Saturday, May 25Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Read The Label. What is Consent?

Life is easier when you read the label, like ‘do not put in dryer’ or ‘expiration date.’ From everything we wear, everything we eat, it all has labels. Otherwise you would shrink your favourite jumper and eat questionable cheddar. The same is true for everyone we know; stoner, flirt, lazy but incredibly intelligent skater and importantly ‘boy/girl of my dreams.’ But, how do we read these labels?

Permission is a grey label when it comes to sex. How do both parties accurately read the label?

Sexual intercourse is an interaction and communication by definition and so both parties should have their own faculty of choice and discernment. Obviously such atrocities as rape are a clear violation of one party’s consent but what about the less publicised violations, the ones that slip under the rug. In a society of growing promiscuity and sexual identity the labels that define our decisions and our self become increasingly difficult to discern and the line from acceptable to unacceptable can often become smudged.

Peer pressure, manipulation and substance abuse are all factors that reason away consent. From any situation of intense pressure or when our consciousness is under the influence, we know that we are not truly in control of our actions and tend to soberly question the choices that we made in those highly intense situations. Time and time again, in books, films, TV and our everyday life we wake up blurry eyed, stretch out, then the pang of hangover and realization hit, retching for the sick bucket and shower.“What happened last night?” “Who is this in my bed?” “Where am I?” “Why aren’t we clothed?” “Please say we used protection.”

A morning after a night on the pull can end in disillusionment and a questioning of one’s own morals and values. That quiet drink with a quick wink and cheeky smile can end up ten shots down an alley with your knickers round your ankles, all because there has been a freeing of conscience opening it up to manipulation.

“Consent is a label that can be ignored, similar to ignoring the instructions on your favourite sweater and yet people will still walk around in it, now calling it a cropped jumper.”

A girl shouts at two guys around a game of ‘higher or lower’ “He is a sexual predator! And you two are just as bad allowing him to act like that!” What she has observed is that the boys’ friend has been tampering with their drinks. Filling the girls glasses up double the amount of the lads and swapping the cards with the intention to get the girls so drunk that they do not know what is happening. There are many predators around and they may not even know that they are. Yet anyone who feeds off the drunken decision making and hazy comprehension of someone under the influence is treading the line from flirty to predator.

Predators aren’t just those who tamper with drinks to get a one night stand, they can be those who you know very well, you may even be in a relationship with them. Sexual intercourse, even when you are in a relationship, still should be a communication and the labels that are presented should always be read with integrity and respect.
“She tells me that she does not feel like I care about her because we haven’t had sex for a few weeks. Now I feel really guilty.” The girl, to manipulate her boyfriend when she feels him becoming distant, uses the sex in this relationship as a weapon. Rather speaking about his feelings and concerns she seeks to make him feel guilty and as a means to keep him close uses sexual intercourse to control him. However, what it really has done is made him feel awkward and less interested in the act as he feels pressure and questions his masculinity and thinks about the label of boyfriend and what that entails.

Consent is a label that can be ignored, similar to ignoring the instructions on your favourite sweater and yet people will still walk around in it, now calling it a cropped jumper. Consent becomes easily ignored as in society it is easy to blame it on substances altering our decision faculty and then those who are victim of manipulation are made to feel so diminished that they blame themselves; effectively it is a form of bullying.

This week the SU are hosting SHAG week, to educate students about the stigmas around sex, safe sex, identity and consent. So go along and learn how to read the labels and understand when yours is being ignored.