Yes means yes: the rise of affirmative consent

Education: Since 2014, workshops on consent have been held at dozens of UK universities.

Is it the best policy? After a horrific sexual assault case shocked the nation, Spain became the latest country to write affirmative consent into law. But what does it mean?

April 2018. Crowds swarm the streets of Madrid. “It’s not abuse, it’s rape!” voices rage. “If you touch one of us, you touch all of us!”

A Spanish court had just acquitted five men of raping an 18-year-old girl at Pamplona festival. Footage of the assault, filmed on an attacker’s phone, showed the victim immobile with her eyes closed.

Anger continued to grow, and in July the government announced reform. From now on “yes means yes” and everything else, including silence, means rape.

The model of affirmative consent first emerged in the US.

In 1993, Antioch College in Ohio was widely mocked for introducing an “ask first” policy in response to escalating assaults on campuses.

There is disagreement over whether consent must always be verbal. Some worry that applying the “ask first and ask often” rule to real-life situations could get ridiculous.

But the difficulties of relying on body language were highlighted by the case of comedian Aziz Ansari. The woman who accused him of unwanted advances said he “ignored clear non-verbal cues”. He responded that he was “surprised” as their encounter seemed “completely consensual”.

Is “yes means yes” the best policy?


Absolutely, say some. The absence of a clear “no” doesn’t mean a person is enjoying themselves. A victim may be scared of angering their attacker by resisting, and it is common to freeze when your body feels threatened. Sex is about having fun with a partner who has chosen to share the experience.

It’s impractical, argue others. Realistically, couples aren’t going to stop to ask before every sexual act. It would be awkward and unnatural to insist on it. Everyone should be able to express what they want in sex, but this is going a step too far. Besides, it’s hard to see how it could lead to more convictions.

You Decide

  1. Should the UK introduce a “yes means yes” law?


  1. What is consent? Write down a definition in your own words and discuss it with your class.

Some People Say...

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women.”

Jackson Katz

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The charity Rape Crisis says that “everyone has the right to say ‘no’ to sex, to withdraw or withhold their consent for any sexual act, on any occasion and under any circumstances, regardless of whether they've given consent to sex with that person in the past.
What do we not know?
Whether the “yes means yes” rules in Spain and other countries will improve conviction rates for rape.

Word Watch

A city in Spain that hosts an annual bullfighting festival.
Doctors say that during sexual assault a victim’s body will often freeze or go limp as a natural response to being under threat.
Affirmative consent
It is defined as “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It is the responsibility of each partner to take measures to ensure they have the consent of the other.
Aziz Ansari
A woman who went on a date with Ansari told her story to

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