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Consent Exercises

Table of ContentsMaking Consent RealMay I Have Your Pencil?Intersection ExerciseTouch Arm AnalogyLook at Folder Analogy

Making Consent Real

  • Age: High School
  • Level: Advanced
  • Objectives: To introduce the concept of affirmative consent and to help students build skills for safer, healthier sexual interactions.
  • Time: 20 minutes, but flexible
  • Materials: Multiple copies of “Making Consent Real Discussion Questions” (should have as many copies as there are participants).
  • Instructions:
  1. Ask participants get into groups of 3.
  2. Handout “Making Consent Real Discussion Questions” and read the “Introduction to affirmative consent” out loud.
  3. Tell the groups that they are going to discuss the 3 questions, and should each select a person to record the answers and report back to the larger group. Tell them they will have about 10 minutes to discuss the questions.
  4. After 10 minutes, reconvene the large group, and ask each 3-person group to report. Emphasize the following points:
    • If you choose to engage in sexual activity, ensuring consent is present should be the bare minimum. Talking about what sexual acts are OK will not “kill the moment” or “suck the romance out.”
    • Affirmative consent means that we must view communication (which includes respecting the response resulting from that communication) as the first step to initiating sexual activity, rather than just barging forward with the activity itself.
    • Point out that talking to your partner, finding out what they are into, and respecting their wishes first leads to a more mutually enjoyable experience. In other words, the sex gets better as the communication increases!

Making Consent Real: Discussion Questions
A sexual interaction in which consent has been expressed by each person is at a minimum safe and legal, and is hopefully enjoyable. The occurrence of any sexual contact (not only sexual intercourse) where consent has not been expressed by each person is sexual assault.
In order for consent to be effective at keeping interactions safe, it must be affirmative. Affirmative consent means that each person expresses a voluntary willingness to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity. Thus, affirmative consent means that consensual sexual activity begins with the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.” It is unethical, and potentially criminal, for a person to proceed with a sexual act without having met his/her responsibility to obtain affirmative consent. In practice, this means that the person initiating sexual activity is responsible for obtaining consent from his/her sexual partner. The initiator’s consent to the stated sexual acts is understood by the fact that he/she wants to initiate them.
1) What do you think about consent being defined as the presence of a “yes”?
2) Imagine you and another person start kissing. You are attracted to this person, and you think you’re getting non-verbal signals that both of you want to “do more” than kiss. As a group, generate 3 examples of something you could say to your partner to determine what to do next. Again, give examples of things you could say before going any further.
3) Do you think sexual partners talking about what they are interested in experiencing together will lead to a better sexual experience for them? Why or why not?

May I Have Your Pencil?

  • Age: Middle or High School
  • Level: Introductory
  • Objective: Introduce the concept of consent and discuss the importance of establishing consent in relationships.
  • Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Activity Description:

1. Inform students that a key part of the definition of sexual assault is the word UNWANTED. People have the right to say NO to sexual activity. When someone says no, it is the responsibility of the other person to respect the NO and STOP the activity. In other words, if there is not consent for the activity, it should not happen. (Note: You may or may not want to add the point about consent being a little tricky for young people. For anyone under the age of 18, the laws are different regarding whether they CAN give consent).
2. Presenter, ask to borrow someone’s pencil or pen. Someone will usually give you their pencil without thinking. Ask all the participants:

  • Did I have permission to take the pencil?
  • How did I establish or get permission?
  • Return the pencil to the owner.

3. Then ask the class to pretend it is the next day and you are back in their classroom. Using the same student, walk up and take the pencil. Be certain to get the pencil, but don’t use any force. If the student will not let you “take” the pencil, either tell them to play along or pretend you took the pencil (As a presenter it’s counterproductive to be seriously forceful taking something against their will to prove a point about consent).

  • Did I have permission to take the pencil?
  • Can’t I just assume that he/she will let me have the pencil because they let me borrow it yesterday?
  • They more or less “deserve” to have their pencil taken, just leaving it out for anyone to take.

4. After the demonstrations, ask the students how consent or lack of consent with the pencil is similar to consent with sexual activity.

