Communicating Consent

Tara Thean

When it was announced that two-thirds of Cambridge colleges would include mandatory sexual consent workshops in their Freshers' Week schedules, one boy complained that it was ‘just an excuse to further emasculate male students’. The Spectator worried that explicitly stated consent in sexual encounters would ‘kill off seduction’.

In September the National Union of Students said that one in four university students had received unwanted sexual advances, and 60 per cent knew nothing of their university's codes of conduct regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour. According to a Cambridge survey carried out in April, nearly half of 2126 respondents had been 'groped, pinched or touched' without their consent.

At a training session in October, the Cambridge Student Union women's officer, Amelia Horgan, advised the students who’d be running the workshops to use gender-neutral language, especially if the participants ‘seem worried that the aim... is to say that all men are rapists’.

The King's College women's officer, Nikita Simpson, encouraged students to talk about situations they might find themselves in during Freshers' Week, and to think about body language and flirting. 'There are all kinds of complex, emotional things that happen in these situations, and there's a lot of misreading,' she said.

On the question of whether or not explicit consent would ‘kill the mood’ (Spectator take note), one workshop facilitator pointed out that saying ‘yes’ is a lot quicker and less awkward than putting a condom on.

The workshops went on to cover what consent is and isn't. Saying nothing, not physically resisting, being drunk, wearing a short skirt or having a reputation for promiscuity are not forms of consent; merely agreeing to go to someone’s room isn’t, either. Consenting to one thing doesn’t mean consenting to everything. Consensual sex involves mutual, informed, clear communication between everyone involved, whether in words or actions. Obvious? If only it were.


  • 9 October 2014 at 3:39pm
    streetsj says:
    I was in the dentist’s chair the other day. She had her instruments of torture poised above my open mouth when she suddenly said: “do you consent to this treatment”. “mmmghrg mmghhrgh” I consented. “I’m sorry she said but I have to ask.”