Yes means yes is the new no means no

"No Means No" has done its job, and after 30 years of the zero-tolerance catchphrase against unwanted sexual advances, it's time for something a bit more positive. (Shutterstock.com)

JENNIFER O'BRIEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Women like sex. Different kinds of sex. And when women want to have sex, they know it.

That might make some people uncomfortable.

But it's time to start talking about women's sexuality -- celebrating it -- say some London women and anti-violence advocates.

In other words, "No Means No" has done its job, and after 30 years of the zero-tolerance catchphrase against unwanted sexual advances, it's time for something a bit more positive.

What about "Yes Means Yes?"

The London feminists leading a local Yes Means Yes education campaign hope to attack sexual violence in a new way this month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, by getting the conversation going about women's sexuality and bringing it out of the shadows.

"No Means No began during a time when girls and women still needed to resist and push away from old cultural ideas that they were the property of men," said Barb MacQuarrie of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children.

But times have changed.

"Now, women are moving away from that, not discarding it, but saying, 'Of course, No Means No.'" 'And also, 'Yes Means Yes.'

"We've opened up enough space to acknowledge we are, in fact sexual beings; we do, in fact want to engage in sex. Anything we can do to empower women and girls to be confident in their own sexuality does reduce the risk of sexual violence," she said. "That's what we are aiming for."

The research centre, at the University of Western Ontario, along with the Aids Committee of London and Sexual Assault Centre London, are rolling out the Yes Means Yes campaign at a series of events next week.

"It's about women being proud of who they are and saying, 'it's not up to anybody but me to determine the terms of my own sexuality,' " said MacQuarrie. "I have agency and I have choice and I'm going to exercise that."

This year's Sexual Assault Awareness Month theme is Ending Sexual Violence through Celebrating Female Sexuality.

It's about time society did so, said Louise Pitre, head of the Sexual Assault Centre London.

"Sexual violence is rooted in shame and silence, and if you don't create an environment where you can have conversation, you risk more harm," said Pitre, noting the centre gets about 2,000 contacts a year through its crisis line and other services.

About 35 people are on a waiting list for counselling services at the centre, she said. "Yes means Yes tells women they have the control of their own sexuality, and it tells men that too. We've grown up in a society where women's bodies have been objectified based on men's perceptions.

"This is about women themselves identifying what their sexual identity is, and what their sexual preferences are and having control over that. If women have control, they will not experience violence."

The sexual assault centre has long linked sexual violence to women's shame around sex. It's come under fire for stepping outside more traditional women's advocacy boundaries into venues that promote sex and sexuality.

Last year, the centre had a booth at the Everything to do with Sex show in London.

"We are trying to step out of the traditional box of looking at sexual violence and we are open to other feminist perspectives," Pitre said. "Within feminism there is a continuum of perspectives. We are trying some innovative ways that we think will actually help and engage young people in the discourse."

The take-control philosophy is promoted in Jaclyn Freidman's book Yes means Yes; visions of female sexual power & a world without rape.

"I know my teenage daughter is most at risk when issues of sex and sexuality are taboo and secret," said MacQuarrie.

The tides are changing across Canada: Other rape crisis centres are also talking about Yes Means Yes. "No means No was a brave stand when it came out," said MacQuarrie.

E-mail jennifer.obrien@sunmedia.ca, or follow Obrienatlfpress on Twitter.


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