Hot Topic Tuesday: No Means No & Yes Means Yes

Tomorrow, we're going to feature The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, a member of The Contemps. I'm so excited about this book, not least because it deals with date rape, an issue that needs to be talked about – both in YA literature, and in real life.

No Means No is the most widespread date rape-prevention slogan, but I have a problem with it. Not that its message isn't important. If a girl*says No to sex (or any sort of sexual activity), guys should take that seriously. And girls shouldn't be afraid to speak up and say No.

However, speaking up isn't always easy. No Means No puts the pressure on the girl to put an end to a sexual situation. And what's worse, No Means No makes Yes the default. Like being innocent til proven guilty. If a girl doesn't explicitly say No, then by default, she means Yes.

Which isn't right. And isn't true. What if the girl is drunk? Or intimidated by the guy? What if she's passed out? She certainly can't say No then.

Absolutely, girls should do their best not to get into sketchy or uncomfortable situations. But sometimes even the most self-assured girls end up over their heads. Take it from me, and from all my female friends – every single one of us has a story like that. Some of our stories ended okay. Some didn't.

It would be easier if date rapists wore neon blinking RAPIST!!! buttons, but they don't. In reality, you don't always know who the rapists are. And while some are obviously scary or skeezy, a whole lot more seem like regular guys. Or are regular guys. Guys you know -- products of pressure from the media, their friends, and other contributors to rape culture.

Part of what confuses people are the scores of alleged "gray areas". For example, if a girl is asleep, and a guy has sex with her, is that rape? Most people would say yes (and yes, it is rape). But what if they're dating? What if she's drunk? What if she's drunk, and flirty, and dressed sexy, and goes upstairs with a guy she's dating, and makes out with him? Does all that add up to consent?

Absolutely not. There is no such thing as "asking for it" – that's known as victim-blaming, and it's one of the main reasons so many rapes go unreported. Passing out is not a Yes. Being drunk is not a Yes. Dating a guy is not a Yes. Neither is wearing a sexy outfit, or flirting, or going somewhere private with a guy, or hooking up in any other way.

Nothing means Yes to sex except for the word "Yes".

That's why Yes Means Yes** is a much better slogan.

Yes Means Yes makes No the default. Unless a girl says Yes, she is saying No to sex or sexual activity. Period. I mean, girls don't go to school or the grocery store implying Yes to sex! And that default doesn't change when the bedroom door closes. Not until both partners are ready.

Girls should not forget this.

And even more importantly, guys should not forget this.

  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of sexual assault (a number which might be higher, due to underreporting).
  • Approximately a third or less (and possibly, far less) of rapes are reported to law enforcement officials.
  • More than half of rapes are committed by guys the victim knows.

Contemporary YA novels that deal with date rape/sexual assault:

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch (from the perspective of the date rapist)

Leftovers by Laura Wiess


National Center for Victims of Crime
Phone: (800) 394-2255
Internet Address:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
Phone: (800) 656-4673 (656-HOPE)
Internet Address:

Men Can Stop Rape
Phone: (202) 265-6530
Internet Address:

*Nine out of 10 victims of rape are girls, but guys are also victims. A 1999 U.S. Study estimates only 10% of male rapes are reported.

**My first encounter with this slogan was this Metafilter comment by kmz, in a fantastically thought-provoking thread about the topic.


Pam Harris said...

I LOVE the new slogan! I work with teen girls, so this is something I'll definitely be passing along. :)

Bee said...

I second, Pam.



Marquita Hockaday said...

I third Pam :) I also work with teens who think their boyfriends will stop liking them if they say "no"- so giving them this slogan should make things easier. Thanks!

Kaitlin Ward said...

Really great post, and LOVE the "Yes means yes" idea. I agree, so much better.

Angie said...

I understand all of your arguments and I agree with them. Having no means no as the slogan does imply that yes is the default, but at the same time yes means yes as a slogan doesn't sit well with me either. Here's why:

No means no is an absolute. If at any point during the encounter if a girl says no, then the answer is no, unequivocally. Even if she had been consenting earlier. This argument has been used in courts.

Yes means yes is not an absolute, or at least it shouldn't be. If a girl says yes to an encounter it does not negate any time later when she says no. And yet that phrase, yes means yes, has that connotation. People can, and will, take it as an absolute. If you teach girls only that yes means yes then it could send the wrong message, that if they had said yes then it gives them no option to change their minds, and you especially don't want to give guys the wrong message that getting a yes answer privileges them from that point on.

