Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Consent is Sexy" Slogan Under Fire at CMU

A friend of mine who attends Central Michigan University and is a volunteer for their Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA) group posting a link to this article in Grand Central Magazine (a student-run campus publication) regarding a recent t-shirt that SAPA produced for a fundraiser.

The shirt has the slogan "It turns me on when you say 'Yes'" on the front and "Consent is Sexy: Ask First" on the back with a pair of red lips.

The writer of the piece (which you can read here) claims that the slogan "Consent is Sexy" is "offensive" to survivors of sexual assault and rape.  She then goes on to claim that the shirt makes sexualized violence seem "cute."

Although she does bring in some valid points, she misses the point that the shirt is designed to raise awareness as a form of everyday activism. We at SAPAC use this and other slogans when we spread our message across our campus. We find it effective for several reasons:
  • It speaks truth. Consent in so many ways is sexy. We talk about this in SAPAC all the time. Many of us think it's a tremendous turn on when our parter asks if we like something or if something feels good, and the same effect becomes apparent when we hear those things from our partner. It seems as if the writer of this piece thinks that consent (and sex, for that matter) must always be a serious issue—what's the fun in that?
  • It focuses on a positive. Too often, we in the movement get accused of blaming people for sexual violence and looking only at the negatives, like statistics. Messages like "Consent is Sexy" counters this argument and puts a positive spin on our message. A message like this does not bluntly state "Stop Rape"; instead, it focuses on a positive thing that someone can in in his or her every day in order to make sure that they are engaging in wanted sexual activity. It is simply a way to make sure people are protecting themselves and their partners when engaging in sex—the focus does not (and should not) only be on the bad, less we drive people away from the message.
  • It does use humor, but humor is an effective tool. We talk about pretty serious issues in SAPAC and SAPA, and we always are conscious of our tone when we do so. However, we also know that humor is an effective way to get our message across. How many of us cracked a joke in a workshop we have given to lighten the mood? How many of us find funny videos or articles on this issue and share them with our peers? How many of us laughed at the jokes Dr. Keith Edwards integrated in his lecture last week? The truth is that although we talk about serious issues, using humor is an effective and less-offensive way to spread awareness about sexualized violence, and to make the messages of SAPAC and SAPA more tolerable to some audiences.
  • It raises awareness—enough said. Anything that gets this message across in an effective manner is a good thing.
  • Its message is a true form of everyday activism. Not only is the shirt itself a form of activism, but isn't asking for consent a form of activism? Asking for consent is one of the best ways to show your partner that you care about him or her.  If it encourages people to make sure that they have informed, un-coerced, clear consent before engaging in sexual activities, then it has done its job. It's things like this shirt that show people that you don't have to be highly involved in these issues if you do not want to be—rather, your everyday actions can make a huge difference for the sake of this movement.
I would encourage you all to leave a comment on the article page and show your support for SAPA and "Consent is Sexy." We must show that we stand by our allies in this movement and show folks what activism is really about.

Mark Navarro
Men's Activism Program Co-Coordinator


  1. Well said. I can see where the author of the piece is coming from, but I agree that the pluses around the "consent is sexy" slogan outweigh the negatives.

  2. I love how you are making everyone aware of the positive message that "Consent is Sexy". As the mother of your friend at CMU who is an active member of SAPA, it makes me proud to know that you are all coming together to get the message out there. I also read the article in the Grand Central Magazine, and though she does make valid points regarding rape, the shirt isn't to promote rape/sexual aggression of any type and is only to raise awareness of the horrible crime that rape truly is. I am proud of the stand you are all taking to show support for each other's positive causes! Thank you for standing up for each other!