Kissing Workshops For Students

Kiss Fail

Kissing? You’re doing it wrong

Just when you think the infantilisation of students and policing of normal human behaviour could not possibly get any more ridiculous, it does.

This time, the University of Southern California takes the spotlight for organising a “Consent Carnival” to dispense the usual patronising lessons to the already-converted.

But part of this particular carnival was a “kissing booth” – not the fun kind, but an authoritarian re-education booth which drilled the following checklist into the minds of all those who enter:

Affirmative: We’re really excited to share this kiss with you and we’re letting you know!

Coherent: We’re present and able to recognize exactly what’s happening when we give this kiss to you.

Willing: We made the decision to give you this kiss ourselves, without pressure or manipulation from you or anybody else.

Ongoing: Should you come back for another kiss, check in to see if we’d still like to give you one.

Mutual: Sure, we offered you a kiss, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Coming over to our table doesn’t forfeit your right to say no.

Note the particular absurdity of step four, “ongoing”. What, precisely, is the statute of limitations on an initial act of consent? If two kisses are one second apart, does the second kiss require a new act of consent? How about five seconds? Thirty seconds? One minute? Five minutes? Thirty minutes?

(Apparently the correct answer is ten minutes).

And for this ludicrous act of infantilising nonsense to mean anything, evidence of consent-checking needs to be written down or recorded in some way, should it become necessary to prove consent in the event of future dispute. So freshmen should probably all be given checklists to carry around with them in the event that they hook up with someone while at university.

Signatures should be mandatory – preferably witnessed and countersigned by a trusted third party. Sure, turning natural, healthy human relationships into risk-minimising contractual agreements may strip away any intimacy or spontaneity from our lives, but that’s the price we have to pay. To cleanse ourselves of our “rape culture”.

Better yet, since police forces across America are already considering equipping even more of their officers with body cameras, perhaps the US government should just order one for every citizen and make it a criminal offence to not wear it at all times. I’m sure they would get a great discount for ordering in bulk.

Surely that is the best way to deal with the endemic “rape culture” in our society and university campuses. After all, if we all receive mandatory training in how to deal with every possible scenario which may emerge in the course human relationships and surrender our privacy to constant on-body video surveillance (since good people have nothing to hide), then all of our problems will be solved.

Because without the consent classes and the checklists and the body cameras and the safe spaces, we will all revert to our primal, animalistic roots, and be a constant danger to anybody who strays too close to us.

Thank the Lord for the University of Southern California and their kissing booth, saving humanity one sanctimonious lecture at a time.


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6 thoughts on “Kissing Workshops For Students

  1. Arthur Taylor January 31, 2016 / 9:47 AM

    Hi Sam,

    Reading the article you linked in this post about Ms. Zaloom’s consent education class, it seems that the writer was determined to misinterpret what was going on there. Here is a quote from her:

    “It’s not a timing thing, but whoever initiates things to another level has to ask”.

    to which the article writer responds “Well, of course it’s going to turn into a ‘timing thing'”, and goes on to make jokes about stopwatches. Similarly, the writer says “That confusion is evident in Zaloom’s class” of an interaction that is described as ending with “nearly unanimous nods of approval”. I would have thought that it was the very definition of good education to present confusing ideas to children and end up with unanimous understanding. And yet this is written up as a negative or farcical experience.

    You yourself describe consent education as infantilising – even consent education given to people who are literally juveniles, as in the article you linked. You’ve said in previous articles that the appropriate place to learn about consent is in the home, as though it’s not complete fanstasy to imagine that most parents have nuanced conversations about consent with their children. I don’t know about you, but my parents never explained to me acceptable behaviour when hooking up with strangers while tipsy at parties.

    You polarise the world into people with “common sense”, and rapists, when the reality is considerably more complicated. I went to an event this week, and as I was talking to the woman sitting next to me, the stranger the other side of her, completely without solicitation, unhooked her bra. She was surprised, confused, and affronted (as you might expect). Was that man a rapist? Probably not. Was his behaviour appropriate? Certainly not. Did he violate that woman’s personal space and right to freedom from interference? Emphatically yes. Everybody in the room was an adult, probably over thirty. Most were reasonable, cosmopolitan, educated people.

    On a regular basis, I witness women having to avoid or remonstrate pushy or over-familiar men, and I’m not hanging out at college bars or frat parties – this is in public bars and clubs, or in private house parties, around (by your definition) mature adults. And I happen to live in a part of the world where people have relatively enlightened and nuanced views of sex, sexuality, gender roles and individual rights. If you really believe that there isn’t a problem in society at large, you haven’t looked at society recently.

    As you probably know, I read pretty much every article you write here, and when you write about most topics, I find it valuable to be exposed to an alternative point of view even if it’s one I disagree with. I don’t particularly enjoy it when you hold up obviously exceptional and mentally unstable people as harbingers of the coming terrors of identity politics. It’s hard to agree with you when you complain that students who object to statues of white supremacists on their campus are (without irony) “whitewashing history”. I don’t understand why you insist on confusing content labelling with content censorship, or education with authoritarian policing. I disagree with your characterisation of people who are sensitive to their own feelings and the feelings of others as somehow fragile and unable to deal with reality. I’m sure you’re not trying to argue that the civil and human rights activists of the last hundred years should just have “sucked it up” and learned to live in “the real world”. But I understand that you’re probably trying to be polemic, and that the internet is the natural predator of nuance.

    On the topic of consent, however, it’s really hard for me to sit by and let things pass without comment. As objective and rational as I try to be, the way you write about this topic really pushes my
    buttons. There is more to this topic than you are presenting as you write about it. I really would encourage you to take a deeper look, to try and understand where people on the other side of this debate are coming from, and to open your mind to the possibility that we should expect better of ourselves and others – there really is something for us all to educate ourselves about here.

    I am by no means an activist on this topic, and I may not even be an effective advocate or ally, but if you ever want to have a reasoned an in-depth discussion of consent with someone fairly reasonable but obviously on the other side of the fence, please consider me at your disposal 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samuel Hooper January 31, 2016 / 5:27 PM

      Hi Arthur,

      I really appreciate you reading, and taking the time to comment, particularly when you happen to dissent.

      You’re right that the internet is often the enemy of nuance, and as a blogger I don’t have the luxury of using a medium where I can set out my case in full in each post. Was this post something of a polemic? Yes, for sure. Many of my readers share my viewpoint on this topic, so every now and then I’ll throw in a new contemporary example that I believe highlights a trend that I have been writing about. I can’t restate my whole case each time, and this particular post certainly didn’t do that – so read in isolation, I think some of your criticism is valid.

      (On a side note, there are two topics in particular – this one, and the NHS – where readers have said that while they agree with me, I have not done anything to take the argument forward. This is fair feedback, and I’m currently reading more into each topic – I have a stack of PDF academic papers and articles, even books to read on each, so bear with me because it will take awhile, what with the day job – so that future posts contain some proposed solution or different courses of action, rather than being mere polemics, useful and important though I believe those to be).

      That being said…

      The suggestion which elicited near-unanimous nods of approval is actually an example of post hoc consent. The person has no way of knowing whether they are “good” until the act has taken place at least once, and even a well-meaning person using this approach could still find themselves accused of sexual assault for having attempted to do something even while they were demonstrating it to ask for consent. To me, it seems that there was only ever unanimity among the teenagers when the idea of pre-act consent was rolled back to a more fluid situation. But that’s not what consent classes teach. They specifically state that “yes means yes”, and that any act committed prior to that affirmative consent is assumptive and wrong.

      I’m shocked and amazed by the example that you mention of a man unhooking the bra strap of the woman sitting next to you at an event. Can you tell me what followed – who (if anybody) remonstrated with the man, and what happened to him? Because to my mind, that’s a clear case of non-penatrative sexual assault. I like to think that in that scenario I would attempt to perform a citizens arrest on them (probably enlisting the help of some other people if he was a big guy!) and forcibly restraining him until the police arrived. Unhooking the underwear of a stranger sitting next to you is clearly a criminal act, not a social faux-pas, and anybody who does it should (in my view) spend some time in custody for having committed a physical sexual assault. (But I’m not sure what country you were in when this took place, or what the local laws are).

      And this, I suppose, is where we fail to have a meeting of minds at present. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what kind of lesson, powerpoint presentation or interactive role-playing exercise would stop someone who goes around unhooking womens’ bra straps in public meetings from behaving the way that they do. Even if you get them when they are sixteen and sit them in several hours’ worth of consent workshops, I think you would be too late. That person clearly felt entitled, and was not about to let better judgement or concern over creating an awkward situation stop them from doing what they wanted to do.

      (That said, I would be very interested to see any studies which attempt to measure the success of these workshops. I have looked and found none, and imagine that they would be almost impossible to conduct in a controlled and comparable way).

      By contrast, if we actually enforced the law – if people who behaved in this way were wrestled to the ground by nearby gentlemen and physically sat on until the police turned up to cart them off to court, where they could then expect to spend half a year on the wrong side of a prison cell door, then you might see a change in behaviour. You still won’t have fixed the problem – grown people will still have the urge to commit assault, because they were not raised by their families to understand that it is wrong – but rather than fearing social awkwardness, the perpetrator will fear the criminal justice system instead.

      On your point about whether I think civil rights protesters from the past should have “sucked it up” – you’re right, of course that is not my view. But it is interesting how the civil rights and liberation movements from previous decades, even centuries, relied on free speech, rather than trying to suppress it. From the suffragette movement to the civil rights movement in America, the cause of freedom was not painstakingly pushed forward through speech codes and safe spaces. These victories were won almost always through more speech and giving of offence, not less. In fact, brave pioneers such as the first black students to attend desegregated universities in the American south would – I imagine – be horrified by the current successor to their brave activism, who seek to huddle together to “validate their shared experiences” as a minority rather than finishing the work of integration (see

      And all of this at a time when we have come so far in terms of race relations, and have the relative luxury of getting upset about “microaggressions” rather than very real, physical aggressions. If anybody needed the Safe Spaces, it was the pioneers from the 1950s and 60s, not the relatively coddled and privileged college youngsters who stand on the shoulders of those giants.

      I say all of this as someone who is mixed race myself, but feel utterly repulsed by the efforts at re-segregation and emphasising of difference rather than similarity that I see going on around me. To me, it simply doesn’t compute – maybe my brain is not wired to understand, because all I want to do when I see these activists is stand up and shout “not in my name!”.

      Now, all of THAT being said, I respect you enormously, and genuinely want to learn more. It sounds as though you have had a lot of relevant experiences in this area that I have not, and so I would welcome any pointers you can give me in terms of readings, counterarguments or more.

      Thanks again Arthur for your comment. You push me to think about things a little more deeply and defend things that sometimes I probably say too glibly. I’ll be grateful for any pointers you can give, though I suspect there is something so fundamentally different in the way we each see the world on this particular topic that we may never reach consensus.

      Cheers – Sam.


      • Arthur Taylor February 1, 2016 / 2:33 PM

        I appreciate your taking some time to read into these topics. For what it’s worth, I’m also trying to understand the counterpoint to my views – I have the ‘Fools, Frauds and Firebrands’ paperback on pre-order 🙂

        You say that consent classes don’t teach post-hoc consent, again in contradiction of the snippets of discussion from a consent class. I have never attended a consent education class, but based only on the evidence in the article you linked, it does seem that at least one person is teaching something like that – I don’t have transcripts of other classes. Now, of course, there’s some subtlety to “initiates things to another level”, and that’s where most of the discussion arises.

        Some people really do get verbal confirmation of everything before it happens (which I’ve heard described as pretty annoying) and some people grant their partners some latitude to assume things are okay unless told otherwise. Some people assume (correctly or otherwise) that they can “read the signals”, and this is often when things go wrong. But the important thing is to start a dialog around consent that frames the interaction as cooperative and mutual.

        Now in the case I described, the woman confronted the man and told him to back off, which he did. And as egregious as his action was, that was where it was left because she decided not to make any more of it. I’m afraid if you tried to arrest every guy who groped someone in a club you would have even busier gaols and refreshingly empty social venues. That is why having this conversation – around consent, sex, gender roles and “toxic masculinity” – is important. Because women who accuse men who pat them on the ass in a club of sexual assault don’t get taken all that seriously, and at the same time establishing intimacy often does involve a series of (hopefully consensual) boundary “transgressions” or crossings.

