Making consent fun

My taste in parties is pretty tame: some good live music with friends, a joint or two, tasty food and home to bed before midnight is a combination that makes me happy.

In other words, I am unlikely to find myself at the House of Yes in New York City, where the action doesn’t start much before 1 a.m.; a nightclub that has been described as “the wildest nightclub on the planet” and voted by Time Out as the second best thing to do in the world.

I recently discovered the House of Yes in an article in The New Yorker and, while it may not be my cup of tea for an evening’s entertainment, its commitment to ensuring the safety of its patrons while maintaining a spirit of fun and sexual adventure is exciting and impressive.

Launched just over a decade ago by two 20-year-old women, the House of Yes set out to reinvent nightlife to be “flamboyant and friendly, aggressively avant-garde and relentlessly sincere.” But, as word about the club spread, the women realized it had become a place where some guests were people “who are grabby and non-consenting.”

Hell, yes or hell, no

Now, anyone who comes to House of Yes is greeted at the door by a consenticorn; a trained dance-floor monitor, wearing an outrageous costume of their choosing (costumes are a big part of the fun here) and, most importantly, a light-up unicorn horn. The consenticorn provides condoms to those who want them and a short presentation about the rules: No photos or videos. Mandatory consent, even between people who know each other, have come to the club together and have a shared sexual history. People are reminded that anyone who is intoxicated cannot consent.

In the words of the hostess/consenticorn one evening:

“You are not going to touch anyone, in any way, without getting express, verbal consent. . . Anything that is not a ‘Yes’ or a ‘Hell, yes’ is a ‘Hell, no.’”

Other consenticorns –easily identifiable by their light-up horns — mingle with the crowd on the dance floor to keep an eye on what is happening and to be available if anyone feels unsafe and wants help. Eighty of them have been trained (there are 70 more on a waiting list) by a sexual-health educator, who suggested the model to the nightclub owners after being groped once too often when she came to the club.

While they are out on the dance floor, they watch for indications that someone might feel unsafe. The goal is to de-escalate and educate, not police. Often, eye contact is enough; sometimes a word or two needs to be said; in more extreme situations, the consenticorn may have to remind someone of the rules. Occasionally, people are told they have to leave.

Creepers not welcome

Word is spreading, and other nightclubs are following suit. One has this message painted on a wall:

“If you touch a woman against her will in this establishment, we will literally ruin your life.”

House of Yes offers tips and rules for those who come to its events as well as other club owners and events producers. Tips include:

  • For potential “creepers”: “Take a moment now to burn the following into your brain before things get swervy. Only enthusiastic, verbal Yes means Yes.”
  • For those who might get creeped: “Come up with exactly what you’re going to say when you feel uncomfortable BEFORE you go out.”
  • For club owners: “Train your staff to BELIEVE VICTIMS first.”

They freely share their poster and their official consent policy for others to use:

“Behave with beauty, connect with intention.

We are obsessed with Consent.

If someone is violating your boundaries or harassing you, please report them to a security guard or any staff member.

We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment.

If you feel something, say something, and we will help.”

I don’t see myself heading out to a club in fetish chic anytime soon, but I am happy that places like House of Yes exist. They show us that consent does not have to be a grim undertaking and that adults can engage in all manner of consensual activities with one another. As one of the owners said at her 32nd birthday party at the club:

“Imagine a world where sexuality is celebrated. Pretend that equality and inclusivity are mainstream. Envision a place where people dance together instead of ripping each other apart. Let’s celebrate the freedom that we still have and not take it for granted. Let us all lead by example.”

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