Rough Sex is on the Rise, but is Consent?

Rough sex is steadily rising among college-aged students, and Title IX professionals are faced with the evidence.

In a 2021 study of a large midwestern university, more than 80% of participants in romantic or sexual partnerships engaged in rough sex, and most of them reported enjoying it. 13% reported engaging in it “often,” and that rate was higher among bisexual and transgender individuals. 

Rough sex, which often includes behaviors like choking, slapping, scratching, biting, spanking, or other BDSM characteristics, creates even greater intricacies within Title IX and sexual violence cases. Consent, which is already multidimensional, can become increasingly complex to determine.

The Rise of Rough Sex

In a time where young people are having less sex than ever, the increase of rough sex is curious. 

Many researchers argue that the increased accessibility of pornography is a large factor: young people watch porn and reenact it in their sexual relationships without consent, especially if consent isn’t present in porn. 

Rough sex, particularly strangulation, is becoming a common element in sexual assault cases. Another  2021 survey reports that one in three undergraduate female respondents said they were choked the last time they had sex. 

While Gen Z is known for being especially sensitive with sex and obtaining consent, it seems choking isn’t included in that mindset.

This finding is especially concerning, as experts say that choking or “breath play” is never completely safe with or without consent and can easily end in death. 

The question then arises if it’s ever possible to truly consent to any type of violence.

Rough Sex and Consent in Title IX 

Rough sex, even when a part of a consensual relationship, can further complicate Title IX cases.

For example, a couple might discuss (and approve) behaviors like scratching or biting. A bite or scratch that draws blood might occur, however, and allegations like “I consented to biting but not to it drawing blood,” can prompt sexual assault and dating or domestic violence charges. 

For Title IX Coordinators, rough sex behaviors can create unclear definitions when it comes to consent and sexual violence, especially when determining responsibility in cases.

Implications for Title IX and Prevention Coordinators

As practices in rough sex continue to rise, colleges and universities must re-evaluate their policies and prevention programs. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that in order to teach students how to ask for consent to modern practices, they must reimagine their consent education and “get with the times” even if they don’t understand the nuances of rough sex.

In especially violent cases, Title IX professionals and decision makers must ask themselves where to draw the line in consenting to violence, especially when common choking can result in death. Policies should be updated to reflect these thoughts and continue to align with state and federal law.

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