In the midst of growing outrage and deepening concern about sexual violence, sexual harassment, and the flourishing of rape culture on our campuses, Voice Male contributing editor Michael Kaufman has written a guide aimed at campus men. It takes an accessible and honest look at these issues and provides a positive approach to help young men learn about the consequences of their words and actions. The booklet applies to all relationships, although the particular emphasis is on men’s relationships with women because that’s where most (but of course not all) dating violence occurs. This excerpt about consent was inspired by Harry Brod’s lecture “Beyond, ‘But we were both drunk’: The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent” ( For information on ordering ManTalk for your campus, visit  And if you purchase a license to distribute it on your campus, please put Voice Male on the order form under Partnership Code.  That way 20 percent of the proceeds will go to support the work of the magazine.

Rules of consent: to make sure you both want to do it!

We have a phrase for any type of sexual act when one person doesn’t want to do what the other person is doing to them: it’s sexual assault, or, simply, rape.  Consent is when both people agree to do the same thing and let the other person know. There are four rules of consent:

Rule 1: When it comes to sex, only yes means yes. “Maybe,” doesn’t mean yes. “I guess so,” doesn’t mean yes. “Let’s see what happens,” doesn’t mean yes. And “no” never, ever means yes. Unless you want to commit date rape, you’ve got to hear a “yes” to have consent and there has to be a “yes” on your side too. Sample: “Hey, do you want to tear off our clothes and have sex until we can’t walk?” “Yeah, that sounds cool.” That’s consent.
Rule 2: It’s your responsibility to know if you have consent. If a cop pulls you over when you’re speeding, it doesn’t help to say, “Officer, I didn’t know there was a speed limit here.” Ditto with sex. It’s your responsibility to learn the other person’s limit and it’s their responsibility to learn yours. And remember, it’s not their responsibility to say “no”; it’s your responsibility to know they say “yes.” Some people say, “Well, how can you know for sure?” My friend Harry responds, “Man, how could you not want to know? Can you imagine waking up some morning and wondering if you’re a date rapist?” Or, to put it differently, how could you not want to have good (consensual) sex?

Rule 3: Nothing you’ve already done gives you permission to do the next thing. You’re kissing like mad; she’s totally into it; that must mean it’s okay to get your hand under her shirt. Wrong. You’ve got your clothes off and you’re all over each other; that must mean it’s okay to have intercourse. Wrong. The truth is that, unless you’re involved in a regular relationship and have already worked out a set of rules (although “no” still means no), every time you go to a new “level” you’ve got to get consent. Some people say, “That sucks. That totally breaks the flow.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s a bit of truth in that. But by both of you knowing you’re doing what you want, there’ll be a thousand times more sexual energy than if one person is getting off and the other would rather watch reruns on TV or is uncomfortable or scared. Even better, because you’ll know for sure, and you’ll both be talking about what you want, we guys become much better in bed.


Rule 4: If you’re intoxicated, you can’t give or get consent. If either of you is too drunk, or high, to completely know what you’re doing then it’s impossible to have informed consent. You can’t give it and you don’t know if you’ve truly got it. Afterwards neither of you knows if one of you is a date rapist. If you’re with someone and you make a decision together to get wasted and have sex, that’s not assault because consent happened when you were sober. (Again, at any point, “no” means no and “stop” means stop.) But, if it’s the other way around, there can’t be consent. It’s the law.



Voice Male contributing editor Michael Kaufman is one of the leading profeminist figures promoting gender equality in the world. He is the author/editor of six books on gender issues, democracy, and development studies, and also wrote the award-winning novel Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars.