Books for When You Still Don’t Understand Sexual Consent
In the aftermath of our “Comparing Trump’s Remarks to 50 Shades is Sexist and Indefensible” article a couple of weeks ago, we received several comments both here and on social media insisting that the “they let you do it” part of his comments equated to consent.
Let me be clear: No, it does not.
If you disagree with that or are still struggling with the concept of consent, we have some book recommendations for you. (Or, if you have Facebook friends who still don’t get it, share away.)
Let’s start slow. Teaching kids about consent at an early age is vital. It’s so much easier to start off right than to try to correct behavior and attitudes later.
- I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
- I love the straight-forwardness of the title My Body Belongs to Me, though it is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
- No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
College campus assaults have been in the news a lot lately, but it has been an issue for much longer.
- The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
- Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
- Wrecked by Maria Padian provides a fictional account of a sexual assault on college campus, from the point of view of the survivor’s roommate and the accused’s housemate. Publisher’s Weekly said this POV allows “readers to imagine themselves in a similar scenario without asking them to envision themselves as either victim or perpetrator.”
Sometimes, it’s much easier to digest a difficult subject when it’s put in a fictional package. These novels might help a person who has never been a victim of sexual assault empathize with survivors and more deeply understand the full impact of a sexual assault. Maybe it’s because I primarily ready Young Adult, but I think some of the best books on this subject have been written for teens. (That definitely doesn’t mean they’re not great for adult audiences, though!)
- E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale that has been called “powerful” by almost every person who’s reviewed it. Recommended for Eric Trump and anyone else who thinks “strong women” don’t get raped or harassed.
- The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith examines the lasting effects of trauma. Multiple reviewers have compared this book to Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 breakout novel Speak, which is a ground-breaking portrayal of a young woman navigating the aftermath of her own assault. Recommended for anyone who’s ever wondered why even “good girls” don’t report a rape.
- On the flip-side of the “good girl” narrative, Asking For It by Louise O’Neill tells the story of a rape case gone viral, but features an imperfect victim: a popular mean-girl type with an extensive sexual history. Recommended for anyone who’s ever uttered the titular phrase.
- Fault Line, by experienced rape victim advocate Christa Desir, explores the subject from the point of view of the victim’s boyfriend. Recommended for anyone who can’t quite bring themselves to jump inside the head of a sexual assault survivor.
- Some Boys by Patty Blount is from the POV of both the victim and the perpetrator’s best friend. Recommended for anyone who’s ever thought, “He wouldn’t do that. He’s such a nice guy.”
The following nonfiction books tackle the topic of consent in a number of ways, taking a look at it from different angles and experiences.
- Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
- Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
- UnSlut is the diary of a middle-school girl who was slut shamed after going to “third base” with her boyfriend. It’s annotated by the author as an adult, who provides context and perspective.
- The Camera My Mother Gave Me is another memoir from Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen describing her yearlong effort to deal with a searing pain in her vagina. Included in this discussion due to her live-in boyfriend who pressures her to have sex, despite the terrible pain.
I’ve only included books here that I’ve either read or were recommended to me by someone I trust. Personally, I’d love to see more books that deal with this issue intersectionally, as we know that LGBTQIA+ individuals, people of color, and those with disabilities see higher rates of sexual assault, so please leave recommendations in the comments if you have further suggestions.