By Gina Lepore, MEd | November 16, 2017
Research Associate, ETR
Here’s an engaging and powerful activity that’s a great way to introduce a learning process related to consent in sexual or romantic relationships. It’s ideal for a Training of Educators or Training of Trainers. With adaptation, it can also be used as a classroom activity with teens or young adults.
Title: I Usually Say Yes to This
Setting: In-person training event
Time: 15-20 minutes
- To experience and examine some of the dynamics that can make setting clear boundaries a challenge.
- To explore the relationship between consent and group norms.
- To begin to draw inferences about real-life situations where young people might feel pressures or experience confusion about expressing consent and setting personal boundaries.
Best Used: As a priming activity for a session addressing issues related to consent. The activity works best in a group that has already established familiarity and trust.
- Lightweight ball for tossing around the room between participants.
- (Optional) Chime or bell to call attention if necessary.
Describe and Demonstrate the Game
- Introduce the activity. Say: “Before we begin the next activity, let’s play a game. The game is called I Usually Say Yes to This."
- Invite participants to reflect. Ask participants to take a moment to think of some activity or food they really love and pretty much always say yes to. This might be a hike, watching a movie, chocolate, pizza, or anything else they really enjoy.
Offer an example of something that you usually say yes to (e.g., “For instance, I love dark chocolate and I will always say yes if someone offers me some good dark chocolate.”) Give everyone a moment to think of something they enjoy.
- Ask participants to stand. If space allows, ask participants to stand and form a circle. Otherwise, participants may remain at tables or desks as long as they are close enough to toss ball to one another.
Note: Remember to make appropriate accommodations if you have participants who are not able to stand, or cannot do so easily.
- Demonstrate the game. Hold the ball in your hands. Say: “Here’s how the game will work. I’ll start by saying my name and the thing I love. Then I’ll toss the ball to someone else. That person will say their name and the thing they enjoy, then toss the ball to someone else.”
Answer any questions.
- Optional: If you have a large group and it will be confusing for participants to remember who has already had a turn, ask participants to (1) share in order clockwise around the circle, or (2) share in order in a linear fashion, or (3) sit once they have shared.
Play the Game
- Play the game. Say: “Ready?” When participants agree, say, “Ok, my name is ______________ and I usually say yes to _________________.” Then toss ball.
- Have participants partner up. When all participants have had a turn, ask them to partner up with someone close by.
- Explore No’s. Say: “Introduce yourself to your partner if you don’t already know each other. Then take just a moment to share one thing you usually say no to. For example, I’ve never liked __________________. So that’s something I will always say no to.
“When both of you have shared a no, give each other a high five or a fist bump, then end your conversation so I know that you’ve finished. Stand quietly with your partner and wait for the next instruction.”
Wait for all participants to finish (or, if they continue talking, use a chime to gather attention).
Facilitator Note: This next step, Step 9, requires you to pay close attention to participants’ reactions. Time your instructions so you can stop participants before they complete the “exchange shoes” action. Keep your tone at the “STOP” segment light and humorous, rather than authoritarian. If two people actually put each others’ shoes on before you stop the group, that’s okay. You can use it in the debrief.
- Give a surprise instruction: Say: “Okay, here’s the last part of our game. Everyone please remove your right shoe (pause). Exchange your shoe with your partner (pause). Put your partner’s shoe on (brief pause). Okay, STOP! Never mind. You do not actually have to put on your partner’s shoe!”
Notice participants’ reactions and use them to transition to debrief.
- Talk about the things you noticed as facilitator. Here are some ideas:
- I noticed that (names of two participants) went ahead and put on each other’s shoes before I could stop them! (Address the pair by name) Did you feel comfortable enough with each other to exchange shoes? Why was that the case?
- I noticed that (insert participant name) stopped and hesitated and looked at me with surprise. Can you tell us what you were thinking in that moment?
- I saw that most of you were very comfortable with the first two parts of the game, but I could see a shift in your body language when I asked you to exchange shoes. Who was uncomfortable? Who was uncomfortable but willing to go along with the game, anyway? Why was that the case?
