The problem with “no means no”

There are many reasons I don’t watch the nightly news. All the violence saddens me. All the politics frustrate me. And all the misogyny pisses me off.

(Instead I prefer to read headlines online, then click through to articles that interest me or offer some sort of enlightenment.)

But recently, several appalling stories have broken through my bubble, and I’d like to share a few thoughts I’ve had as a result.


“No means no” is a catchy slogan, but I worry that it might be doing more harm than good. Because “no means no” seems to imply that you don’t have to stop until someone clearly tells you to. That is NOT the case. In fact, you have no right to anyone else’s body until/unless they give you explicit permission. So what we should be teaching people is something more along the lines of, “Only yes means yes.”


Sex isn’t something to be done TO someone. It’s not something to be TAKEN. Sex is something to be done WITH someone, to be SHARED. Any other way means you’re doing it wrong.

So, with that in mind:

It doesn’t matter if a girl is a slut. It doesn’t matter if she’s wasted. It doesn’t matter what she wore or where she went. It doesn’t matter if she made poor decisions or put herself in a bad position. It doesn’t even matter if she would willingly have sex with every single member of the varsity football team anyway. What matters is whether or not she DID — i.e., did she give them her consent? If not, then they raped her.


I don’t know how to end this post except to say that recent headlines have reminded me why I want to write for a young audience, how important it is to teach everyone to respect one another, and what a long way feminism still has to go.

Also, my friend Rachele’s forthcoming YA novel CANARY is, unfortunately, very topical.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.


  1. I remember reading a few years back about a college which tried to establish a code of conduct where every step in a physical relationship required explicit consent (“is it alright if I touch your…”). I’m not sure that’s workable, in that form, but I think it was an attempt to deal with this problem.

    There was something in the New York Times today about rape:

  2. Wow, thank you for sharing that, Anthony. It’s powerful and beautifully written. I hope you don’t mind that I shared it on Facebook.

    Edited to add: Oh, and yes, I know such direct and explicit communication can seem (at least at this point in time) un-romantic or awkward. But it doesn’t have to be. And I do think we need to move more in that direction. Things/communication will never be black and white, but right now all the gray is giving society an excuse to let things slide.

  3. Sigh…
    I don’t know when things will finally change. :(

    On a brighter note, CANARY sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing the excerpt.

  4. Oh definitely. That’s why I’m a fan of the concept of enthusiastic consent rather than “no means no”. It doesn’t even have to be a verbal ask/response; body language, facial expressions, and actions count too!

  5. What a moving post, Kristan, thanks for sharing. It reminds me of the old adage (paraphrased), “Stop blaming your girls for going out, start teaching your boys respect”…or something like that. Respect all around.
    And CANARY sounds wonderful, I’m excited to check it out!

  6. Interestingly, female jurors are much harder on rape victims than male jurors. I think it is in part because the arbitrariness of rape is so frightening. If it really is just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or trusting the wrong person, then it could happen to anyone. And that’s a very scary world in which to live. On the other hand, if the victim did something to bring it on herself, then rape can avoided. It’s all about safety and control.

  7. Rachele-
    Resources are great, thanks for putting that together!

    Non-verbal consent is kind of a risky area; I think it only works once a relationship has been established (and even then can be tricky). Still, I agree that “enthusiastic consent” is a good direction to head in.

    K. Marie-
    Yes. I’m always appalled when people victim-blame (although Julia’s comment offers some insight to it). And I saw a great thing on FB yesterday that was basically like, “Men should be offended when women are blamed for rape — based on what they wear or how they act — because that implies that men have little to no self control and basically assumes that the default male state is RAPIST.”

    Oh, that’s a shame, but not really a surprise. I believe it comes up with issues other than just rape, too. There’s a looooot of internalized misogyny, and fear, and “lady-on-lady hate” (as my friend Steph Sinkhorn would say). I can’t say I’ve never felt it myself, but I try to be aware of it and combat it right away.

  8. That’s an excellent point and something I never thought of before, to teach “yes means yes” instead of “no means no.” I heard someone awhile ago say something similar, about how our society teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape,” which is a really backwards way of going about it.

  9. No means no can add to victim blaming. My husband is a pediatrician, and he teaches boys to ask for permission. I think so many don’t know how. We give no one a voice when it comes to sex, and we teach stupid ideas like words ruin the moment. I think if more people used their voices, there would be less confusion when rape does happen. It would be pretty black and white if we were used to talking about it and suddenly someone didn’t. So many of the myths would have less weight.

  10. “We give no one a voice when it comes to sex, and we teach stupid ideas like words ruin the moment.” – YES, exactly. Sounds like your husband is working to combat that, though, which is wonderful.

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