Not So Blurred Lines: The Importance of Consent

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

I know the VMAs are already old news, but I can’t stop thinking about that “Blurred Lines” performance by Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. Sure, it’s a really catchy song, but what exactly are these blurred lines he’s referring to? I’m not here to speculate, but the issue of blurred lines comes up a lot when we talk about sexual health.

This month I’ll be answering some of these questions because, when it comes to consent and communication, there shouldn’t be blurred lines. And if you, like me, still want to enjoy this catchy song without the creepy lyrics, check out this feminist parody or these (hilarious) alternative lyrics for your next party playlist.

Q: How do I talk about consent with my partner?

Consent is an important part of any relationship – whether it’s heterosexual, homosexual, casual, serious, monogamous, or open – and it’s often overlooked. When we talk about consent, we mean verbally saying yes to any sexual activity. If someone agrees to one type of sexual activity, it doesn’t mean they’re agreeing to all types. Consent may also come with terms – like consenting only to sex with a condom – and these terms have to be respected. Everyone has the right to say no to something they don’t want to do and the right to change their mind at any time.

Talking about sex and asking for consent doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable. In fact, it may lead to a better sexual experience. Before you’re in an intimate situation, ask your partner what they like and what they’re comfortable with. In the moment, you can ask simple questions, like “Is it OK if I [insert desired activity here]?” If you have any doubt, check in by asking questions like “Are you still into this?” or “Does this feel good?” Remember, this is an ongoing conversation that can help you and your partner get to know each other better.

Q: I’m in a relationship, and I’m not quite ready to have sex, but my partner is. What do I do?

Communication is key for any relationship. Though it may seem hard to bring up these issues, talking openly and honestly about sex is an important part of a healthy relationship. Before you’re in a steamy situation, talk to your partner about what’s important to you, what you don’t want to do, what you do want to do, and what you enjoy. Talk about birth control and/or safer sex, if or when you are ready in the future. Remember, everyone has the right to say what they need to say, say no to something they don’t want to do, and to abstain from sex. If your partner pressures you or isn’t willing to talk about these issues, they aren’t respecting your rights, and you may want to consider walking away.

Q: Do women have to get consent from their partners too?

Yes. Whoever is initiating sexual contact, regardless of their gender, should check in and make sure they have consent from their partner. Often our society expects heterosexual women to take a passive role in sex, waiting for men to initiate sex and turn them into “bad girls” (just like the “Blurred Lines” lyrics!). And we expect men to always be ready and willing to have sex. In reality, we know that both men and women have a wide range of sexual desires. Many men turn down a request for sex, and many women initiate sexual activity. We can’t make assumptions about what someone wants–including assumptions based on gender – so it’s important for everyone to communicate and ask for consent from their partner.

Do you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this column? Send them to me at [email protected].