JST ASK: Creating a Culture of Consent

I didn’t intend to take on the daunting issue of rape culture; rather, personal experience brought the issue to me. I am a rising junior studying chemical engineering at Stanford University, and my primary academic goal is to become a driving force in renewable energy.

I’m still committed to that dream, but I added a new passion to my “portfolio” when my older sister, Sydney, was sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college. Like so many survivors, she chose not to report for fear of being blamed, not being believed, and giving so much of herself to a process that so rarely ends with justice. If you had told me two years ago that I’d be the CEO of a company whose primary product is underwear, I would’ve laughed. But I became helpless in an entirely new way when Sydney was struggling.

My family celebrating my acceptance into Stanford

You see, my older sister has always protected me; she walked me to class every day of our shared elementary school years and sat with me in the front of the bus instead of joining her friends in the back. She is protective, selfless, caring. And I knew it was my turn to protect her.

At the time, I was a freshman, and had the opportunity to enroll in a three-week intensive course entitled “One in Five.” Professor Michele Dauber, a pioneer in the field of campus sexual assault and the leader of the Recall Aaron Persky campaign, had designed the course, and she would ultimately help me define my path.

During the course’s week-long trip to Washington DC, I had the opportunity to meet feminist scholars like Catharine MacKinnon, Laura Dunn of SurvJustice, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark of End Rape on Campus, and many others. Among countless other things, these women taught me that problematic sexual practices can contribute directly to rape culture. This idea led to the birth of JST ASK, which I presented to Professor Dauber as my final project for her class.

One in Five at the Capitol!

JST ASK is a company with a mission of combating rape culture through clear and authentic communication of consent. Our main product is an underwear line featuring phrases intended to help wearers begin the consent conversation, including “let’s talk” and “ask me what I like”.

In our user research, we found a few interesting things (that we’ll delve into in another blog post), but most surprising was the, well, waffling around asking a partner for explicit consent:

  • “I feel like a guy is always ready to go, so it’s his job to bring up consent.”
  • “I don’t want to ruin ‘the mood’ by asking for consent.”
  • “I don’t want to freak the other person out by speaking up and asking.”

Hearing these candid sentiments helped us design our first pairs of underwear, helping the wearer “Just ASK,” with something close to the skin as a reminder. While we don’t expect our consumers to always be wearing their JST ASK pair when hooking up, we do know that purchasing the underwear (combined with the educational materials that we’re currently working on**), will help wearers overcome this barrier.

Because, frankly, clear and honest consent leads to better sex. Unambiguous communication about sex, without shame, battles rape culture.

The conversations surrounding JST ASK can happen in a multitude of settings, including in the moment of a sexual encounter, in casual conversation between friends, in a teaching moment between a parent and child, and between partners outside of the bedroom.

I am on a mission to change the culture we live in, and I truly believe this product will play a part in doing that. Let’s challenge the notion that one should advance sexually until stopped, and let’s start having open and honest conversations about boundaries within the bedroom. Not sure how to do that? JST ASK!

**To assist these conversations, JST ASK will also provide a downloadable PDF that discusses different scenarios and ways to ask for consent, and we will eventually launch an online “consent community”.

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