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Consent is Sexy, Consent is Required: a #SVYALit guest post by THE DEVIL YOU KNOW author Trish Doller

thedevilyouknowWe spend a lot of time talking about sexual abuse and rape culture, and something that goes hand-in-hand with those issues is consent. What is consent? By the most basic definition it means everyone participating in a sexual activity has agreed to it, but here are a few guidelines from the Women’s Center at Northwestern University:


Communicating consent:
Consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways, but one should presume that consent has not been given in the absence of clear, positive agreement.
While verbal consent is not an absolute requirement for consensual sexual activity, verbal communication prior to engaging in sex helps to clarify consent. Communicating verbally before engaging in sexual activity is imperative. However potentially awkward it may seem, talking about your own and your partner’s sexual desires, needs, and limitations provide a basis for a positive experience.
Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of “no” should not be understood to mean there is consent.
A prior relationship does not indicate consent to future activity.
Alcohol and drugs:
A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
The use of alcohol or drugs may seriously interfere with the participants’ judgment about whether consent has been sought and given.

When I wrote The Devil You Know, I knew there was going to be a sex scene between Cadie and a boy she didn’t know very well. It was very clear to me that she was a girl who wasn’t hung up on the concept of virginity as something that defines a woman’s value. She was less concerned about what other people would think about her and more concerned about whether she would be okay with the decision to have sex with this boy. So when it came to the actual scene, I knew there would have to be a conversation about consent. 

I remember how overwhelming it can be you’re in the heat of the moment with a boy and you feel like you want something more, but you’re not sure and maybe a little scared). He is being very persuasive—not coercive, just doing something that feels really good—and you don’t know if you want to stop. Kind of like this:

“Look, anything I say at this point is going to sound like I’m trying to get in your pants,” he says. “Which I am, but not because you’re some campground conquest. I really like you, Cadie.” [His] lips find mine in the dark again. “But if it happens right here, right now, we’re the only ones who will know.” He must be aware of how persuasive his mouth—including the words coming out of it—can be, because the next time he kisses me, the tip of his tongue teasing against my upper lip, I feel boneless. Breathless. “It’s not going to change you into anyone other than who you want to be.”

So I knew it was important for this to be Cadie’s choice. I let her think about how she envisioned her first time—in her bedroom, with a boy she’d dated a long time—and then I let her admit to herself that she wanted this boy. They talk about protection:
“You, um—you have a condom, right?” I don’t know why I’m whispering, but saying the words out loud in a cemetery seems . . . indecent. As if being completely naked is somehow not.
His lips move on my neck, sending a little shower of sparks through me. “Uh-huh.”
“With you?”
[His] soft laughter vibrates against my skin. “In my jeans, under your butt.”

It’s not a long or graphic sex scene, but I give the characters a chance to press the pause button to give consent, talk about protection, and laugh a little. Which is—in my opinion—how a great sexual encounter should work. Despite Cadie’s initial bout of nerves, she enjoys herself and never feels as if her agency has been taken from her. And when it’s over, she realizes she is still the same girl she was before. In The Devil You Know, I opted to make consent sexy because the conversation doesn’t have to be a dry one, but it does have to happen.

Karen’s Thoughts:

A very early scene in The Devil You Know stood out to me while reading it: Cadie is about to have sex with a boy she just met, but then she stops herself – and him. It’s obvious that he is upset. The next day they talk about it and Cadie is apologizing, but – gasp – it is the boy who turns around and apologizes, affirming that of course she had the right to stop him and he would be a bad person if he didn’t listen or got angry about it. It was .  .  . refreshing. Though it’s not surprising, because Trish Doller has spent the last year and a half working with me, Christa Desir and Carrie Mesrobian to discuss issues of sexual violence and consent in young adult literature. It’s an issue I know Trish cares about so of course it is not only included in her work where it fits well in the story, but she does a really good job of presenting scenarios in which her teen characters can have conversations about sex. Because teens do, in fact, have conversations about sex.

There is another fascinating scene involving skinny dipping in a lake and the kidnapping of clothes that also intrigued me. It’s a common prank and I thought it prompted some interesting discussion.

The Devil You Know is a skillful, slow burn thriller. When Cadie and a friend take off with two boys they barely know on a road trip, soon their adventures turns out to be more dangerous than they thought. There are questions as to who these boys really are and what they are capable of doing. There is some real sit on the edge of your seat tension mixed in with the simmering attraction of basically strangers. As someone who likes thrillers, I thought this one really delivered. The School Library Journal review says it best: “The spark between Noah and Cadie is delicious, and the slow build of darkness throughout the story is the kind of terrifying that teens will enjoy.” (Source: SLJ April 21, 2015)

About The Devil You Know:

Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. (Publisher’s Book Description. Published June from Bloomsbury).

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