Protesters attend the 2018 Women's March in Seneca Falls, New York. Picture: AP

Washington - Twenty-five years ago, long before the popularization of "yes means yes" or #MeToo or #TimesUp, the cast of Saturday Night Live made Antioch College - and its controversial rules about sexual consent - a punchline.

A group of women at the small liberal arts school in 1991 successfully petitioned for a conduct-code amendment that explicitly defined sexual consent as requiring an enthusiastic "yes" from everyone involved. Prior to this, sex was considered consensual as long as neither party said "no." By 1993, Antioch had become a pop culture flashpoint - and a laughingstock.

Newsweekcame to campus. Sex therapist Dr. Ruth doubted whether such rules over consent were necessary. And SNL wrote "Is it date rape?," a sketch about a fictional game show contestant majoring in "victimization studies" whose goal was to categorize sexual scenarios as consensual or not. "Date rape!" she'd yell after hitting a buzzer. It made a mockery of it all, casting affirmative consent as a robotic, politically correct libido killer.

"I remember being so offended," said Kristine Herman, one of the Antioch women who advocated for the consent policy. "This was funny to people, but it's not funny when you're at a police station or when somebody is getting a rape kit."

It was one of the first times that our culture's old understanding of consent - no means no - collided with an emerging one: Yes means yes. But as often happens when small voices ask society for big changes, Antioch's definition of affirmative consent slowly began to catch on. 

Activists such as Herman went on talk shows and spoke at student conventions. Universities across the US adopted similar policies. The feminist blogosphere in the mid-2000s began writing about the limits of a "no means no" mantra, exploring how the burden to get consent fell on the initiator - rather than granting permission to all parties to enthusiastically give it.

Which brings us to today, the #MeToo moment, a time where famous actors are saying #TimesUp on sexual violence. The gray areas of intimacy that make consent conversations so complicated are finally being openly explored. The SNL skits are still happening, but this time they're lighter on the mockery.

The language around consent has expanded far beyond what Herman and her classmates had to work with 25 years ago.