5 Nonfiction Books To Help You Understand EXACTLY What Consent Means

by Sadie Trombetta

Despite the fact that the subject of sexual harassment and assault has been at the center public discourse for nearly six months in wake of the reinvigorated Me Too movement and Hollywood's Time's Up initiative, many people are still struggling to understand what is at the very core of the issue: consent. In fact, recent studies show that the majority of straight men still don't understand what consent is or how it works, and they aren't alone. Although it should be a cornerstone of every sexual encounter, consent is still a concept people are struggling to wrap their heads around. Luckily, for those people who still confuse sexual interest as explicit permission, there are some powerful nonfiction books that explain the importance of consent.

To be clear, consent is is when someone freely and without any outside pressure agrees to, gives permission for, or says “yes” to a sexual encounter with another person. It is an obvious and unambiguous agreement that is expressed outwardly, and that can be taken back at any time without consequence. Consent cannot be given by someone impaired by drugs or alcohol, nor can it be granted by anyone who feels threatened in an emotional, physical, financial, or reputational way. Consent is not the kind of outfit someone wheres, a previous history of sexual activity, or even one sexual activity leading to the next. It’s not body language or appearance, it’s not silence or incapacitation, and its not even a given in established relationships like marriage.

It may be at the heart of every sexual encounter, but it is still largely misunderstood by a large swath of the population who conflate sexual interest, prior relationships, or even someone's outfit to consent.

For those still wondering what consent is and why it matters in every relationship and every sexual encounter, here are five nonfiction books that explain exactly that.

'Ask: Building Consent Culture' edited by Kitty Stryker

In this powerful anthology, editor and activist Kitty Stryker gives readers the basic building blocks for a culture of consent. Featuring persuasive writing about sexual equality and social responsibility in law, government, work, and everyday life, Ask should be required reading in every school health class.

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'We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out' by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino

It's a widely reported statistic that more than one in five women and 5 percent of men experience sexual assault at some point in college, but in this eye-opening book, readers come face-to-face with the real people behind the figure. An empowering collection of true stories from a diverse group of students who experienced sexual violence, trauma, and healing first hand, We Believe You illustrates what happens when the line between yes and no is ignored, both by individuals and the institutions meant to serve them.

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'Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape' by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

In this groundbreaking book about sexual violence, all-star activists and writers Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti offer an alternative to the old "No Means No" model with a radical notion that women are men's partners in sex, not conquests. Yes Means Yes seeks to put an end to sexual assault and rape by embracing women's pleasure and guaranteeing their agency, one relationship at a time. Inspiring as it is accessible, this anthology lays out exactly what is and isn't consent for anyone still left wondering.

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'I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape' by Robin Warshaw

It may have been originally written in the 1980s, but Robin Warshaw's groundbreaking reporting on the prevalence of date and acquaintance rape is more timely in 2018 than ever. A searing book that blows the harmful myth of "the dating game" to smithereens, I Never Called It Rape is the perfext read for anyone still confused about consent in established relationship, or the difference between sexual interest and explicit permission.

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'I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope' by Chessy Prout

Chessy Prout was only a freshman when a senior at her prestigious boarding school sexually assaulted her as part of a twisted student tradition called the Senior Salute. When she decided to report the incident, Prout was faced with unbelievable backlash from a community she thought she could trust that decided to victim blame her instead. Still, Prout is speaking out, and her new memoir is a searing example of the importance of not just consent in relationships, but a culture of consent that encourages respect and equality for all genders.

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