Op-Ed: Grow up a little, talk about consent

Sunday, April 3, 2016 - 10:03am

Oh how I hold my high school days near and dear to my heart. How thrilling it was to have rules to break and lines to cross for the first time. I will always remember, with nostalgia, my first sips of alcohol and sneaking boys over while my parents were at work.

But no way in hell would I go back.

In high school, everything was exciting and new, but nothing beats liberation: the great release of living on my own, choosing my own future and being independent in most aspects of my life. Is there anything more satisfying to brand-new adults than exercising their freedom in any and every way they know how to? The answer is a resounding “no” from every freshman who just escaped helicopter parents, and anyone who loved watching “Project X.” And, inevitably, with this hedonistic entrance into adulthood sometimes comes sex. Lots and lots of sex.  

If there is one thing that all students garner from their college experience, no matter what their major is, it is the fact that sex is often a part of life. Not everyone in college is having sex — in fact, a large portion of students on our campus aren’t — but the topic of sex is a near-inescapable aspect of college culture. There is no one definition of sex, but rather an infinite number of ways to demonstrate intimacy. Some people define sex as kissing, while others may define it as intimate touching.

There is seldom a weekend that passes when I do not hear and partake in drama involving someone who hooked up with someone else, “hooking up” also being a vague term that everyone seems to define differently, leaving the specific intimate act open to inference. Of course none of it is my business, but nonetheless I am invested. And really, aren’t many of us? Still raging with the hormones of adolescence but free from its restrictions, how could we not talk about sex? We are at an age where sex is not merely an activity; it is an obsession.     

Our obsession with sex is not so depraved as is the way we talk about it. We oftentimes recount our sexual escapades with embellishment, for sure, but also without refrain and respect. I have heard far too many bedroom stories beginning with the words “this bitch.” We may gloat about our adventures with an arrogance that makes it seem like sex is not a two-person endeavor, but rather an independent crusade for the most awesome story to tell the next day. But sex isn’t independent. On the other end of every lie story is a real person — a person whose feelings and humanity are often left out of these epics.    

It’s all in good fun, as they say. The problem is that lines are being blurred: the line between politically correct and incorrect, between respect and disrespect, between consent and assault.  

It’s easy to talk about sex in the classroom, aside from the obvious discomfort. It’s easy to regurgitate the definition of consent, “a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity.” It’s easy to keep the words “sober and enthusiastic” in the back of your mind. What is not so easy is to apply them — both to yourself and to your friends, whose definitions may be blurred or forgotten.

Consent is a crucial part of human relationships that has too often become more educational than practical. Yes, it is sometimes hard to be the voice of social justice, as asking for consent can feel awkward or embarrassing. But there is an easy fix: Grow up. You are not an adult until you learn to respect other people. You cannot count your college years as free passes to be assholes, at least, not when it comes at the cost of the safety of others.

If many of us are just trying to find ourselves in college and become “real adults,” why do we insist on being as childish as possible? The real symptoms of growing up are respect, empathy, tolerance and a firm resolution to be kind to others. So by all means, go nuts; these are the freest years of your life. But respect should take precedent over everything. No survivor of sexual assault cares whether it’s “not cool” to talk about consent. If you do, maybe you shouldn’t be having sex at all.

Nora Akcasu is a networking publicity activism SAPAC volunteer.