Can’t Spell “Consensual” Without “Sensual”: Simplifying Consent for Students

First, watch this: 

The word “consent” is, thankfully, a hot topic on Canadian campuses these days, and has become even more so with the Globe’s recent investigation into unfounded sexual assault cases. Many Western students can explain how consent is like riding a bike, or offering someone tea. They know that the only acceptable form of consent is an enthusiastic “YES!” And that is awesome! Consent, if you haven’t heard a million times already, is not only important but legally required before getting your freak on with anyone, from your significant other to the cutie in the other section you finally made a move on after your recent 48 (hopefully these are two mutually exclusive scenarios, unless if they’re both cool with it, I won’t judge.)

However, consent is trickier to navigate than a 2-minute video or a pamphlet your Resident Assistant gave you in first year. No one wants to interrupt a steamy make-out session with an awkwardly scripted request to touch their partner’s lower back for fear of ruining the mood. The presence of alcohol can also complicate matters, as few are able to turn down $10 sangria jugs, but even fewer want to wake up the next morning regretting how they acted/were treated the night before. More importantly, most education on consent is exclusive to bedroom activities. But life exists outside the bedroom, despite what some regrettable Tinder conversations would like you to believe. Consent should not stop at one’s door frame. Consent is ensuring all parties are comfortable and enthusiastic about what is happening to them. Actively seeking consent says “Hey, I respect you and how you feel, just want to make sure you’re as excited about this as I am.”

So how does one make sure they are well-equipped to understand and practice consent? By practicing of course! Consent can be practiced anywhere as actively seeking approval and input from others. One example is making sure everyone has input into group plans before executing them, so that way no one is forced into plans they do not want to partake in, such as a movie that will upset them. Not revealing information about others is another, because it is not up to you to tell your new section-mates your friends’ stories, no matter how hilarious they may be. By actively practicing the principles of mutual respect and communication that true consent requires, practicing it in the bedroom will feel much more natural for you and your partner.

Involving alcohol makes this trickier. If you are five drinks in and feel fine, who’s to say the person you are talking to feels the same? What if someone appears to be coherent but admits they blacked out all night? What if we’re both a little tipsy? These questions are all valid, and difficult to answer especially late into a Frog Thursday. Writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman states in this article that acknowledging a grey area is fine, but if you are to err one way or another, it should be on the side of caution. If you aren’t completely sure, it is safer to assume your prospective partner is too intoxicated. And in a situation where your judgement may be too clouded to assess others, it is always a smart idea to have a friend step in to give a more sober opinion. And if at the end of the night it turns out you played it too safe, hopefully whoever you were talking to respected your decision to practice consent. If not, that is their loss.

Consent does not exist in a vacuum, and can be awkward to practice at times. By practicing it in real life through exercising mutual respect and open communication, and not taking risks while under the influence, we can all be more assured that we create a safer campus and learning environment. By fully embracing consent, it will hopefully transform from a hot topic at Western to the norm, keeping bedroom activities where they belong, safely in the bedroom.

Written by Katie McKenna


Doolittle, Robyn. "Unfounded: Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Cases as Baseless."The Globe and Mail. Phillip Crawley, 3 Feb. 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

Alptraum, Lux. "What Does Consent Look Like When You’re Wasted?" Fusion. Fusion Media Network, 27 June 2016. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

More Resources:
More Ways to Practice Consent Outside the Bedroom: