The World is Saying “Yes” to Consensual Sex

Laura Ahring

Yes means yes. No means no. Quite a simple and clear concept? However, many people who don't seem to understand that fact, have gotten away with crimes, for many years. For more than a decade, Amnesty International has led campaigns with the sole purpose of getting nations across the globe to discuss rape-culture and the meaning of a “YES” vs “NO” (even though it shouldn’t be so unbelievably difficult huh?). When your own country passes a law of consensual sex it makes you think: what can this law do for me? Will culture be able to shift from certain norms, by simply passing a law? And how are they going to enforce it?

Approximately one in nine women in the EU over the age of 15 have been raped. That adds up to around nine million women, just in Europe. It is difficult to find our much-needed equality in these numbers. Hardcore facts are difficult to digest, but there is hope ahead, and it comes in the form of a consent-based law. 

2020: the year of changes

As a social justice activist a heart, it pleases every bone in my body that my home country of Denmark has finally passed the law of consensual sex in December of 2020. For a year that didn’t really fulfil many of us in the ways that we hoped, it is a remarkable change in my society. When looking at Europe, around nine out of 31 countries has a defined law concerning rape without consent, that does not involve the act of violence and threatening behaviour. The law of consent, presented by Amnesty International, is a law made to protect mainly women, from being raped, and making a path for them in the justice system. Besides the obvious, there are many reasons for what this law is made to do, and why it will demand change in societies:  

  • 1. The end of victim-blaming. In Denmark, this battle was over ten-years-long for Amnesty, presenting evidence, testimonies from rape- and assault victims and general verification that proves the rape-culture we bred in our country. When looking at Denmark specifically, our statistics are not a walk in the park to look into. From an estimated 24.000 women being victims of rape in 2017, only 535 prosecutions ended in court. Ninety-four assaulters were convicted. These numbers and the situation is both incredibly surreal and tragic. How did we end up here? In Denmark, some sayings and phrases have always seeped through our society’s foundations when discussing rape: all people are equal and have the same rights - so what is this need for a law of consent? You can just. say. no. For many of us worldwide, who have been following our societies’ own battles for equality, these words hurt in more ways than the person saying them can understand. The concept of saying “no” connotes that you always have a voice and opinion on whom you’re about to sleep with, which is not always the case; From being disabled to being in a “freeze state”¹ to simply not wanting to disappoint your partner, there are always situations where a no is not an option. That’s why we could all start by saying yes instead of needing to actively resist. This idea of “just saying no” not only keeps victim-blaming and all the other “fun” stereotypes about sexual regret and false accusations alive — this mentality and statements are actual arguments made by the most influential politicians and leaders, as a way to stop this law from passing — and, unfortunately, it is working. 

(¹, freeze state:  the act of not being able to move and being frightened and/or in a shock, for example, provoked by acts of rape)

  • 2. A redefinition of rape. When asking people what rape is, it is in most cases seen as the act of sexual crimes done through violence, threatening behaviour, and most people think we don’t know our rapist. Sadly, almost every rape is done, not through a violent act, but through manipulation and charismatic behaviour, which will make the victim feel bad or ashamed. Moreover, this is most often the case because approximately 90% of all victims know their rapist or attacker — which makes declining them much more difficult. But let's be clear: rape is one side of a spectrum of assaults and de-humanising of women, along with catcalling, inappropriate touching, using specific slang like “whore” and “slut" that can be said to uphold the idea of sexually free women being seen as non-marriable material with no future. Though I feel like I’m set back a century (or three) when writing this, it still affects almost every country in the world, and it will stay like this until something dramatic is done. 
  • 3. Ensuring safe sex is not a given. What is safe sex? For many, it would be the act of simply using protection. And while unplanned pregnancy is one scare, there a numerous other reasons why safe sex is not a given. Because safe sex is not just about staying free from baby-fever and STDs. Safe sex could also be about learning how to ensure a safe space between you and your partner and what signs to look for. Were you ever taught in school to ask the person you were about to sleep with if they were comfortable with the situation? Or has anyone ever told you, that it could be a good idea to check in with your partner during sex and ask them what they like? If you have been taught this, I am very jealous! I truly believe quality sexual education is a serious need in every country on the planet. Understanding sexual noises can only get us so far... When checking in on our partner during sex, we could learn more about ourselves and the other person. Sex shouldn’t be awkward and if asking your partner if they are feeling alright is so horrible and a so-called “mood-killer”, then maybe reconsider sleeping with them at all. Like in any other act, communicating will bring us closer and further ensure that rape doesn’t even happen to begin with.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Being a woman: A creature among dangerous surroundings

