As the #MeToo movement grows, so does the apparent confusion about what is and is not appropriate sexual and romantic behaviour.
For some people, the allegations against actor Aziz Ansari added to this confusion. Some people who read about them thought the experience amounted to sexual assault, others thought it was above board, and a lot of people thought it fell into a messy middle ground that was hard to define.
And many recognized themselves in uncomfortable ways in the story, which makes it even harder to discuss. Adding to the situation is the fact that consent and sexual assault are defined differently across different jurisdictions; what might be legal in one place is not in another.
But here's the thing: consent has always been what it is. Maybe there have been times in history where it was less discussed, or when people felt less empowered to demand consent (especially women of colour, women in the LGBTQ community, and women from Indigenous communities), but it has always been the right way to proceed in a sexual relationship. And a behaviour is not necessarily OK just because it is technically legal.
A lot of people do seem unsure on what consent looks like, however. A study released late last year found that some men confuse sexual interest with sexual consent, or believe that a previous sexual encounter with a woman implies consent for potential future encounters.
Neither of these things is true. But at the same time, it's also not true that men and women can just no longer interact with each other, or that a "witch hunt" is underway.
At its heart, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in a sexual activity. Here are eight things men should know about what consent looks like, and how to make sure it's a part of all your relationships.
Understand how consent can be given
Consent doesn't have to be verbal, but using verbal consent can help make things clear for all parties, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).
Ultimately, consent is about communication, verbal and physical. Just taking the time to read someone's signals, or even to check in verbally and ask if everything is good, is helpful. The burden shouldn't be placed on the partner to say "No," you should be asking them if they're OK and comfortable with the activity the two of you are engaging in.
Consenting to one activity, one time doesn't imply consent to that specific activity at any time, or consent to any other activities, RAINN advises. Consent has to be renewed, throughout an encounter and in subsequent ones.
And consent can be revoked: people are always allowed to change their minds, or to decide they are not comfortable even if they previously thought they were.
Consent isn't just about sex
Canadian law has a broad definition of sexual assault. It doesn't only include sexual intercourse but also unwanted sexual grabbing, kissing, fondling, and other sexualized activities. And the responsibility for getting consent is, by law, on the person initiating the activity.
Ignorance is not bliss
You can't assume consent by simply failing to ask it, or by only hearing the words you want to hear, or by figuring that anything that is not physically fought off is OK.
And in seriousness, remember that if a person is too drunk or otherwise intoxicated to give consent, that means consent has not been given. This is clearly laid out in Canadian law.
Check in on expectations
"If you think the date is going well and all signs point to 'hooking-up,' use your words to clarify that you're on the same page," relationship expert Miyoko Rifkin told HuffPost Canada. "Ask if they're feeling the same way." Continue to check in throughout an encounter, both mentally and verbally.
"Ask!," psychotherapist Jeffrey Von Glahn told HuffPost Canada. "Politely, calmly, with no hint of 'I have to have you,' or implied threats of what might happen if it's a 'No,' and totally respect the woman's answer."
Just talking can solve a lot of problems. "Using verbal communication leads to more successful sexual encounters," Rifkin said. "When we know what we like, what turns us on, and what gives us pleasure, we can ask for it."
"Ask what's on the menu," Rifkin said. Do they just having making out in mind? Something more? Things can always change if you both decide that's what you want, but it's helpful to establish early what each of you has in mind — and to respect that what's "on the menu" is only what you are both comfortable with and interested in.
"If you know what you are looking for doesn't align with what the person you're dating wants, don't take advantage," said Rifkin. An encounter wasn't consensual just because you got away with it, and no sexual experience is worth the denial of someone's personal agency or the commission of assault.
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