Self-Efficacy & Consent

Self-Efficacy & Consent

We spend hours talking about consent and constantly preaching that without an explicit “yes” there is no consent. I’ve seen videos and comics and blog posts all about consent. Yet there are still people that are uncomfortable explicitly verbally asking for, and giving verbal consent. How is that even possible? I have recently been investigating why this could be occurring.

My research has lead me to the concept of self-efficacy, a person’s belief that they can do something. I believe that some people (usually outside of sex-positive culture in mainstream society) do not have confidence in their ability to deny consent, ask for consent, or even ask for make requests from their sexual partners. It seems likely that the social scripts, expected behaviors or actions that are culturally learned from peers, family, and experiences.

Self-Efficacy: a person’s belief that they can do something

We have many social scripts relating to sexual interactions that conflict with the idea of enthusiastic explicit verbal consent.

  • The Chase. The idea that a person (usually the female in a heterosexual/male-female) pairing should deny consent repeatedly prior to granting it. This is paired with the expectation that if she says “yes” too soon she will be less desirable to her potential partner due to being perceived as promiscuous.
  • The Tease. The idea that if sexual activities or even flirtation has passed a certain point that consent is implied because turning back after this point would be rude and they will be considered a “tease”. Additionally, there is often an element of fear involved here. Often times people believe that if they revoke consent or do not consent to further activities after a specific point that there is a risk of their partner reacting violently.
  • You shouldn’t talk about THAT. The cultural expectation that the topic of sex is taboo even among partners engaging in it. This is often reinforced through our media where the “good” characters rarely (often never) verbally express sexual consent or desire. Consent and desire are simply inferred and mutual between both parties. Often only the “bad” characters verbally express any consent or desire; these characters are often portrayed as evil, corrupt, or unstable. This is especially true of female characters.

If you are following a script, you cannot truly engage in giving, getting, or asking for consent because you are not acting upon your own wants, needs, or desires.

Many people often feel compelled to follow these social scripts while interacting with potential sexual partners. This can be detrimental to the process of consent. This feeling of obligation to the social script, social norm, or social expectation can greatly decrease an individual’s self-efficacy. If they are following a script, they cannot truly engage in giving, getting, or asking for consent because they are not acting upon their own wants, needs, or desires.

So how do we fix it? What can be done to improve self-efficacy pertaining to sexual consent? There is no clear-cut answer, but I have a few ideas.

Enactive Mastery Experiences. This is a successful positive experience. Once a person has successfully done something their self-efficacy becomes higher. They believe they are capable simply because they have a data point that proves it to them; they know from experience that they can accomplish the task. So simply having an experience where consent is verbally communicated will help the participant to more easily do it in the future.

Education. Most of the people I have spoken with on this topic have agreed that education clearly could contribute to improved self-efficacy. If people have better understanding of consent, and consent-culture as well as better more sex-positive sex education talking about sex wouldn’t be such a taboo. If they could talk about sex consenting to sexual activities would be more natural. Also creating safe spaces, like Sex Geekdom, for people to have conversations about sex without the expectation of sex can also be beneficial.

New Social Scripts. Personally I think this might be most important, but the most difficult to do. We need to give people alternate scripts! Consent needs to penetrate our culture! We need to see it represented in our books, television, and movies. We need to stop shaming folks for liking sex, we need to stop shaming them for refusing sex, we need to make it ok to talk about, so that the needed conversations can happen more easily. We should question the scripts we have, and stop using the ones that don’t fit. We need to start a revolution! When a choice is made it should clearly be a choice not the default answer a script chose for you.

So what do you think? Let’s start the conversation! I would love feedback on this topic.

Do you think social scripts impact an individual’s self-efficacy pertaining to sexual consent? What ways do you think a person could improve their self-efficacy regarding sexual consent? Do you think high self-efficacy will improve instances of verbally offering or asking for sexual consent? Do you think self-efficacy pertaining to sexual consent is improved if the person believes that asking for, offering, or deny consent are all socially expected norms?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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