Abstract: Sexual Consent in the LGB Community

◆ Allison Worsdale, North Carolina State University

In recent years, there has been a sexual revolution that has drawn attention to the meaning of sexual consent and created a demand for men and women to be educated on the term. The public has become hyper-aware of sexual harassment and sexual assault because of the “Me Too” movement, which brought to light the fact that sexual harassment and violence have become so normalized in our society that there needs to be additional education on consent and policies put in place to shift this norm (Lee, 2018). The Me Too movement, as well as other similar cultural movements whether national or international, have opened the discussion up to policymakers, legal professionals, scholars, and the public about how people define and negotiate consent in relationships of varying intimacy. Previous research on sexual consent has focused solely on heterosexual individuals and their impressions of how people define and negotiate consent in relationships, leaving lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals out of the conversation and potentially vulnerable in their sexual communication with partners (Abbey, 1982; Jozkowski, Manning, & Hunt, 2018; Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2007). There is evidence that sexual assault and sexual harassment are just as big of an issue (if not more so) in this community as they are in the heterosexual community. The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that, for LGB individuals, 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women surveyed experience rape, physical violence, or stalking from a partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women while 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience these same issues compared to 29% of heterosexual men (Human Rights Campaign, 2010). For LGB individuals, fear of discrimination over their sexual identities can prevent them from seeking help for sexual violence. There is also the possibility that the available resources for LGB individuals are directed more so towards heterosexual individuals, failing to provide information tailored to their needs (RAINN, 2019); traditional sexual education courses, even comprehensive sex education, do not include discussions of LGBT+ health information that individuals who identify as such need in order to protect themselves. Not only do most sex education programs lack discussion of sexual orientation, but three states also require a negative discussion of sexual orientation, and only 3 states require any discussion of sexual consent. Although issues surrounding consent are of significance to LGB individuals, we know little about how they define and negotiate consent as well as where they learn this information. Through the framework of social support, a qualitative study was completed with 25 individuals participating in in-depth interviews to answer the research questions of what are the meanings of sexual consent for LGB adults, what dilemmas have LGB adults faced when discussing sexual consent, and what factors have shaped LGB adults' views on sexual consent. In order to determine the approach that the LGB community takes towards defining and negotiating sexual consent, it will require an understanding of how the meaning of this concept is constructed within this community.