Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Myers, Kristen

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Sociology


Within the past decade, the United States has seen an upsurge of affirmative consent policies being introduced or passed within the legislation of state governments and universities (Laker and Boas 2015). However, in a moment when the President of the US has been recorded saying “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” two Supreme Court justices have been accused of sexual misconduct, and a Secretary of Education has rolled back Title IX policies that had made progress in curbing sexual violence in schools, the meaning of sexual consent is now being contested more than ever. However, there have only been a handful sociological studies that have examined sexual consent, most of which, are out of date. In this paper, I use Connell’s (1987) framework of gendered power as related to masculinity and femininity, as well as Gagnon and Simon’s (1986) sexual script theory to explore conceptualizations and uses of affirmative consent. After conducting interviews with 45 participants, I find that participants reframed affirmative consent in ways that validate hegemonic power dynamics within heterosexual sex. Subjects enacted masculinity in four ways when discussing consent: 1) by emphasizing men’s role as a protector (2) negotiating if/ when to use consent (3) distancing men’s actions from assault (4) and through methods of coercion. Subjects emphasized femininity in three ways when discussing consent: (1) through embracing women’s identity as sexual agent (2) through the normalization of violence against women (3) to consenting to unwanted sex. While participants in this study seemed to embrace consent policies, deeper analysis reveals that participants’ use of consent— affirmative and non-affirmative— reinforced hegemonic relationships of power within sexual scripts: to the benefit of men. As such, contrary to their intent, current understandings of affirmative consent reaffirm rather than undermine gendered power dynamics in heterosexual sex.


111 pages




Northern Illinois University

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