Sexual consent should be verbal, enthusiastic, continual and sober

The Yes Equals Sex (Y=S) campaign is a positive media campaign designed to promote healthy attitudes around consensual sex.

The poster campaign aims to start a national conversation around positive consent and sex.

According to founder George Kaar there is still a widespread misconception that rape is committed only by violent, unknown individuals who operate far outside the boundaries of normal human behaviour.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland’s latest figures show that, in fact, just over a third of all adult rapes are committed by strangers.

Clarify boundaries

The Y=S campaign aims to clarify the boundaries of consensual sex and to demonstrate that anything outside of positive consensual sex is rape – there are no grey areas.

Consent should be verbal, enthusiastic, continual and sober; and it should always be all of these things.

Consent as response to pressure or emotional manipulation is not consent. The absence of ‘no’ does not mean consent and alcohol as a mitigating factor in sex does not negate the importance of consent.

Kaar uses contraception to explain the premise of positive consent. The use of contraception is openly discussed when people have sex – both those in a relationship or with people they don’t know very well. It is not something that is assumed and left unsaid.

With proper education and a re-shaped attitude toward consensual sex, he hopes that verbal consent will become just as natural a part of sex.

The Y=S Campaign is primarily aimed at college students. As well as college being a time when people traditionally broaden their sexual horizons, it is also an important time to fill the gaps that a lacklustre sex education at school may have left.

In an ideal world teenagers would receive a comprehensive education around areas of consent: what it is, how to express it and how to recognise its absence.

Unfortunately, as Kaar points out, speaking about consent as a necessary element of our sex education curriculum takes a significant leap to the assumption that all children receive sufficient sex education in Irish schools.

Sex it not a right – it is a privilege that must be taken responsibly

That positive consent should be verbal is often the first stumbling block when people think about the role consent plays in their own sexual encounters.

Some people argue that it is an uncomfortable topic to broach or that they are too shy. Kaar sees this as a poor excuse.

It is understandable that some people may find it initially discomfiting but it is unacceptable to risk raping someone because you are too shy to establish that you are not.

Sex is not a right, it is a privilege that you must take responsibility to execute with care and respect. If you can’t talk the talk then you simply don’t get to walk the walk.

Y=S works off of the belief that although we may still be socialised in some ways to find discussion around sexuality nerve-wracking this is in no way an insurmountable barrier.

Consent gets short shrift in the mainstream media. In music, movies and pornography it is seen as unmanly, redundant and above all decidedly unsexy. Robin Thicke’s controversial ‘rapey’ song Blurred Lines is a convincing testament to Kaar’s assertion that the media portrays consent as “something to be played with.” Y=S hopes to deconstruct these myths.

Consent is not about drawing barriers or narrowing your sexual adventures it is about opening the lines of communication about what works, what doesn't and how far things will go. Consent can, in fact, be one of the sexiest parts of a sexual encounter.

Consent within a relationship may take on a new level of meaningfulness – it must be remembered that you have no implicit right to your partner’s body simply because you are in a relationship.

Complaining about not getting enough sex, the right type of sex or implying that there will be unfavourable consequences if the sexual rhythm of your relationship does not change can lead to your partner feeling pressurised into having sex – this is not consensual sex.

The verbalisation of consent can also change over time in a relationship. Non-verbal communication may become the most intimate type of communication between a couple.

There are no hard and fast rules about this evolution and that is why it is important to engage in regular discussions about the sex you have and to have a full and rounded understanding of what consent means.

The Y=S campaign is currently being implemented by Waterford Institute of Technology and NUI Galway; Kaar is currently in talks with the Union of Students Ireland that would widen its reach significantly.

More information about Y=S can be found on the campaign’s Facebook page