Finally, while it may be difficult for girls to speak up and say no, my thought is that it's taught for a purpose - to protect them in a court of law. If the girl says no, you have a case. If the girl didn't say no, it makes it much harder to pursue legal action. I'm not saying that should be the deciding factor (heaven's no!), just that we need to teach girls to protect themselves before, during and after they encounter such a situation, and giving them that word gives them an added layer of protection.

Honestly, I don't think that either phrase does the situation justice because like you said, no means no gives the impression that the default answer is yes. People like to latch onto these catch phrases because it makes talking about it easier, but it shouldn't take the place of having deep discussions about the issue. Teaching boys and girls to respect each other is the key.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

Some really good points... I really agree with the post, but Angie's argument makes a lot of sense to me. Either way, both these slogans are good to remember and pass along.

Shari Green said...

*stands and applauds* Awesome post, Kirsten. NO should absolutely be the default. Adopting a "yes means yes" approach would be empowering, and safer, too. Thanks for posting.

Shari Green said...

Just read Angie's comment, and I have to agree that both sayings fall short of perfect. Both concepts are vital -- sort of a "yes, but I reserve the right to change my mind at any point". (That's not quite so catchy as a slogan, though, lol.) Still, I think Kirsten is absolutely right that NO should be the default answer. Because if a girl is drunk or passed out or terrified of losing the guy, it can be tough (or impossible) to actually say the word NO.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

Angie, great points and I totally agree with you, especially here: "If a girl says yes to an encounter it does not negate any time later when she says no." There is a problem with people latching onto slogans and catchphrases which can't reflect the vast complexities of the issues, and this is a good example of that. I'm guilty of doing the same just to fit my thoughts in a blog post, on a topic I could talk forever about. At the very least, these slogans should be taught -- and explained -- in concert.

The Metafilter thread I linked to at the bottom of my post ( was particularly fascinating, in that it discusses the concept of not only teaching girls to be careful and assertive, but teaching boys "not to rape" -- which sounds like an obvious and simple concept, but just at first. While some date rapists are predators, many others are "normal" guys who might respond to education about rape culture and respecting boundaries, as well as being assertive when it comes to the actions of their friends.

Anonymous said...

This is a serious issue and girls should be taught about it...but what about the boys who are victims to this?

Society mostly focus on the girl being the victim, but the gray areas you listed were straw men.

The law makes it easy to prosecute boy/men, even if they really didn't do anything wrong. In California a woman has the right to say no during the act, this is after consent, and it's still considered rape.

While there are many females that are real victims, there are some that use this to manipulate others and the laws leave a lot of wiggle room for what is considered "rape" or "sexual assault."

There are even cases where the girl says no and then is the one who willingly takes it further, but never actually says yes. These signs are confusing, especially for teenage boys.

Quite frankly, the rape laws and banter don't do either side justice.

Angie said...

Totally agree with you here: At the very least, these slogans should be taught -- and explained -- in concert. This is a great discussion and I applaud you for taking it on. Great links too. :)

Elisajeglin also makes a great point that the whole issue can be confusing for teenage boys. There's something to be said for communication and getting to know your partner before letting the relationship become physical.

ali said...

I *love* this. You made perfect sense and I 100% agree. As a victim of date-rape myself, a young girl with a much-older boy, I didn't KNOW how to say no. I *think* I tried, but ...

But I *know* I didn't say YES.

Great, great post. I'm RTing ...

Willa said...

GREAT SLOGAN. Thank you so much for this post, it is such an important topic. I cried my way through Speak last night, it is such a beautiful story

Lisa Schroeder said...

Kirsten, I LOVE THIS!! Thank you for doing such an important post. Really and truly.

Micol Ostow said...

Great post, Kirsten. Thanks so much!

Claire Dawn said...

Great post, Kirsten. And very thoughtful additions from Angie. I am always glad for YA novels that deal with tought topics because no one needs it more.

Mindi Scott said...

This is so important. There is still so much room for discussion about this and education for guys and girls.

I got into a bad situation once and was barely conscious. I managed to say "Don't rape me" to a guy who I realized was about a half a second away from doing exactly that. Hearing the word "rape" seemed to snap him back to reality. I think he liked to think of himself as a "nice guy" and "rapist" just didn't fit in with his idea of who he was. He got off me and left immediately. It could easily have gone a different way, though.

Like you said, saying "no" isn't only difficult at times, it is impossible at others. The default answer to sex absolutely isn't "yes," and it would be so awesome if everyone could learn that and behave accordingly.

Melissa Walker said...

Fantastic post, Kirsten. AND great discussion, guys!

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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