How college students and Trojan Condoms are changing the way we talk about consent

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and student activists across the country have partnered with organizations to raise awareness about the importance of enthusiastic consent. On April 3rd, Advocates for Youth and Trojan Condoms launched the fourth annual “Consent. Ask For It.” campaign.

The goal of the “Consent. Ask For It.” campaign is to help bust the stigma of openly talking about sex and consent with partners. The initiative wants to create a culture where this conversation is normalized and where consent is defined clearly.

HelloGiggles spoke with four student ambassadors who worked with Trojan and Advocates for Youth to start the conversation on their college campuses.

"Most people may not realize it, but everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted," one student explained. "The ultimate goal of this initiative is to live in a world with no sexual violence, and to do this we must have conversations and enact policies that reduce the rate of sexual assault, and make survivors feel comfortable and safe enough to share their stories so people can realize just how many people they know who have been affected."

Although it seems like consent should be a straightforward and simple to understand, the painful truth is that there are myriad misconceptions about what consent actually looks and sounds like. The student noted that many people think it “kills the mood” to ask for consent. “It should not be perceived as a chore or a mood killer because it is so unbelievably important for people to have a choice over intimate acts they choose to partake in,” the student said.

A second student told HelloGiggles that the biggest misconception they’ve witnessed among their peers is the assumption that consent is automatic once a couple is in a relationship.

"It’s not understood that both parties need to give consent every time they have sex regardless of whether they have been dating three months, three years, or three decades," they said. "I think some people assume that once you are in a committed relationship, consent is always given."

This issue is overlooked in high school, college, and beyond. For a staggering 29% of adult sexual assault victims, the crime is committed by a husband or romantic partner. When a woman is a victim of domestic violence, the chances she’ll be raped by her partner increase by 70%. These sobering statistics are exactly why it’s so important to openly discuss sexual violence in college.

A third student also emphasized the importance of explicitly asking for consent. “A lot of people avoid the conversation, assume that the other party is consenting, or think that it’s awkward to ask,” they observed.

And these student activists are definitely not here for the cop-out description of “gray area sexual assault.”

"Consent isn’t a difficult concept. There is no gray area. Consent is a clear, coherent yes," a fourth student said. "If you are intelligent enough to be at this university, you are certainly intelligent enough to understand the concept."

That student also made the extremely important point that it’s crucial to normalize this conversation so that all students are on the same page when it comes to understanding the definition of consent: “Having it discussed openly normalizes it in everyday culture and makes young people more prone to engage in fully consensual relationships.”

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has elevated the conversation about all forms of sexual abuse, inspiring millions of women to share stories they’ve kept secret for years. But has this changed the conversation on college campuses, and has it influenced the manner in which students view and discuss consent? A student told HelloGiggles that the answer is “yes and no.”

"Colleges make strong attempts to discuss and educate incoming freshman on what consent is. This is done through a required course online and a session led by orientation leaders at first-year orientation," they said. "However, there are still jokes being made at these sessions, and an overall lack of seriousness and respect for the conversation on consent."

When it comes to making enthusiastic consent the norm and de-stigmatizing these important conversations, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Luckily, these inspiring youth activists are more than up to the task, and this cause is in the hands of dedicated, intelligent, and hard-working students who are determined to ensure that everyone understands what consent actually means.

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