Consent in the age of #Metoo

As a person, a woman, and a sex therapist who spends a great deal of her professional and personal life validating the feelings of others, I was saddened, frustrated, and disappointed to read a recent article regarding a woman’s terrible experience while on a date with comedian, Aziz Ansari.  Many people within our culture have had a difficult time honoring Grace, the woman who felt she had to speak out after watching Ansari don a #timesup pin and win at the 2018 Golden Globes.  Instead, so many have turned to judging, blaming, or questioning Grace’s experience.  Many have even taken the time to discuss how Grace’s story is so drastically different than most that have come to light a midst the #metoo movement.  However, the more I think about this situation, I cannot help but think, is it really?  One of the most concerning aspects of Grace’s story, aside from her having had to endure this experience, is how pervasive her narrative is to our culture.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard about an experience similar to Grace’s, unfortunately, I would be one rich individual.  Reading about Grace’s experience and being in the time of #metoo leads me to believe that we, as a culture, need to discuss the importance of sexual consent and an open dialogue regarding sex now, more than ever. 

When I think about how our culture discusses consent, I shudder.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a cultural misunderstanding of the gray space between, I absolutely consent to this activity and I am adamantly not consenting to this activity.  Fortunately, there are ways to observe and discuss consent which helps to clarify this gray space so that all individuals can walk away from a sexual experience with the perception that it was safe, sane, and consensual. 

When participating in a sexual activity, reading the body language of a partner is helpful in determining if you both are enjoying the experience or if someone is uncomfortable with what is happening.  Pulling back or away from an individual during a sexual activity, typically means that something is off.  Checking in with your partner, both verbally and non-verbally, before re-engaging helps to clarify consent levels.  If you are a person who believes that they struggle to read others’ body language and nonverbal behavior, then having a conversation or asking questions is especially important for you.

A dialogue regarding consent is extremely important because this is the easiest way to know that you and your sexual partner(s) are all on the same page.  I still remember learning how to ask questions like, “Is this okay? Are you comfortable?  Are you okay?” during an sex-education presentation at my undergraduate institute (see: http://www.sexualityeducation.com/femaleorg/index.php).  These quick questions could and should be asked often during a sexual encounter to ensure that everyone is feeling safe, especially as a sexual experience progresses.  Allowing for an open dialogue during a sexual experience also helps to foster a safe, sane, and consensual atmosphere.  An open dialogue also helps individual to feel comfortable enough to verbalize or demonstrate their limits during a sexual experience.  When discussing this topic in the past, some individuals have noted that it seems redundant to ask the same question over each time and worry that doing so would end up killing the mood of the experience.  My response each time has been to ask, is it not worth it to risk the mood of the sexual experience to know that each person is walking away from a sexual experience thinking it was safe, sane, and consensual? 

In regards to Grace’s experience specifically, I have heard the argument that Ansari did nothing out of the norm due to the idea that in our heteronormative society men are expected to make the first moves or first sexual advances.  While I would say that this behavior is reflective of our society, this does not mean that this cannot change or that consent should not be the foundation of this norm.  If you desire to make the first sexual advances, okay, but your ability to read another person’s non-verbal behavior and check-in with your sexual partner verbally should be present to ensure that social norms do not over cast consent; Our heteronormative culture assumes that a man will make the first move, this does not mean that men (or any person) are allowed to ignore the signs of consent.  Also, for anyone confused on the idea that because an individual consents to one aspect of a sexual encounter, does not mean they consent to all aspects of a sexual encounter, I suggest you watch the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8).

As both a woman and sex therapist, I cannot stress enough the power of consent and allowing for an open dialogue before, during, and after a sexual experience.  My hope is that as a culture, we can decrease the pervasiveness of narratives like Grace’s and increase our willingness to give sexual power and choice to ALL individuals, ultimately eliminating the need to say #metoo.

If you haven’t already read the Babe article discussing Grace’s experience with Ansari, I encourage you to do so.  I have included a link to the original article: https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355.

Written by Katherine Mitchell, M.A., Certified Sex Therapist-Candidate

Katie Mitchell is a counselor and Certified Sex Therapist-Candidate at Heights Family Counseling. She believes in using a solution-focused therapeutic approach to therapy, in order to empower clients to discover more effective solutions to their problems.  Katie aims to foster a non-judgmental, accepting environment that helps clients to feel comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and self-reflections. Katie enjoys working with a variety of clientele, such as individuals, couples, and families.  She also enjoys working with both individual and relational sexual concerns.  She understands that an active sex life is incredibly important for most individuals, especially those in a relationship. Learn more about Katie by visiting, https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/amy-rollo/, or learn more about our services at, https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services/