Sex Ed Lesson: ‘Yes Means Yes,’ but It’s Tricky
The classroom of 10th graders had already learned about sexually transmitted diseases and various types of birth control. On this day, the teenagers gathered around tables to discuss another topic: how and why to make sure each step in a sexual encounter is met with consent.
Consent from the person you are kissing — or more — is not merely silence or a lack of protest, Shafia Zaloom, a health educator at the Urban School of San Francisco, told the students. They listened raptly, but several did not disguise how puzzled they felt.
旧金山城市学校(Urban School of San Francisco)的健康教育教师莎菲亚·扎卢姆(Shafia Zaloom)对学生们说，如果你亲吻（或更深层次性接触）的对象只是沉默或者没有反抗，那并不代表他们同意。学生们认真地在听，但是有几个人并没有掩饰他们感到多么迷惑。
“What does that mean — you have to say ‘yes’ every 10 minutes?” asked Aidan Ryan, 16, who sat near the front of the room.
“Pretty much,” Ms. Zaloom answered. “It’s not a timing thing, but whoever initiates things to another level has to ask.”
The “no means no” mantra of a generation ago is being eclipsed by “yes means yes” as more young people all over the country are told that they must have explicit permission from the object of their desire before they engage in any touching, kissing or other sexual activity. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on a bill this month, California became the first state to require that all high school health education classes give lessons on affirmative consent, which includes explaining that someone who is drunk or asleep cannot grant consent.
Last year, California led the way in requiring colleges to use affirmative consent as the standard in campus disciplinary decisions, defining how and when people agree to have sex. More than a dozen legislatures in other states, including Maryland, Michigan and Utah, are considering similar legislation for colleges. One goal is to improve the way colleges and universities deal with accusations of rape and sexual assault and another is to reduce the number of young people who feel pressured into unwanted sexual conduct.
Critics say the lawmakers and advocates of affirmative consent are trying to draw a sharp line in what is essentially a gray zone, particularly for children and young adults who are grappling with their first feelings of romantic attraction. In he-said, she-said sexual assault cases, critics of affirmative consent say the policy puts an unfair burden of proof on the accused.
“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,” said John F. Banzhaf III, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “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.”
“真的没有明确的标准，这些标准在法庭上如何应用存在很大的模糊性，”乔治·华盛顿大学法学院(George Washington University Law School)教授约翰·F·班茨哈夫三世(John F. Banzhaf III)说，“这种标准不合常情——在现实生活中，没人这么做。这样教高中生，只会让他们更迷惑。他们得到的信息相互矛盾，不知道该何去何从。”
But Ms. Zaloom, who has taught high school students about sex for two decades, said she was grateful for the new standard, even as she acknowledged the students’ unease.
“What’s really important to know is that sex is not always super smooth,” she told her 10th graders. “It can be awkward, and that’s actually normal and shows things are O.K.”
The students did not seem convinced. They sat in groups to brainstorm ways to ask for affirmative consent. They crossed off a list of options: “Can I touch you there?” Too clinical. “Do you want to do this?” Too tentative. “Do you like that?” Not direct enough.
“They’re all really awkward and bizarre,” one girl said.
“Did you come up with any on your own?” Ms. Zaloom asked.
One boy offered up two words: “You good?”
That drew nearly unanimous nods of approval.
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.
按照新法律，加州高中生必须接受关于正面同意的教导，但是实际上他们并不受这条标准约束。遭到强奸指控的高中生不需要证明自己得到了原告的口头同意。今年，新罕布什尔州精英圣保罗学校(St. Paul’s School)一名即将毕业的学生被指控强奸一名高一学生。这名学生被判严重性骚扰罪名不成立，但是由于他和未成年人发生了性关系，所以构成了强奸罪。
As for college students, the law passed last year in California does not change the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted in criminal courts, only in the way they are handled by colleges, which are permitted to use affirmative consent as a standard.
Last year, Corey Mock, a student at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was expelled after officials there found him guilty of sexual misconduct because he could not prove he had obtained verbal consent from a woman who accused him of sexual assault. But a Davidson County Chancery Court judge ruled in August that the university had “improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation.” The judge called the university’s ruling “arbitrary and capricious.”
去年，田纳西大学查塔努加校区(University of Tennessee-Chattanooga)的学生科里·莫克(Corey Mock)被一个女人指控性骚扰，他无法证明自己获得了原告的口头同意，所以校方判定他进行不当性行为，将他开除。但是，今年8月，戴维森县衡平法院(Davidson County Chancery Court)的一名法官判定该大学“为了反驳指控，不恰当地转移举证责任并将不合理的标准强加到莫克身上”，称该大学的裁决“武断随意”。
In another case, a former student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who was evicted from his dormitory room after a student accused him of rape, filed a lawsuit in federal court in August against the university and several administrators. The former student, identified in court records as John Doe, argued that he had been denied the rights promised in the student handbook and that the adjudicators of his case had ignored text messages that supported his view of the encounter.
在另一起案件中，一名曾在马萨诸塞州伍斯特克拉克大学(Clark University)就读的学生被另一名学生指控强奸，被逐出宿舍。今年8月，这名学生向联邦法院提起诉讼，控告这所大学和几名主管。这名学生在法庭文件中被称为约翰·多伊(John Doe)。他说，他被剥夺了学生手册中承诺的权利，此案的裁决者无视支持他说法的短信。
Kevin de León, the California State Senate speaker pro tempore and lead sponsor of the high school legislation, said the new law was as much about changing the culture as it was about changing the law.
加州参议院临时议长、这项法案的主要倡议者凯文·德利昂(Kevin de León)说，这项新法案不只是为了改变法律，也是为了改变文化。
“Sexual violence has always thrived in the gray areas of the law,” Mr. de León said. “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.”
But among teenagers, who are only beginning to experiment with their sexuality and have hazy ideas of their own boundaries, the talk tends to be about “hooking up” and what the new rules are. “Kids are still establishing patterns of behavior, and they have a lot of specific concrete questions,” said Ms. Zaloom, who has written a curriculum for affirmative consent programs that is being used throughout the country.
Students will ask, “Can I have sex when we are both drunk?” she said. “I get this one a lot: If I hook up with a girl and the next day she decides she didn’t want to do it, then what do I do?”
Ms. Zaloom will typically use such questions as a way to begin talking about the benefits of sexual partners’ knowing each other. But sometimes, there are no straightforward answers, she said. “We’re trying to show them very explicitly that sex has to include a dialogue,” she added, “that they have to talk about it each step of the way.”
One 10th-grade girl asked about approaching someone about a casual encounter. “What if it’s just a one-time thing?”
“You have to be prepared to say ‘no’ and hear ‘no,’ ” Ms. Zaloom said.
Another girl chimed in, “If you don’t care about a person too much, you might not be inclined to listen.”
Ms. Zaloom suggested making clear plans with friends ahead of time, like making pacts to leave parties together. And she urged them to have conversations with potential sexual partners “before you get swept up in the moment.”
“How do we even start a conversation like that?” one boy wondered.
“Practice,” Ms. Zaloom answered.