Moving from ‘No Means No’ to ‘Yes Means Yes’

by Dinah Aguilar ’19

The main message to students regarding sexual consent long has been “no means no.” Because of continuing disputes about whether or not a sexual encounter was consensual, however, colleges and universities are sending the message ‘yes means yes’ in an attempt to reduce incidents of sexual assault.

Over the past few years, this affirmative consent in which it is made clear that both people want to participate in sexual activities has become more prevalent. Maryland added a new law this year that has now made ‘yes means yes’ the sexual-consent standard in public schools. The bills describes consent as a “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.”

One issue that colleges are trying to address regards when one or both students have been drinking, which can make it more difficult to give consent or to recognize if consent was given. The victim is then taken advantage of as he or she cannot give a conscious or willing agreement to engage in the sexual activity. Colleges are hoping that affirmative consent will make it easier to know when two people both want sex, as both people have to verbally say yes for it to be consensual.

Even as more colleges have promoted affirmative consent, but there is debate, whether it will reduce sexual assault on college campuses. Some experts call it confusing and awkward because many students would not directly ask another student to have sex. However, proponents of affirmative consent say that it creates an atmosphere in which people can have an honest conversation about sex. Although the debate continues, most experts agree that the traditional “no means no” form of consent has left room for a lot of ambiguity and “yes means yes” is moving towards a more clear understanding of consent.