Our survey of 2,000 people for Sexual Health Week 2018 (PDF) revealed that 38% of people learnt about consent from TV and film.
Yet so often, what’s presented as romantic and desirable behaviour in a Hollywood sex scene, is anything but.
So we’ve created a (non-exhaustive!) list of checkpoints to see whether your favourite films demonstrate positive examples of consent.
The FPA Consent Test
A film passes the FPA Consent Test if:
- Consent has been verbally given, or asked for.
- There is no coercion involved: violence, threat, pressure, asking multiple times until they say yes (persistence).
- None of the characters involved are intoxicated.
- None of the characters are underage.
- Each of the characters involved are giving verbal and non-verbal cues that they want to have sex.
Bonus points if condoms are involved!
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Does your favourite film pass the test?
To get you thinking, we've put together some positive and negative examples of consent in some of our favourite (and not-so-favourite) films.
Good examples of negotiating consent
It’s never too early to learn about consent, and an excellent example of consent for younger viewers is the kiss scene in Frozen between Anna and Kristoff.
After embracing Anna with a hug, Kristoff exclaims “I could kiss you!” before backtracking “I mean I’d like to. May I, may we?” This is a great, if bashful, example of asking for consent beforehand and waiting for an answer. Anna plants a kiss on his cheek and verbally confirms “we may” before they kiss.
This is a vast improvement on previous Disney love interests, for example in Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who apparently thought it was acceptable to kiss unconscious women.
10 Things I Hate About You
Throwing it back to 1999’s favourite rom-com with Julia Stiles’ angsty teen feminist Kat Stratford and Heath Ledger’s dreamy Patrick Verona, a core element of this movie revolves around attitudes towards sex and dating. When Kat gets too drunk at a party and Patrick drives her home, she leans in for a kiss at the end of the night. He rebuffs her, knowing it wouldn’t be right to take advantage of this moment because she’s too intoxicated to freely give her consent.
Later, Kat explains to younger sister Bianca that the reason she doesn’t like the boy Bianca is dating is that Kat had previously had sex with him, after giving in to peer pressure, and he’d treated her badly when she regretted it.
Nearly 20 years on it’s still a fun, coming-of-age movie, with some great messages hidden in there.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
A great example of respecting someone’s right to change their mind about consent is a scene in Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Scott Pilgrim and his girlfriend Ramona are kissing in bed and appear to be leading up to sex. Halfway through, Ramona stops and says “I changed my mind… I don’t want to have sex with you, not right now”. She’s clear that she reserves the right to change her mind about it and have sex at another time. He responds “OK, well this is nice. Just this” and immediately accepts how she feels without pressuring or questioning her, or making her feel guilty. This is a perfectly kind and sweet way to respond when someone withdraws consent.
Less than stellar examples of consent
Goldfinger (James Bond)
In 1964’s Goldfinger, there’s a very uncomfortable scene that sees James Bond corner Pussy Galore in a barn. He prevents her from leaving, throwing her to the floor and wrestling to pin her down. Pussy tells him she’s not interested, physically fights him off, and does her best to avoid his kiss before relenting.
As if this wasn’t a clear enough example, in the book Pussy shows “no interest in Bond until he forces himself on her.” This is clearly the language of assault – most definitely not a consensual moment.
As much as this might surprise people, as in so many ways it’s considered the ultimate love story, Noah is not the perfect gentleman throughout.
In trying to convince Ally to go on a date with him, Noah uses coercive tactics. He is persistent and pressuring when he climbs a ferris wheel at the fairground and threatens to let go if she doesn’t go on a date with him, despite her previous disinterest. This dramatic gesture and inability to take “no” as an answer – minus Ryan Gosling as distraction – is actually harassment and coercion.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Early in the film when there’s turbulence in the spaceship which causes Princess Leia to fall into Han Solo’s lap, she has to ask three times for him to let her go, after which he sarcastically chides her “sorry sweetheart, I don’t have time for anything else.”
Later in the film, he forces a kiss upon her. Han approaches Leia from behind while she’s working and puts his arms around her, to which she physically shoves him backwards away from her. He begins rubbing her hands when she asks him not to, and backs her into a corner with nowhere to escape. He even notices that she’s trembling, but continues and kisses her in the middle of her sentence. Leia sneaks away as soon as the kiss is interrupted.
There’s no evidence here that Leia wants or invites any of Han’s advances, but he ignores her verbal and non-verbal cues and continues anyway.
Always get an enthusiastic yes!
We think it's more romantic and sexy to see two people who are really excited and enthusiastic about being together.
So, we want to see better representations of what safe, healthy, consensual sex looks like on the big screen.
In the meantime, remember that what might appear sexy on screen might not work for the person you’re with.
Always check for consent, respect the first answer you get, and only act after you've given and received an enthusiastic yes!