The definition of consent has been in development over the past few decades as sexual assault awareness, and prevention has been on the rise. This movement’s most commonly known slogan is “no means no.” Although, in recent years, universities have been moving on from this slogan to a new one: “Yes means yes.” “No means no” was appreciated because it is a boundary-setting phrase, but “yes means yes” is now preferred because of its affirmative quality.
The Importance of an Affirmative Standard for Consent
Requiring an initial affirmative and enthusiastic “yes” for consent protects individuals who cannot consent. In the case of “no means no,” if an individual is unconscious, under attack, or otherwise unable to vocalize the word “no,” objection is absent. With that being said, “no means no” does not account for these cases and may even aid perpetrators with the familiar and unfortunate argument that their victim(s) “never said no.”
Standardizing an affirmative “yes” for consent to take place provides a better definition of consent because it then implies that if the person is unable to answer or gives a less apparent answer (e.g., saying sure, maybe, or I don’t know), then they are not consenting to any intimate or personal advances. Not only is a “yes” required, but an enthusiastic “yes” is ideal. Affirmative consent can only be present when the person’s vocal tone and body language are congruent with what they say. If a person meekly says “yes” or says it with a questioning or unsure tone, this may imply that they feel pressured to consent, making it non-consensual. Similarly, suppose their body language and facial expressions are incongruent with giving consent (e.g., appearing closed-off, appearing worried, or unsure). In that case, this implies that verbal consent is not genuine and the advances are unwanted.
With this introduction of a new standard, this does not mean that we should do away with “no means no” altogether. “Yes means yes” provides a better definition of what consent means and looks like. “No means no” also has positive qualities, as it is an empowering slogan for the sexual assault prevention movement. It encourages individuals to speak out against perpetrators and allows survivors and targets to feel empowered and in control of their bodily autonomy. “Yes means yes” is just an extension of that.
For more information on sexual assault prevention strategies and approaches, please visit this website published by the CDC. By staying informed, we can continue to protect members of society and further prevent sexual violence.