        I understand your point that these classes often preach to the converted, and have little hope of dissuading those who feel entitled in that way. But as you said, society basically fails to set expectations here. Yes, many of us were lucky enough to be brought up in polite and respectful homes. And yet nobody is being taught the polite and respectful moment to bring your genitals into contact with another person’s, and you can’t necessarily infer that from reading Debrett’s.

        The man in the situation I described assumed either that his advances were welcome, or that the expectation of those around him was that this was allowed behaviour of a man towards a woman. Even if consent classes wouldn’t persuade him to act in a different way, if he understands that women he approaches and society at large have such expectations, he might come to understand that his behaviour is not acceptable. In fact, I would have thought it was the duty of our education system to instruct people on exactly the sorts of things they should be avoiding doing to stay out of prison – they obviously failed him here. It’s much more expensive to educate people your way. This man’s act was not a covert one. It wasn’t something he thought nobody would notice. The point was to be noticed – this was behaviour he believed would be rewarded.

        I actually don’t think our views are irreconcilably different. We have essentially the same views about being respectful to others. You are a strong believer in the value of culture and collective identity, and all I’m saying is that our culture and identity around sex is messed up and needs fixing. I’m not a strong defender of consent classes so much as I am a vocal advocate for fixing our consent culture. I think part of that fix is institutional, and I know that changing a culture takes time, but I’m open to suggestions that aren’t simply “boys will be boys” or “I can’t see there’s anything wrong here”.

        And that’s really my view of the whole identity politics thing. I’m not especially invested in trigger warnings, waving vs. clapping, or any of what you deride as cheap virtue signalling. I am a strong believer in improving our society for those who are still victims of discrimination, prejudice and structural oppression. We both prefer integration to isolation. I just don’t agree with you that the culture we share and have grown up with is a healthy destination – I don’t want us to integrate there. I want us to integrate somewhere better. And the only way to bring everyone to that table is to be sensitive to their experience of the world and break down the barriers that discourage them from participating today.

        We have come an amazing distance in the last 100 years as a society – maybe this really is the best time in history to be alive – but we’ve still a long way to go.


    • Samuel Hooper January 31, 2016 / 5:54 PM

      Just one more point, while I’m thinking about it, and before I ride to battle against something else in my next blog post… 😉

      You say ” I don’t know about you, but my parents never explained to me acceptable behaviour when hooking up with strangers while tipsy at parties”, and of course I am the same. Neither my mother, nor anybody else, ever sat me down and specifically told me that groping, harassing or undressing people without their consent at parties or social events is wrong.

      But they didn’t have to. The overall context of my upbringing was such that I managed to figure that out all on my own, without the specific scenario (or really any other awkward topic) having to be presented to me. I was raised to be polite and considerate and (I hope) to treat strangers and colleagues with respect. And so it is for millions of other people – the good values which they are taught at home simply transfer across to the sexual realm, without needing to be explicitly stated.

      Now, if we want to talk about the troubled and dysfunctional families turning out half-baked kids with no such sense of respect, then I absolutely agree that there is a massive problem to be faced in our society, but one which (even if they worked) sexual consent classes would barely begin to scratch the surface…


  2. thelyniezian January 30, 2016 / 5:24 PM

    These consent workshops, if they are not mandatory, will probably only attract the people who really don’t need them as they know better anyway, not those for whom this is not the case (and I am pretty sure there *are* some who could benefit from them). If they are mandatory, those who could benefit from them will probably learn nothing from them as they will indeed find them sanctimonious and prescriptive.


    • Samuel Hooper January 31, 2016 / 5:40 PM

      That’s my gut feeling too – people who are conscientious enough to attend such workshops are probably only reinforcing beliefs and behaviour which they already possess and exhibit. The people most in need of attending (and I agree, there are a number of creepy, unreconstructed sexual aggressors out there) will either not attend, or fail to be convinced.

      I would be genuinely interested to see if there is any efficacy study of these workshops – measuring incidences of sexual assault in school districts / campuses where mandatory consent training is taught vs where it is not, controlling for all other factors. But any resulting data would likely be very tenuous and wide open to challenge.


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