In the film Easy A, we of course see Emma Stone, in all her glory, portraying Olive. Olive is a sweet young woman, who is only trying to be kind to her friends and go about her teen years. However, her kindness and loyalty to her friends wind up giving her an image of being easy, anti-virgin, sexually free — she is an example of being good old slut-shamed for her supposed sexual partners and preferences. Olive’s false sexual rumours end up costing her friendships, integrity, and her relationship with her family and Todd, her dream hunk. Olive and her school is a replica of what society is telling them. Their views and norms on everything from Christianity to feminism are led by what their parents, the church, the school board, and so on tell them. They live in a society that tells them that being, in this case, a sexually free woman, is groundbreakingly wrong and it is punishable by public slut-shaming.

But why this reference? Besides the fact that I love Emma Stone, some parallels are hard to ignore. When seeing the level of stupidity concerning sex the film displays in Olive’s surroundings, it is something we still see happening in real life and many societies. When looking at a 2016 European survey done by Amnesty International, more than one in four people in the EU believe that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified in circumstances such as 1) wearing revealing clothes, 2) being drunk or under the influence of drugs, 3) going voluntarily home with someone or 4) not saying “no'' or fighting back. Therefore, if a woman acts like she is sexually free or making decisions for herself, such as getting drunk, it is her fault. Due to this mentality, that fills the head of many, women all over the globe are constantly put in dangerous situations. There is something wrong with this picture — and it has not yet changed from 2010, the year Easy A came out. So what is next?

The cost of the law of consent — what happens in society, when a law is passed?

There are reasons why this is a slow process. Let's Talk About Yes is, as we probably know by now, a campaign that fights against the act of victim-blaming and injustice for rape victims. To counteract these specific topics, the campaign aims to educate the justice system further. This means everyone, from the policeman taking the call from a rape victim, to the lawyer defending the assaulter, to the judge making the final decision in the case. This law affects every part of the system so that it will, in time, faze out the argument and defence as merely she was wearing a short skirt and was sober enough to walk home with me. It will, hopefully in time, ensure that these statements can't win a case in the long run.  

Can society and culture change at all? 

For a culture to change, it needs time to process, digest, and be understood. So at the moment, we are left with questions. However long this might take to be fully implemented in society, it is a truly meaningful, and somewhat painful, journey to reach a state of justice and equality. A burden and clear flaw will be lifted and fazed out of our justice system with time and with generations to come. What it could create is a change in people's mindset. An understanding that we will not have to be more aware or alert of our daughters than our sons, that we will not create different rules for young people to follow based on their gender, and most importantly, that the liberation movement will not have to be driven through our youth but will already be implied in society. We will take care of our youth equally and justice will conquer when wrongdoings are made. 

Finally, the law of consent can debunk the myths concerning women and their sexuality. Despite Olive, in Easy A, who wears sexual freedom as a visible patch, we should, in reality, not have to explain ourselves as women. Why we as women make a (here's the winning word) CONSCIOUS decision to sleep with another individual — and we shouldn’t have to fight this hard for our right to decline intimacy or sexual actions. Despite how badass Easy A's main character Olive might be, we shouldn’t end up in a situation similar to hers in the first place. We are globally as strong as ever and when our justice system believes and comes through for us, there is hope. Hope for a future where being a woman is just as simple as being a man. Sounds nice right? 

How to contribute to the discussion

Finally, I would like to leave you with a few suggestions. Whether or not you have a law of consent in your country, there is always the first step to take. Join the conversation and let's talk about sex, as Amnesty International would say.

  • Collab with artists, creatives, activists, organisations. Create pieces, music, and theatre to further get the discussion out there.
  • Follow local or national Instagram accounts that educate you further on women's rights and your country’s liberation. 
  • Use the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutYes and share it with everyone you know!
  • Join the fight. Create local Amnesty youth groups, take part in demonstrations (when Covid-19 is allowing us to do so safely <3 ), and don't be afraid to speak your mind. Everyone has a right to their own opinion — so please share it with the ones you love. 

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