Out in the Open

Teaching men to ask for consent

Stafford Perry is trying to educate teenage boys about sexual consent sooner rather than later to clear up confusion as they become men.
Stafford Perry says it's important to clear up confusion about sexual consent sooner rather than later.

How do you negotiate consent? Ask a cross-section of men and you'll find there's not one consistent answer. 

Do you ask? How frequently? Can consent be implied rather than spoken? The variety of responses showed that a lack of clarity can put both partners in uncomfortable situations.

The Calgary Sexual Health Centre began a program that educates high school boys about sexual consent, among other things. WiseGuyz discusses the male side of sexual health, and the program's Stafford Perry explains to Piya how important he thinks it is to get the message across to men while they're younger.

"You do hear it simplified into 'Yes means yes, no means no'," says Stafford, who believes that's not working. 

Stafford thinks the amount of responsibility put on a person to simply say "no" — especially when "no" in many other interactions is normally followed by an excuse or explanation — is unrealistic. He says there are other ways of gauging whether or not a partner is engaged than direct questioning, and everyone communicates differently, particularly with respect to sexual consent.

"Sex is an intimate thing where safety has to be present. It is a lot to ask — and it can be awkward — but awkwardness is something that people maybe have to practice, have to practice dealing with certain things that are obstacles to consent, because consent is needed," Stafford says.

The response to the question is also something that needs to be accounted for, he says, because so much of consent is being able to listen and respond to the answer, and respect whatever decision has been made. At the end of the day, the hardest part according to Stafford is not necessarily about asking for consent, but instead not being afraid to be disappointed or let down if the answer is not the desired response.

"If the human connection thing — people being able to feel safe when they go out — that doesn't motivate you or that doesn't connect you, it's also the law, so we've got to find a way to figure it out."