High school students in California learning the new rules for consent in sexual encounters were told that sex partners should say “yes” every 10 minutes or one partner could be charged with violating the law.
A classroom of 10th graders at the Urban School of San Francisco were being taught by Shafia Zaloom, a health educator, when one student, Aidan Ryan, 16, asked, “What does that mean — you have to say ‘yes’ every 10 minutes?”
Zaloom responded, “Pretty much. It’s not a timing thing, but whoever initiates things to another level has to ask.”
On October 1, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill making California the first state in the nation to bring into high schools lessons about sexual consent that are required at many colleges. As AP reported, “Under a ‘yes means yes’ standard, sexual activity is considered consensual only when both partners clearly state their willingness to participate through ‘affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement’ at every stage.”
Kevin de León, the California State Senate speaker pro tempore and lead sponsor of the high school legislation, argued:
Sexual violence has always thrived in the gray areas of the law. What we want to create is a standard of behavior, a paradigm shift as much as a legal shift. We’re no longer talking about the old paradigm of the victim being blamed for their own behavior.
John F. Banzhaf III, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told The New York Times:
There’s really no clear standard yet — what we have is a lot of ambiguity on how these standards really work in the court of law. The standard is not logical — nobody really works that way. The problem with teaching this to high school students is that you are only going to sow more confusion. They are getting mixed messages depending where they go afterward.”
Zaloom disagreed. She told her class, “What’s really important to know is that sex is not always super smooth. It can be awkward, and that’s actually normal and shows things are O.K.”
Students in the class offered various suggestions for appropriate verbiage in a sexual encounter, including “Can I touch you there?” “Do you want to do this?” “Do you like that?” None were found satisfactory.
Then one boy offered, “You good?” That got the students’ seal of approval.
As the Times notes:
Under the new law, high school students in California must be educated about the concept of affirmative consent — but they are not actually being held to that standard. So a high school student on trial on rape charges would not have to prove that he or she obtained oral assent from the accuser. That was the case with a senior at the elite St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire this year who was accused of raping a freshman. The senior was acquitted of aggravated sexual assault but found guilty of statutory rape — sex with a minor.