‘Implied consent’ is not consent at all

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were watching a film that focused on a teenage, heterosexual, interracial romance. At one point, the story indicated that the two leads were going to have sex. The lights were low; some random candles were lit; there were thinly veiled attempts at bedroom eyes between two 16-year-olds who probably don’t even know how to properly have sex.

Regardless, we knew it was going to happen. Sure enough, the guy reached over while her back was to him, he slowly unzipped her dress, and he started kissing her back before the scene cut to black, before opening on the two people in bed, implicitly after the fact.

As I was sitting there, I mumbled under my breath, “Wait. He didn’t ask for consent.” My friend laughed a little, “You don’t miss anything, do you?” I chuckled and let it go for the moment, but I couldn’t help but keep that moment in my head.

After the film, we were having a discussion about the movie, and I again brought up that lack of consent. My friend simply said, “Well, you know, it was, like, implied. She was, like, in the mood, and you know you don’t want to ruin the moment. They both were ready to go, so it’s not that big of a deal.”

At that moment, my inner alarm bells started really going off. That kind of thinking is not OK.

The notion of implied consent is built upon the idea that circumstantial evidence is an adequate main source of information for your actions. Implied consent would indicate that if someone looks at you with a ‘come hither’ look — or, rather, what you interpret to be a ‘come hither’ look — then it is an invitation to physically engage with them.

This thinking is the cousin of  “but she was asking for it . . .” (For the record, I would like to acknowledge that sexual assault is no respecter of gender identity. However, statistics would show that female-identified individuals are more directly affected).

Both embody a logic that attempts to justify certain behaviours, and often forces the survivor to bear the burden of blame for them. Just because you think that it’s OK to touch someone or kiss them or do that thing that you like, it does not mean that the other person feels the same way. To put it simply: no.

While this idea of ‘implication’ is often referenced within the context of sexual encounters, it frequently appears in any sort of physical interaction between people, and the inclination to just accept it must be critically assessed and dismantled. There’s nothing wrong with asking a person for permission before you do something to them or with them.  

If you’re concerned about ruining the mood, don’t be. It is more important that both individuals are comfortable and happy than it is to be worried about ruining the mood. And to be honest, if you’re concerned about ruining the mood by asking for consent, it probably isn’t that great of a moment, and you probably aren’t trying hard enough.

Explicit consent is the only form of consent that is OK. Unless they have said ‘yes,’ the answer is ‘no.’ Do not do anything to or with anyone without hearing them give explicit permission. If you want to engage in a sexual interaction with someone, you need to ask them if that’s OK. Even if the contact isn’t sexual in nature, ask. If you want to greet someone or say ‘goodbye’ with a hug, ask. If you want to sit close to someone, ask. If you want to hold your partner’s hand as you walk down the street, ask.

There’s nothing wrong with asking someone if you can do something. Asking demonstrates that you respect them as individuals, and that you want to ensure that they feel safe, heard, and loved.

And that is really the hottest thing of all.