The concept of consent is often forgotten in conversations around sexuality.
Content warning: This article discusses topics of sexual assault which may be distressing to some readers.
We exist in a society where there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what constitutes consent. Individual perceptions of what is acceptable in sexual situations can lead to misunderstandings about whether consent has been given.
In some situations, pressure from peers or society to engage in sexual activities can make it difficult to people to speak up and assert their boundaries. In addition, not everyone has the same comfort discussing sexual topics, which can make it harder for them to communicate about consent.
We spoke with Stories of Consent founders, Maya Siegel and Emily Bach, to discuss their platform and insights on the topic.
Q: What is Stories of Consent?
“Stories of Consent is a digital project sharing real, personal stories about how affirmative consent looks and feels. Through community-based education, the project aims to make conversations about safety during sex more accessible, comfortable, and actionable.
Q: How did Stories of Consent come about?
“Before Stories of Consent, we ran a community for survivors of sexual violence. Within this community, we found that many survivors struggle to conceptualise healthy sex after assault. While technical resources exist for learning about consent, we rarely hear stories about how consent looks and feels. We founded Stories of Consent to provide texture to conversations about consent.
Q: Why was it important to have this safe space?
“Most of us don’t learn enough about consent in school. In the United States alone, 19 states require abstinence-only education and only 10 states mandate comprehensive sex education. Instead, most teach consent through simple phrases like “no means no.” As a result, extensive studies demonstrate that young people consistently fail to interpret what consent looks like. “In order to meaningfully create a culture resistant to sexual violence, we need to thoroughly understand consent. This requires learning what consent looks and feels like, beyond simple definitions and phrases.
Q: Why do you think Sex Education is so ignorant of consent?
“We exist in a society that barely acknowledges and is certainly not built on consent, so it’s understandable that many don’t understand what consent looks and feels like. In relation to young people specifically, conversations about consent tend to be led by medical professionals, who largely utilise language that is inaccessible and impersonal. Through personal stories about consent, we hope to create an accessible understanding of healthy dynamics for sex.
Q: Why is it important to include stories of consent in conversations around sex and sexuality?
“When we think about learning, we often imagine tests and classrooms. This is where sex education currently exists in US society. But, we learn a lot from each other, typically in ways we don’t even recognise. Think, for example, about learning to be a good friend to someone. You probably didn’t learn how to make someone feel cared for in school. Instead, you likely learned through your family, friends, and personal relationships. “At its core, consent is about caring for how you and others feel. We can teach a lot of that in schools, but there’s a certain point where we have to learn from each other. In a society that treats sex as shameful, these can be difficult conversations to have openly. We’re sharing stories of consent to help start the conversation, so we can learn from each other in new ways.
Q: Do you find that receiving these stories and hosting this platform is an empowering method of expanding the discourse?
“Absolutely. Our initiative harnesses the power of community to learn from and teach one another and has a component of digital education, allowing the information to be accessible to more people. We’ve read stories we never expected to hear from individuals in eight countries, and have been really honoured by the support the project has received. Every person these stories touch is a step in the right direction, and we’re really lucky to watch the project grow.”
Overall, it is important to continue to educate and promote conversations around consent in order to help create a culture of respect and understanding in sexual relationships.
Emily Bach is a student, writer, and organiser in New York. Her research on anti-sexual violence organising is endowed by the Laidlaw Foundation. She is the co-founder of Stories of Consent.
Maya Siegel is a Coloradan who advocates for people and the planet. At 18 years old, she helped start an environmental non-profit and at 20, an inclusive period care company that now has products in 400+ Target stores nationwide. Maya has worked in social impact roles since 2017 and is the co-founder of Stories of Consent.