During a one-night-stand at university, I turned around, looked down and saw the guy I was in bed with starting to take off a condom.
‘Are we done?’ I asked, confused. ‘I thought we were just switching positions?’
He replied that we were definitely not done, and then with a sheepish grin said, ‘I just thought maybe we didn’t need this.’
Now I’d had a few drinks, and he was incredibly attractive, and I was honestly quite surprised that he’d come home with me so I didn’t want to make a fuss. I gave him a school teacher look and assured him that we did most certainly need it because I wasn’t on the pill, and I didn’t think we would make great co-parents.
Impressively he managed to sustain an erection throughout this discussion, and so we got on with it.
I thought I had made my point, but twice more that evening he tried to sneak the condom off. Maybe I wasn’t cross enough about it, and he thought it was a bit of a game. But whatever the reason, he really thought that it was going to be okay to pull it off and then keep going.
I can’t imagine feeling so powerful and impervious to repercussions that I would have sex with a partner, without asking if she had any STI’s, or whether she was on the pill, and just assuming that things were okay.
But more than that, aside from the pregnancy or infection risks, I was shocked by how little my consent had mattered. It seemed to completely evade him that I had consented to have protected sex, not unprotected sex.
Luckily for us both, I was careful, so the condom remained firmly on. But if he had taken off the condom and then ejaculated inside me without my consent, that would have been sexual assault.
He could have gone from being a good looking, talented guy with an amazing life in front of him, to a sex offender, in the course of one evening.
Most likely because he hadn’t been taught the specifics of consent.
Now boys like him know the basics. No means no, even if they have to hear it a few times before they listen. If a girl is completely unconscious you probably shouldn’t have sex with her.
But the more nuanced, grey areas? Nothing. Which, we can only assume, is how nice, intelligent, successful young men end up becoming rapists.
When we talk about consent education there is always an outcry. ‘You’re a killjoy’ I get told. ‘You’re trying to stop people from having sex’. ‘It’s all part of the feminist agenda to emasculate men.’
The truth is, consent education has two agendas. One is to stop women from being victims of sexual assault. The other is to stop men from becoming rapists.
Rapists are not men with balaclavas, hiding in dark alleyways waiting for a drunk girl to pounce on. Rapists are sons and brothers and friends. They are men, very often good men, who do something stupid and bad and wrong. Sometimes because they haven’t been taught where the line is. This is why 90% of rapists are known to their victims.
Consent education gives men, especially young men who are away from home and experimenting with sex for the first time, a framework within which they can enjoy sex without risking their futures.
The complaint that I hear most often is, ‘consent education treats all men as potential rapists’. And you know what? That’s true. It treats them as potential rapists, and then it teaches them how to avoid being one.
Just as often as rape is motivated by aggression, or cruelty, or sexual desire, it is motivated by ignorance. By treating people as potential rapists we are making sure that they never graduate from ‘potential’ to ‘actual’.
Far from vilifying men, consent education protects them.