In many domestic, long-term relationships, consent is “implied” solely upon the fact that the pair are in a relationship and/or love each other; but is that idea contributing directly to the idea of rape culture? Conceptually, it is, yet the data-based report “Sexual Consent in Committed Relationships: A Dyadic Study” includes notions both for and against that claim. This study quantifies the data of consent in relationships of considerable length based on a number of interesting factors. In order to truly understand whether consent is always explicitly necessary in committed relationships, the conductors of the study have researched this in a dyadic manner, that is, taking data from both partners in the relationship rather than just one, as many other studies do. In effect, this comprehensive research is fascinating to discover whether or not sex is warranted, without verbal and explicit consent, in the eyes of numerous couples.
Firstly, to break down the research done in the study, it’s important to note that this data is taken from a large group of 18 or older (yet mostly younger) couples who have been in a relationship for either: <1 year, 1-3 years, 3-5 years, or >5 years. This wide range of lengths is crucial to seeing the effects of a comfortable, withstanding relationship on consensual sex. In addition, 89% of the dyads were female-male, while only 8% were female-female and 2.7% were female-other. This study, although comprehensive in its dyadic trait, does focus on women, which is mentioned in the study. It says that “According to traditional sexual scripts, people who identify as women are more likely to be the gatekeeper in a given encounter and thus accept or rebuff a male initiator’s attempt for sex” (Willis 3). This idea is promoted by rape culture, as women are the vast majority demographic of whom are raped, boosting the notion that men cannot and will not deny sex, but women will. Yet, this study’s results do an accurate job, in my opinion, of showing what men see as an indicator of consent versus women (see graph 1). The experiment used a 4-category consent system (verbal cues, nonverbal cues, explicit cues, and implicit cues) as well as 2 categories of how sex happens in their relationship (escalation, just happens), and 4 additional categories of consent communication codes (absence/presence of refusals, self-reported cues, perceived cues, and couple-centered cues). These cues were used to determine the differences between the genders of participants and the length of relationships (see charts 2 & 3).
The results of this study were both expected and surprising. The use of codes as relating to gender (see chart 2) was as expected: women preferred verbal cues over men (85% vs. 79.4%). The other qualifiers were much of the same, with women more commonly reporting most of the cues as used. Meanwhile, the consent cues based on relationship length (see chart 3) were personally surprising. Contrary to previous belief, the longer the relationship, the more likely (in general) to use verbal consent cues (93.8%). Meanwhile, <1 year-long relationships were most likely to use nonverbal cues (87.5%) and long relationships were additionally most likely to use explicit cues (81.3%). This data suggests that in longer relationships there is more commonly explicit communication of consent prior to sex, and not that a long relationship is often used to justify rape. This is where the reliability of a small-sample, college-age group of dyads comes into play. Is this sample size really trustworthy? In my opinion, many parts of it are, but the young group is what offsets the results. Often, young adult couples are more “progressive”, in a way, while adult-aged couples that have grown up on normalized rape are usually more likely to use their relationship as “consent”.
In summary, this comprehensive study provides substantial data on consent in relationships that have withstood for some time. I find it fascinating that the dyads in the sample were actually more likely to affirm consent verbally and explicitly if they had been a couple for a longer period. Reports like these, in my opinion, are key to getting through to those who deny rape culture’s existence, as hard data is difficult to deny. To conclude, rape within relationships is very possible, and although this study displayed (seemingly) healthy, consenting couples, it is a genuine issue that we face in our patriarchal world today.
Willis, Malachi, et al. “Sexual Consent in Committed Relationships: A Dyadic Study.” Taylor & Francis, 19 July 2021, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1937417?scroll=top&needAccess=true.