  • How do you know when it’s okay to move forward? How do you know when you have consent? What is boundary testing?
  • Does consent for sexual activity on one occasion mean there is always consent?
  • Does consent for one type of activity (e.g. kissing) mean you have consent for all other activity (e.g. intercourse)?

5. Summarize with the following points:

  • So, of course we don’t blame Dave for someone taking his pencil, nor do we think I had the right to take his pencil. Because I didn’t have that right! I didn’t ask.
  • There is obviously a difference between the pencil and a physical action. When I take Dave’s pencil, I can give it back to him without any harm to his body or self. If I hug or kiss someone without consent, I can’t take that back. Or as you go further down the spectrum of sexual activity, one might test other boundaries regarding sexuality and force someone into a sexual act they do not want. This is the definition of rape! It is not possible to take back a sexual act.
  • How many people in here want to be harassed or assaulted? How many want to harass or assault another person? Usually no one will raise there hand. So, what is the one way we can make sure what we are doing is consensual? Ask. Just like with the pencil, I need to ask permission.
  • Now, most of us think asking to give a hug or to put our arm around somebody is strange or awkward. And that might be true. But I think it’s a lot more awkward to cross someone’s boundary in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. And asking doesn’t have to be: “Could I please, possibly-would it be ok if I had the honor of putting my arm around you?” Use your own words, and what makes you comfortable.
  • Finally, what message does it send to the other person when we ask? If my partner asks me before they touch me or kiss me, it might be strange, or surprising at first, it also says to me that I am with a person who cares about my opinion. They are thoughtful enough to ask before they barge into my boundaries. They respect me.
  • Source: from Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance (VSDVAA)

Intersection Exercise

  • Audience: I have used this exercise with middle school students, (it works with college students too)

Imagine every sexual experience is like driving through an intersection (terrible metaphor, I know). At each intersection we approach, there are three colors the light can be — red, yellow and green. Green means go, so it means there is clear consent. Red means stop, there is no consent. Yellow means I am not sure, or the situation is not clear. Then, give the students age-appropriate examples of interaction (they need not even be graphic), and ask them whether they think the light is green, yellow or red for each interaction. Discuss why and then provide your answer.
Most students get the greens, and many can identify the reds. Few will do a good job on the yellows, which creates a good learning opportunity. You can use the exercise to demonstrate key consent concepts — that silence or a failure of reaction is a yellow light or red light. That consent to one type of behavior cannot imply consent to others, but is that light yellow or red? Might the interaction increase in intimacy? What assumptions are being made by the boys/girls/men/women. Is foreplay a dangerous concept to the idea of consent (again, has to be age-appropriate).
You can take the metaphor to its literal conclusion. We don’t assume lights are green. We check to be sure. If the light is green, it’s okay to go. We can talk about how often we choose to run yellow lights in our society, even though we know that is illegal and could get us or someone else injured. If we encounter a light that is yellow, it cannot turn green. We have to SLOW DOWN and wait to make sure it is safe to proceed. We usually respect a red light, and stop. But, we all know there are some people who run red lights. That is why many of us slow generally at intersections and look both ways to make sure that as we proceed through, someone else isn’t about to impede our right to proceed.

Touch Arm Analogy

You ask one of the participants (I tend to focus on males) if you can touch his arm as part of the conversation to make a point. Once he says yes, you then proceed to touch his arm in many ways: touching, grabbing, stroking, squeezing, pulling . All the while continuing to talk about whatever your points are. At some point he’s going to get really uncomfortable and will likely try to pull away from you. At which point you can ask him “what the problem is – he gave you consent to touch his arm didn’t he?” This provides a means to talk about one of the key points of consent which is that both parties agree to the same thing.

  • Source: from Rus Funk, Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors and Violence (Jist Publication, 2006).

Look at Folder Analogy

Similarly, ask someone if you can look at a folder of their’s. Once you get it, start rifling through it and re-arranging things. Again, all the while doing your rap. Again, they will get very uncomfortable at some point with what you’re doing and will often verbally protest. This again (and in a somewhat less intrusive way than touching them) provides an open door to talk about the points.

  • Source: from Rus Funk, Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors and Violence (Jist Publication, 2006).