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  • Writer's pictureGrace Health

Everything You Need To Know About Sexual Consent

In our world today, there’s so much talk about sex and very little about sexual consent. Yet, they go hand in hand. Sexual consent represents communication, agreement and respect between two parties on whether or not they would engage in sexual activities. This blog post will share everything you need to know about sexual consent. It’s important to know your sexual rights!

What is sexual consent?

Consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, and clear agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. That’s it! There’s no room for ambiguity or assumptions when it comes to consent, and there aren’t different rules for people who’ve had sex before. If clear, voluntary, coherent, and ongoing consent is not given by all participants, then it is sexual assault.

What are some characteristics of consent?

  • Clear - Silence is not consent. Your partner should never assume you gave consent because you were quiet or said nothing. There needs to be enthusiasm for engaging in sexual activity and that goes for both parties.

  • Ongoing - You should permit every activity at every stage of a sexual encounter. And you are free to revoke this permission at any time/stage.

  • Coherent - Every participant must be capable of granting their consent. If you are too intoxicated, incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, or either not awake or fully awake, then you’re incapable of giving consent.

  • Voluntary - It should be given freely and willingly. When your partner repeatedly asks you to engage in a sexual act until you eventually say yes, that is not consent, it’s coercion.

What sexual consent is not?

Sexual consent does not look like this:

  • When someone assumes that you want to have sex or take part in other sexual activity because of your actions or what you’re wearing – for example, flirting, accepting a drink, or wearing a short skirt.

  • When someone assumes that you want to have sex or take part in other sexual activity with them because you’ve had sex or taken part in other sexual activity with them before.

  • Feeling like you have to agree to sex or other sexual activity because you’re worried about the other person’s reaction if you say ‘no’.

  • When someone assumes that you want to take part in one type of sexual activity because you wanted to take part in another.

  • When someone has sex with you or sexually touches you when you’re asleep or unconscious.

  • When someone continues with sexual activity despite the non-verbal cues that you don’t want it to continue or you’re not sure – for example, if you pull away, freeze or seem uncomfortable.

  • If your partner removes a condom during sex after you only agreed to have protected sex.

What does sexual consent look and sound like?

If you have given a clear yes without being pressured it should look like this:

  • Your YES was clear. “No” does not mean a “yes.” The same goes for “maybe,” silence, or not responding.

  • Even though you have been drinking, you are fully awake and still in a position to make informed decisions, and not being coerced.

  • Your “NO” is respected when you are unsure about anything at any time.

  • You are engaging in sexual activity enthusiastically, after agreeing to have sex. That goes for the entire time of the sexual activity

  • There’s continuous communication every step of the way even in a committed relationship.

How should my partner ask for consent?

Consent is given before any sexual activity. Both parties should feel comfortable communicating their needs without feeling fearful. Your partner should not become angry, frustrated, or insistent when you decline any sexual activity. If you decline to go further or feel a bit hesitant, your partner should stop for a moment and ask if you’re comfortable doing that activity or if you want to take a break. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with it, there’s no harm in waiting and doing something else

Some actual questions you should hear are:

  • Can I kiss you?

  • Can I take this off? What about these?

  • Do you want to have sex, or would you like to wait?

  • Can I [fill in the blank]?

If you’re already in the heat of the moment, your partner could say:

  • Are you comfortable with me doing this?

  • Do you want me to stop?

  • How far are you comfortable going?

Consenting under the influence

This is usually a sensitive and tricky subject. Because plenty of people drink and remain coherent enough to consent. However, studies show, approximately one-half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the person who’s been assaulted, or both.

If either party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s even more important to communicate your boundaries and be extra sensitive to your partner’s boundaries. If someone is stumbling or can’t stand without leaning on something, slurring their words, falling asleep, or has vomited, they’re incapacitated and cannot consent.

Avoid compromising situations, especially with someone you can’t trust to respect your decisions.

How do I know it is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces a person to have sexual contact against their will. There are different forms of sexual assault.

Some examples include:

  • unwanted fondling or touching under or above clothing

  • exposing or flashing without consent

  • rape

  • molestation

  • incest

  • harassment

  • forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures or videos

  • sharing naked photos without consent (even if they were given to you with consent)

I think I was assaulted. What should I do?

First and foremost, know that we are sorry this happened and that you’re not alone. What happened to you isn’t your fault and taking a step to report the perpetrator is the beginning of your healing process.

  • If you’re in immediate danger or are injured. ( 999 - Kenya, 191 - Ghana, 112 for Nigeria and South Africa) or your National emergency hotline.

  • Contact the police to report the sexual assault. What happened to you is a crime.

  • Reach out to someone you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.

  • If you are raped, get a “rape kit” completed immediately. This can be administered at a hospital or clinic and will be helpful to collect evidence, regardless of whether or not you’ve decided to report the sexual assault to the police.

  • Contact your local sexual assault centre to seek counselling.

Guidelines for sexual consent

With that said, here are general quick guidelines for engaging in consensual sex:

  • Silence or a lack of a response is not consent.

  • Be clear and concise when giving consent.

  • If power, trust, or authority was used to coerce someone into sex, that is not consent.

  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time, even if you’ve already started getting intimate. All sexual activity must stop when consent is withdrawn.

  • Being in a relationship doesn’t oblige anyone to do anything. Consent should never be implied or assumed, even if you’re in a relationship or have had sex before.

  • If there was the use of guilt, intimidation, or threats to coerce you into sex, even if you said “yes” that is not consent

  • If you are stumbling or can’t stand without leaning on someone or something, slurring your words, falling asleep, or vomiting, you’re incapacitated and cannot consent.

  • If you wake up after a night of drinking with no recollection of the night’s events and you realise that someone touched you or penetrated you in any way, that is rape and not consent.

Stay informed, stay in control Do you now understand consent?

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