No means no! This statement has been promoted by many universities and schools worldwide in efforts to reduce the number of sexual assault incidents and encourage reporting of sexual violence. According to PBS news, the focus was initially on the lack of consent given while victims fought off their attackers, looking at signs of resistance and addressing what consent wasn’t there. With the no means no approach to consensual sex, a perpetrator of sexual assault could interpret sexual advances as “allowed” until the victim says no explicitly. In an effort to establish a more definitive and affirmative approach to consent, there has been a paradigm shift from “no means no,” to “yes means yes.” 

    Re-framing to ‘yes mean yes’ when advocating for sexual assault prevention is not only a more positive approach to empowerment, but according to PBS news many campuses see it as an opportunity to clarify consent. The objective is to redefine consent in a way that eliminates ambiguity, is affirmative rather than negative, and marks a reciprocally conscious decision made by both individuals to have consensual sex. This is especially important now that some states, such as California, are creating legislation which will have schools incorporate policies that shift the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. The second part of this shift is the concept that consent should be given through each step of any sexual encounter. In an article posted by the New York Times, they address how ‘yes means yes’ is being incorporated into sex education in some high schools. These schools are pushing the idea that consent should be given during every step of the engagement despite how uncomfortable or unnatural it may seem. It opens up the need for active communication rather the implication that silence or lack of protest is an indication to keep going. 

    The ‘no’ to ‘yes’ cultural shift around sexual assault prevention does not negate the importance of vocalizing when someone does not want to engage in sexual activity by saying no. Instead, it stresses the importance of letting a partner know, during all steps of engagement, that they are consenting to the sex. This itself reinforces and enhances both parties sexual experience as it opens up communication between both consenting parties which builds trust, compassion, and passion between individuals. By empowering both parties to be active in deciding what acts they are comfortable in engaging in, they better take control of the the experience and prevent potentially harmful misinterpretations.

Author: Stacey McClellan