CONSENT: A responsibility shared by all

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- What is consent and who has it? These are the most frequently asked questions among our Airmen, and they seem to cause the greatest confusion and uncertainty.

The heartening part is young men and women alike want to make sure they have consent before engaging in sexual activity; unfortunately they don't always seem to understand what consent is, what it isn't, and how they are supposed to obtain consent.

Consent is an active process and a responsibility shared by both partners. Consent is giving permission, approval or agreement to a course of action. When applied to sexual contact, it means that at the time of the act, there are actual words or physical conduct indicating freely given agreement.

Consent is also an ongoing process, regardless of who initiates, and cannot be implied or assumed. Just because someone consents to kissing, heavy petting, going into a room or lying on a bed, it doesn't mean there's consent for anything further. And if there were intercourse previously, it doesn't mean there's consent to have sex again. Consent must be obtained for every sexual act, each time it occurs, regardless of the relationship status.

Remember, if a person is incapacitated, unconscious or sleeping, they cannot give consent. People should ask themselves: "Would this person have sex with me if he was sober?" If the answer is 'yes,' then wait until he is sober before initiating sex. On the flip side, if the answer is 'no,' find someone else who is sober and willing to have sex.

Now that we've defined consent, how does someone know when their partner has given consent for sex?

The best way to obtain consent is to ask the other person if he is sure he wants to. By asking, body language and other non-verbal communication won't be misinterpreted. Most people will not say no to sex simply because they're asked, and if they do, they really didn't want to have sex anyway. Actions should be placed on hold if partners can't talk about sex, their desires and limits with one another until they are ready to talk about it.

Regrettably though, most people are often too embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk about sex with their partner to ask. Many times this leads to a lack of clear and open communication about sex. Airmen have told me they don't want to ask for consent because they're afraid it will 'ruin the mood,' but I have yet to meet a woman who feels it's a turn-off for a man to ask her permission. Most women feel if a man cares enough to ask and respects their answer, then he is an amazing man, and they may want to get to know him better.

I believe the real reason many people don't ask is because they're afraid the answer will be no. But, when it comes to consent and sexual assault, that's exactly why the question must be asked. Remember, the lack of a "no" is not a "yes."

Now, let's talk about how not to obtain consent: coercion, and convincing or charm.

Coercion may be when a "no" is given, but then ignored. The person continues to ask and ask until defenses crumble and a "yes" is given. The yes may be done verbally or by ceasing to resist because they just want to "get it over with" or they want to be left alone.

Convincing or charm may include things like giving a massage, or kissing while pushing boundaries in hopes the potential partner doesn't notice their wandering hands or clothing being undone.

Sexual assault is about power and control. Even though someone may not intend to exert that power, the effect on the victim is the same. Every sexual assault can be prevented by getting consent every time. Communicate with your partner to ensure you have continuous clear consent.

For more information about consent or sexual assault prevention call the Goodfellow SARC office at (325) 654-1572. For immediate SARC assistance, call the 24/7 hotline at (325) 654-1570.