It’s all about consent.
Consent. An important topic that we rarely take time to talk about. If your sex education was anything like mine, we were taught that sex is shameful, bringing diseases and pregnancy. And that means, the basics of navigating sex were never taught. Unless your parents gave you the talk, almost everything you learned about sex came through your friends who had older siblings (unless you were that friend with older siblings), TV, movies, and rap songs.
If you’re anything like me, you learned that sex was how babies were made at the age of 8, watching an episode of Friends. You learned about condoms and “popping cherries” at slumber parties in 5th grade. In your teenage years, adults were always going out of their way to make sure no doors were shut, if not keeping boys and girls separated altogether. But no one taught you what a healthy sexual relationship entailed. No one taught you how to say no, only that you should. No one taught you about consent.
Rather than go into personal philosophies on sex education, let’s talk about consent. What is it?
Consent is a clear agreement, based on mutually understood words or actions, to engage in a sexual act, like hugging, kissing, touching, or intercourse (oral, vaginal, or anal sex). Basically, everyone involved has to be cool with what’s going on, and it can’t just be assumed.
Let’s make it simple.
All parties must have ability to provide consent.
Someone has the ability to provide consent if they are physically and mentally capable of doing so. This means that both parties must be over the legal age of consent (or within legal requirements, which vary by state).
Ability to provide consent is not strictly about age though. Those with certain disabilities and some elderly are unable to provide consent. So are people who are drugged or intoxicated, whether by their own doing or not.
If someone is under the legal age of consent, has a disability that prevents them from providing consent, or is incapacitated, an act is not consensual.
A “yes” has to be given freely for a sexual act to be consensual.
If someone is pressured or forced to say yes, it doesn’t count. This pressure or force could be physical or mental, and all parties must feel able to say “yes” or “no” or be able to stop at any time.
If someone feels that there will be negative repercussions (like physical harm or blackmail) if they don’t consent, then a sexual act is not consensual. These negative repercussions could be psychological or emotional responses from their partner (like anger), reputational pressure (i.e. “If you don’t have sex with me, I will tell your secret to . . . ”) or financial pressure (i.e. “If you don’t have sex with me, you can’t live here anymore” or “ . . . I’ll cut you off.”).
Consent has to be active, not passive
Again, consent is never assumed. Consent for one activity (like kissing) does not constitute consent for another (like sex). Consent for an activity in the past does not constitute consent for the present either. So just because you are in a relationship with someone or have had sex with them before doesn’t give consent to have sex now.
A lack of “no” does not mean “yes.” If someone is sleeping and cannot say yes, consent is not given. If someone is pushing you away, that means “NO.” It does NOT mean that someone is playing hard to get. No one is ever “asking for it” by the way they dress, talk, or interact with you. Unless they literally ask for it.
Consent is important, both for healthy sexual relationships and to stay within the law. There are 3 parts to it, and all must be present for a sexual act to be consensual. Getting off shouldn’t be more important than another’s bodily autonomy.
If you are unsure whether or not you have consent, you probably don’t. So either explicitly ask (assuming the other party is capable of answering) or back off. Sex without consent is rape. Don’t be a rapist.
Still confused? We’ll be posting more articles on consent all week. Stay tuned for more!