Evolution of dating, question of consent

Experts, faculty members talk about how consent has become an important aspect in sexual activity, evolution of hookup culture


In the era of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, the question of consent’s place in sexual activity is becoming a more prevalent discussion in today’s society. 

In a recent article published by Babe, a woman described her experience “hooking up” with comedian Aziz Ansari in which she felt Ansari did not take her consent into consideration. The story sparked a nationwide conversation on what consent is and how people give it. 

Since the 1980s, the term "hooking up" has found its way onto college campuses as a norm for dating. This umbrella term refers to anything physical, said Kathleen Bogle, sociology professor at LaSalle University.

Bogle is also the author of “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus.”

The shift from traditional dating began in the 1960s and 1970s and has transitioned from one-on-one approaches to more people hanging out in large groups, Bogle said. The traditional style focused on dating that eventually led to physical activity, whereas now, relationships tend to start with physical activity, then potentially leads to dating, Bogle said.

“It can be a one-night stand, but it can also be the beginning of hanging out with someone," Bogle said in regards to hook-up culture. "It also can be the beginning of a long-term relationship.”

She pointed out there are several people who aren't interested in the hooking-up style of dating, but some people are pressured into it because it is perceived as a norm.

What consent looks like

Every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. Consent to sexual activity must be freely given by all persons involved, otherwise it becomes sexual assault.

This means being explicit about expectations, assumptions and desires, said Brooke Oliver-Hempenstall, director of Sexual Aggression Services at Central Michigan University.

“The key to consent is, are you communicating with the person, regardless of how you met and how you came to be,” Oliver-Hempenstall said. “Are you communicating the whole way through?”

Consent is also necessary regardless of the duration of your relationship, and it is revocable at any point in time, she added.

“Not only does consent need to be freely given, but it’s revocable, and anyone can change their mind,” she said. “Regardless if they’re married, been together for years, just started dating or just met.”

Consent to sexual activity shouldn’t be placed in a separate category from other things in life.

Bogle suggested consent should be the exact same way — everyone is in complete control of when they would like to engage in sexual activity and when they would like it to stop. There should never be a point where someone is “stuck” and can’t get out of it.

Bogle said nonverbal communication such as facial expressions and gestures isn’t enough to give proper consent.

With the advancement of dating apps and instant messaging, nonverbal communication is becoming more common in modern day dating culture.

Central Michigan Life reached out to Katherine Lasher, CMU’s Title IX coordinator for this story but she did not respond to numerous emails or requests for a phone or sit down interview.

Dating in 2018

Assistant Professor of Communication Alysa Lucas, who conducts research on sexual communication, believes dating has become ambiguous and confusing.

“Technology takes out the nonverbal (aspect), so you have to use emojis,” Lucas said. “But what are the emojis? Now peach and eggplant mean so many different things that you’re like, ‘it was just food — now what does it mean?’”

Meeting someone online can be ambiguous because Lucas notes there is a typical “talking” phase of relationships, where the commitment between people isn’t clearly defined.

“There were these steps that were taken (before), and now it’s ‘I think I’m talking to someone,’” Lucas said. “Well, what does that mean if you’re talking to someone?”

While the internet can act as a buffer-zone for people who feel uncomfortable talking face-to-face, it can also be a platform for deceit and unrealistic expectations, Lucas said.

“Now it’s like swipe this way, swipe that way and it’s based on pictures and very little information,” Lucas said.

When it comes to the topic of consent, Lucas thinks humans may be missing a few important scripts with the rise of technology in the dating world.

“We have scripts for job interviews and how you should dress and everything, but we don’t necessarily have that for technology,” Lucas said. “And I don’t know that we have that for consent. I don’t think that we’re taught what that means.”

Bogle thinks it is unrealistic to impose scripts, such as the "yes means yes" campaign that started on college campuses in California.

"I think that we're going to have a huge backlash against this sexual assault movement if we say people have to be mind-readers and figure it out," Bogle said. "People have to every 30 seconds say 'is it OK if I do that?' 'is it OK if I touch here?' I just don't see that as a realistic way for sex to happen."

Rather, she suggests answers such as bystander education and intervention. In the cases where alcohol is involved, someone else could step in if people are too drunk to consent. Simply creating the awareness that people should never assume someone is okay with doing something physical. 

Education as the solution

According to RAINN, the amount of sexual violence in the U.S. has dropped by more than half since 1993. Although there was a decline, sexual violence is more prevalent on college campuses compared to other crimes, and more times than not, it isn’t reported to law enforcement.

If it isn’t the norm to talk about sex, people may choose to opt out of the conversation altogether — which is what Lucas sees as the problem. 

“Research on sex will say that people have sex before they talk about sex,” Lucas said. “When I ask in my gender class, ‘why don’t you just say hey are you into this?’ the students laugh like that’s embarrassing. But what’s embarrassing about consent? What’s embarrassing about being explicit and knowing that people are into it?”

Bogle has come across similar reactions from her students about the topic. People use "vibes" and unwritten rules to assess how someone else is feeling about the relationship.

“It’s kind of against the norms, when you’re talking about communication, to really at any point with a hook-up in the early stages, say ‘What is this?’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘What do you want to happen here?’” Bogle said. “It can be seen as kind of a buzzkill.”

Lucas said a solution to this communication impediment can begin with education — preferably before coming to college.

“The more you think about and practice what (consent) might be, it’s going to be easier to say it when you’re in that situation,” Lucas said.

If someone isn’t comfortable having that conversation, Oliver-Hempenstall said they may need to rethink engaging in any activity until they are ready. 

While the topic of consent and the question of what it is has been in the news lately, Lucas said conversation and education are only the first steps to the solution.

“I do think we’re moving to a place where there are more conversations because of campaigns like the Larry Nassar case and the Harvey Weinstein (allegations),” Lucas said. “A lot has been happening in our society and very quickly. Those are opportunities to have conversations, but if we’re only having conversations and we’re not doing anything to make changes, then (sexual harassment and assault) might continue.”