Look for responses such as, “I trusted you;” “I figured you had a reason for asking, so I was willing to go along;” “You’re the facilitator and we’re expected to do what you say.”
- Ask participants about their reactions. Here are some ideas:
- Would you have felt differently if we had done this at the very beginning of the training, when we first met?
- If I had not stopped the activity, what would you have done?
- How do you think this game would have gone differently if I’d said before we started, “You can stop at any time if you are uncomfortable”?
- Affirm lessons learned. Your goal is to help participants recognize that dynamics such as trust and power create secondary pressure to participate, even when someone is uncomfortable or unclear. Possible discussion points:
- Everyone has different comfort levels with different activities. Everyone has different limits, and we need to help young people learn to check for and respect their own and one another’s limits.
- Sometimes we do things we’re not comfortable with, especially if others around us seem to be comfortable. We don’t speak up for a variety of reasons. These include social pressure, relationship dynamics, a sense of trust, a desire to participate and be agreeable. We can think of this as primary, or direct, pressure.
- For instance, you may trust me as your facilitator because we have been working together already, or we’ve done other activities together and you felt comfortable with me.
- You may also have felt that you should go along with the instructions because the person next to you was willing to do so, or because another pair in the room was comfortable. This is especially likely if those other people are your friends or people you look up to.
- Sometimes pre-established norms or relationships add pressure to do things even if pressure is not explicit in the moment. We can think of this as secondary, or indirect, pressure.
- For instance, it is a norm in our society that a teacher or facilitator has some amount of power over us. We are expected to go along with the instructions given by that person. Refusing to participate, or even requesting not to participate, might be seen as rebelliousness or disrespect.
That kind of pressure is secondary pressure. It may not be coming directly from the present situation, but rather from our preconceived expectations of one another, or our norms.
- Invite participant reflection. Ask: “What does this activity remind you of? What are some other situations where people might agree to go along with something even if they’re uncomfortable, or where they may not speak up about their limits?”
Look for responses that mention sexual situations and consent.
- Affirm lessons learned. Affirm that in sexual situations, people may have different levels of comfort, different limits, a sense of intimacy and trust, a desire to please, or a sense of obligation to participate (due to either primary or secondary pressure). Communicating about boundaries can be difficult in these instances.
This is why it is important that people check in frequently with partners, pay attention to their body language as well as their words, and be prepared to stop if unsure about proceeding for any reason, whether the other person actually says no or not.
- Discuss relevance for youth. Ask participants if the things they have learned in this activity would be useful for the youth they work with. How would they adapt this kind of activity for a youth workshop or classroom?
- Conclude the activity. Say, “Ideally, people will always feel free to enjoy what is happening and also to stop anytime that feeling changes. Good communication in relationships includes being able to say both yes and no authentically, according to each person’s own desires and limits. We want young people to understand how important it is to check in with partners to see if they’re both on board for the same things, especially in romantic and sexual situations.”
You can add the following as a transition to additional learning activities related to consent. “As we move through our activities today, stay open to feelings of slight discomfort—these can be a sign of learning. Please also feel empowered to speak up if you’re uncertain about a topic or activity. That gives us all an opportunity to check in with ourselves.”
Thank participants for their participation and engagement.
Adapting for Classroom Work
- Use with classrooms that have already met for some period of time and have established trust with each other and the instructor.
- Make sure Group Agreements or Groundrules are an established part of the class before embarking on this activity. Refer back to these agreements if needed during the activity.
- Change language as appropriate (e.g., “classroom” instead of “training,” “teacher” rather than “facilitator”), and shift the focus so you’re not talking about youth, but instead are talking with youth.
- In discussions, avoid asking youth to share personal stories involving sexual experiences. However, you might ask them to talk about movies or TV shows where these dynamics have occurred, or non-romantic instances with friends or partners (for example, choosing a movie or a place to eat, what to do on Friday night, what music to listen to).
Gina Lepore, MEd, is a human sexuality educator and a Research Associate at ETR. You can reach her at email@example.com or find her at LinkedIn.