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In the year 1992, Antioch College released a policy describing the ways in which sexual conduct was allowed to proceed on campus, with the basic, and obvious, goal that all sex in the Antioch community should be consensual.

This is not much of a story, and yet it became one: at the time, the sexual consent policy promulgated by Antioch became a top news story for commentators of various political persuasions, both as a serious topic and as a subject for satire. Why this was is somewhat unclear: it could be Antioch College's reputation as a somewhat unusual institution, or it could have been the overly legalistic tone of the policy. However, like most small things that are turned into large things, it was probably the context surrounding the matter that caused the tempest in the tea-pot.

The early 1990s saw the rise of so-called "political correctness" (a strawman term I won't bother dissecting here), the emergence of the Third Wave of Feminism, and a general rising of consciousness and diverse viewpoints amongst young Americans. And it was in this era of greater concern about conduct and speech that the policy was formulated. So, in most probability, the policy became so charged because it was the tip of the iceberg that was showing, the first part of a national anxiety about sexuality to surface out of a morass of denial. It was also, of course, directly after the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, when the issue of sexual harassment once again entered the national consciousness.

The problem with the policy also came from its legalistic tone. Which is where I am personally of two minds on the policy. On one hand, there can be a pervasive attitude amongst some college students that women (and, for the moment, I will make my examples as male aggressors and female victims) are acceptable targets for sexual behavior based on the way they dress, their "reputation", or "subtle cues". What the Antioch College policy did was make it clear that explicit consent was needed. But what probably caused the most problems is that the rules were different from how most people would normally let a sexual relationship develop. And this causes the problem, prevalent in many societies that repress sexuality, that there would be one set of rules that is publicly endorsed and another that people actually follow. Most couples do not get verbal permission before they first kiss. Most couples who are engaging in heavy kissing (or, "making out" in the vernacular) do not stop and ask verbal permission before "petting". And so on: the policy was basically at odds with the general mores and practices of the culture.

So while the policy probably was a good and honest attempt to address a student culture that could be permissive towards sexual abuse, it caused problems, and further confusion, in creating a hypocritical morality where people's claimed standards and their actual standards were clashing. And it is probably this last problem that caused the most derision of the policy, and which underlined the confusion in the culture's attitude towards sexuality, a confusion that still continues twenty years later.

And as a final note, as with many other things that have stirred up problems, the original text of the policy is hard to find:
appears to be the policy, but it is from the year 1998, which is possibly a revision on the 1992 policy.
This article quotes what seems to be parts of an earlier policy, but does not source it directly.

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