Exclusive: Project Consent's Sara Li Talks #TimesUp and What We Need to Do to Make Real Change

With campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp breaking the internet, it feels like we’re finally breaking the silence around sexual assault. But as our society tries to come to terms with our rape culture, it is more important than ever that we all agree exactly what it means to be sexually assaulted.

That’s where Project Consent comes in. The non-profit started back in 2014 as an Instagram page by Sara Li but it soon became much, much more. The organization has gone global and helps educate folks everywhere on what it means to consent to sex. Their most famous campaign “Consent is Simple” includes a series of videos which illustrates in basic terms what it means to consent, and more importantly, what it means not to consent.

I recently caught up with Project Consent Founder and Executive Director Sara Li and Social Media Director Kelsey Barnes to talk about everything from #TimesUp to Aziz Ansari.

In today’s political climate, we need Project Consent more than ever. Why do you think “consent” is such a difficult concept for many people to comprehend?

Sara Li: See, here’s the weird thing: consent, by nature, is a not a hard concept. It just means you having agency to your body. The difficult part, I think, is respecting other people’s agency and their ability to consent. And the reason why it’s hard to talk about, or even acknowledge, is because we didn’t start that conversation young enough. That’s why Project Consent works so hard to introduce consent on such a basic, elementary level: respect other people’s boundaries! That’s all it is.

I love that Project Consent is getting more involved in sex positivity, especially with your new collab with Unbound Babes. Can you tell me how that partnership came about?

Kelsey Barnes: As an organization, Project Consent is pro-sex when it’s consensual, so when Unbound—a brand dedicated to self-love and exploring one’s body—reached out to work with us, we were ecstatic. For survivors of sexual assault, exploring their body can help them learn the type of pleasure they like and help them feel safe in their own skin again. Sex and masturbation can be a bit of a taboo topic; people can feel uncomfortable or ashamed when talking about it, but having those conversations, both with yourself and with your partner, about what you like and don’t like when it comes to sexual pleasure is important!

One of your popular campaigns was your video series “Consent is Simple.” But with stories like Aziz Ansari, do you think there are more gray areas that we need to talk about?

Sara: Oh, absolutely. People always kind of cringe when I say that we need to talk about sex more, but we do. We need to talk about sex so that when it comes down to these situations, we can vocalize what we’re feeling and what we want from our partners. I think the Aziz situation shed a lot of light on the gray areas of hooking up and sex and consent and whatnot that we haven’t been addressing before.

A lot of women have trouble saying “no” because there’s a serious power dynamic present. What can women do to protect themselves in those situations?

Sara: Protect each other. As a woman in a largely male-dominated industry, I always look out for women who may just be entering the scene. Know that there are good people out there vouching for you and fighting for you so if someone is abusing their power, find them and stand together.

There was a lot of controversy over the actresses wearing black to the Globes and whether the action was enough. What’s your take on this?

Sara: No one action is ever going to be ‘enough.’ Change is going to take time. It was a great way to raise awareness and hopefully start a conversation about abuse in Hollywood and I applaud everyone involved for that.

Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have gotten the conversation started but what do we need to do in terms of next steps to really make long-lasting societal changes?

Sara: Start small. Call your school districts and ask how sexual education can be reformed to include consent in the conversation. Talk to your kids or friends or whoever about respecting other people’s boundaries. Stand up against known abusers, regardless of their status or influence. Support survivors of sexual assault. It doesn’t have to be big for it to matter.


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Photo by Elyssa Fahndrich 

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.