Breaking the Stigma: Saying No ≠ Prude

While for some, consent during sexual activity is a well-known practice, for others it is not as innate. This can lead to a tremendous amount of issues, especially on a college campus. At JMU, there are forces acting to prevent the outcomes that may result from a lack of knowledge of consent (i.e., rape, sexual assault, etc.). One of the more prominent groups on campus that acts to decrease, and hopefully put an end to sexual assault cases on JMU’s campus is Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV).

SASV works with JMU’s administration to act as a liaison between students and faculty to end rape culture in a place where students are supposed to feel safe. One way in which they battle this never-ending fight is by presenting to greek life and other student organizations. Many national chapters make consent education mandatory, given that numerous instances of sexual assault occur during social events while alcohol is involved. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Assault (NIAAA), somewhere between 81%-96% of sexual assault cases occur when one or both parties involved are intoxicated. But, that is not to say that it is the survivor’s fault for being intoxicated because alcohol is never an excuse for one’s actions.

So, what is consent? There are many different aspects of consent when engaging in sexual activities. As seen in the graphic below, provided by SASV’s sexual assault and consent presentation, the acronym FRIES shows the different variations of consent. Freely given means that there was no coercion involved (i.e., “if you don’t have sex with me it means you don’t love me”). Next, consent can be reversed at any point during sexual activity if one party becomes uncomfortable or uninterested. Additionally, in order to consent, both parties must be fully informed on what they are consenting to. Consent cannot be anything less than an enthusiastic “yes”, silence does not mean yes, maybe is not yes, and I do not know is not yes. Lastly, consent must be specific. For example, someone can consent to kissing but that does NOT mean that they consented to any sexual activities. Consent must be given every step of the way.

While saying no seems like a straightforward task for some, on a college campus where hookup culture is very prominent, there can be a lot of judgment when someone says no to sex. There is a common stigma placed behind saying no, which leads to some being labeled as “prude” or a “tease”, because “what college student isn’t horny all the time?” For some, they may want to wait for someone they feel a deep connection with, or maybe they have had negative experiences while being intimate with someone in the past. Either way, saying no to any sexual activity is more than okay because having sex should not seem like an obligation in any form. 

In reflection, as a college female who has personally had negative sexual experiences, I understand that this is easier said than done. What I have learned from personal experience is that going into a situation, whether that be a date function or just a date in general, you should know what you feel comfortable doing and be comfortable with using verbal communication to consent. This way, you can communicate with the other person before, during, and after, and potentially have a better sense of control over your decisions. Be confident in yourself to say no because, at the end of the day, it is important to know what you want and to be your own advocate for those things. 

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