just happened.”

Here are some signals they used to request and receive consent, none of it “affirmative”:

Nuzzling her neck, and her turning toward him in response

Tugging on her sweatpants while making out, and her pulling them down in response

Purposefully drinking before sex to loosen up

Their research website Consent Stories illustrates this nonchalant attitude among students by citing a scene from Seinfeld in which Elaine reduces a one-time sexual encounter to a “yada yada.”

Laker says schools that adopt affirmative-consent policies – and the legislatures that threaten them to do so – are just protecting themselves from lawsuits, not helping students communicate about sex as if they “just hatched out of an egg”:

A policy that assumes students are overtly asking someone to have sex with them is one that may privilege students who are extroverts, for example, while not providing a framework for introverted students who are less likely to talk openly about any issue, consent or otherwise.

Read the story and the researchers’ website Consent Stories.

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