Why Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You" Is Basically The Perfect Guide To Sexual Consent
You can thank us in advance for this one.
When it comes to setting the mood, Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You,” is a timeless classic. For more than two decades, this sultry jam has reigned as the supreme guide to enthusiastic and continual sexual consent.
For many of us ‘90s kids, the song brings on memories of awkward middle school dances with parent-teacher chaperones, trying to ignore the prepubescent grinding going down. But if you look back now, the lyrics are a lot deeper than just getting your freak on. It’s about listening to your partner and respecting his or her needs.
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When Shawn Stockman croons, “Girl your wish is my command. I submit to your demands,” it’s clear that he’s talking about both partners needing to give consent before and during sex. It doesn’t have to be every other minute, but checking in with your partner to make sure you’re both enjoying the experience is important.
The second half of the verse emphasizes the need for an open dialogue with your partner in order for each person to have their sexual needs met. “I’ll do anything,” he sings, “girl you need only ask.” What could be sexier than that?
But the songs' message about consent hits home in the chorus. “I'll make love to you/ Like you want me to". Consent doesn't just start with a "yes." It goes through the entire act of having sex. Consent isn’t a blurred line like some musicians would have us believe. Both partners need to be comfortable with what's happening in the bedroom at all times.
Boyz II Men understood that consent isn’t as simple as “no means no", but their lyrics show that it’s not that complicated either. "I'll make love to you when you want me to", The quartet then sings, The emphasis here is on “when you want” because consent doesn’t just happen once. It’s every time and for every sexual act. Even though someone may have consented before, it doesn’t give you the right to that person’s body whenever you feel like it.
Boyz II Men took home a Grammy for “I’ll Make Love To You”, in 1994 and clearly it deserved the accolades. But the song was ahead of its time in terms of promoting healthy sexual relationships as were other R&B songs released that year--such as Janet Jackson's sex-positive ballad “Any Time, Any Place", or Brandy’s ode to puppy love “I Wanna Be Down". According to Billboard’s archives of R&B chart-toppers, 1994 was full of hits that resisted themes of sexism and hyper-masculinity perpetuated by other artists and genres -- R. Kelly’s “Bump and Grind” being the lone exception of that year.
The conversation about consensual sex was also taking place outside of the music industry. Congress passed then-Senator Joe Biden’s Violence Against Women Act in 1994 as well. This legislature enforced harsher penalties for crimes of sexual assault and domestic abuse and offered more services to survivors of intimate partner violence. Also, in 2014, former Vice-President Biden and President Obama, developed the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The program empowers survivors and boosts public awareness on ending sexual assault.
Even with progressive music and legislature out there, conversations about sex and consent aren’t as frank as they are now. Attitudes on rape culture are changing and “rape-splaining” in the form of victim-blaming and slut-shaming are rightly being called out as sexist. Also, in light of cultural moments like Lady Gaga’s performance with sexual assault survivors at the 2016 Oscars, it seems like the taboo of discussing abuse has become a thing of the past.
But, there's more work to be done. Consent isn't ingrained in cultural norms for healthy sexual relationships as it should be. Consent has and will always be an important conversation--one that should be had at home and in school.
In 2015, California became the first state to mandate public school students to learn about consent, but many classrooms have yet to include the conversation about consent into their sex-ed programs. The case with Brock Turner and others are proof that sexual assault persists and that more work must be done to normalize asking for consent and how to respond when the answer is no.
Also in 2015, the Public Religion Research Institution (PRRI) surveyed 2000 millennials on sexuality and reproductive health that included opinions on sexual assault and consent. The data from the survey showed 15 percent of millennial women report that they have been sexually assaulted and 73 percent of millennials, including men and women, say sexual assault is somewhat or very common on college and university campuses.
The leniency shown towards sexual assault offenders--such as The University of Colorado, Boulder student Austin Wilkerson, or the dismissal of President Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment during the campaign trail, shows that misinformation around consent and healthy sexual relationships is a systemic issue.
Pop culture is often the stand-in educator for topics about sex or taboo areas where parents or teachers don’t always feel comfortable going. So it’s good to have different forms of media that model good practices for sexual behavior. A cultural shift towards promoting consent is taking place as shows like Broad City and the Mindy Project are taking a critical stance against rape culture all while making audiences laugh.
Next time you’re trying to serenade your crush at karaoke, Boyz II Men has you covered with their go to jam.