30 min

The New Norms of Affirmative Consent The New Yorker Radio Hour

    • News Commentary

Mischele Lewis learned that her fiancé was a con man and a convicted pedophile. By lying about who he was, did he violate her consent, and commit assault? Lewis’s story raises a larger question: What is consent, and how do we give it? It’s currently the standard by which the law regulates sexual behavior, but the continuing prevalence of harassment and assault has led many college campuses to adopt more stringent standards. At the core of many new rules is the principle of affirmative consent: that sexual partners must verbally and explicitly express their acceptance of each and every sexual overture. The problem is that few of us use affirmative consent—even many of its advocates find it cumbersome in practice. Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and the president of the Social Science Research Council, explores this shifting of sexual norms with The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman. They spoke with the legal scholars Jeannie Suk Gersen and Jacob Gersen, and with the facilitator of cuddle parties, who compares her nonsexual events to “going to the gym for consent.” Plus, an interview with a climate striker. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, fourteen-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor spends her Fridays outside the United Nations, demanding action on climate change. But the risk of “eco-grief” is high, she tells the reporter Carolyn Kormann.

Mischele Lewis learned that her fiancé was a con man and a convicted pedophile. By lying about who he was, did he violate her consent, and commit assault? Lewis’s story raises a larger question: What is consent, and how do we give it? It’s currently the standard by which the law regulates sexual behavior, but the continuing prevalence of harassment and assault has led many college campuses to adopt more stringent standards. At the core of many new rules is the principle of affirmative consent: that sexual partners must verbally and explicitly express their acceptance of each and every sexual overture. The problem is that few of us use affirmative consent—even many of its advocates find it cumbersome in practice. Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and the president of the Social Science Research Council, explores this shifting of sexual norms with The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman. They spoke with the legal scholars Jeannie Suk Gersen and Jacob Gersen, and with the facilitator of cuddle parties, who compares her nonsexual events to “going to the gym for consent.” Plus, an interview with a climate striker. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, fourteen-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor spends her Fridays outside the United Nations, demanding action on climate change. But the risk of “eco-grief” is high, she tells the reporter Carolyn Kormann.

30 min

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