LSU CASH’s Workshop Coordinator and volunteer writer, Megan McKone, speaks about what exactly consent is and guides us through how to be a better sexual partner.
TW – rape and sexual assault.
Ask a Consent and Sexual Health Officer: What is Consent?
Imagine. You are out with your friends having a great time and you spot someone across the room. It’s meant to be. You are both into each other and you are taking them back to your room, everything is going great until you sense they are feeling a little uncomfortable. Should you still go through with it?
Consent can be a tricky topic to grasp. Especially as it absolutely must be judged on a case by case basis – just because your previous partner gave consent in a particular situation doesn’t mean your current partner will. If you’re ever in doubt, you do NOT have their consent. Luckily, this is where LSU’s Consent and Sexual Health Association can help you understand consent and be a better sexual partner
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England & Wales) says that a person consents if they agree “by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”
When Can’t Someone Consent?
A person cannot consent if they are:
- Under sixteen
- Under eighteen and are having sex with someone in a position of power such as a teacher
- Under the influence of drugs
- Do not have the freedom to do so
Having the freedom to consent means that if they said no there would be no ill consequences. For example, someone would not have the freedom to consent if they were being threatened with violence. Furthermore, power imbalances such as teacher-student relationships or boss-employee relationships affect their freedom to consent; this is because the subordinate in the relationship may feel pressured to go along with what the superior suggests.
All sensible conditions, right? You would not want to have sex with anyone that is not into it, nor you. There is no shame in sex. It should be enjoyable for all those involved but, that enjoyment includes making sure all parties are on the same page about consent.
Consent is Not the Absence of No
A person not wanting to engage in sexual activity may not specifically say the word no, but this does not mean that they are consenting. They could avoid saying no for several reasons; this could be they are afraid, feel pressured to fit in, feel like they cannot say no as the initiator is in a position of power. Or maybe, they just don’t know. Only an enthusiastic, freely given yes makes the sex consensual. Not saying no does not mean yes.
Consent for One Act is Not Consent for Another
It is easy to forget that consent, for one thing, is not necessarily consent for another. For example, consent for kissing is not consent for sex. Another example of this is if a person consents to sex with a condom, taking that condom off during sex without each parties’ permission means the sex no longer consensual. This is the same for vaginal and anal sex – if a person consents to vaginal sex only then anal sex would be non-consensual.
What Does Good Consent Look Like?
Good consent should always be:
- Freely given
Consent is always able to be withdrawn. If a person does withdraw their consent, all acts must be terminated immediately – not a minute or even ten seconds later. Sex becomes non-consensual after this point.
Asking for Consent
It can be quite daunting to ask for a person’s consent and it may feel awkward or unsexy. However, there is nothing more unsexy than finding out afterwards that your partner didn’t want to have sex. Asking for consent can be simple. These are some things you could say to make sure you have consent before sex and to make sure you still have their consent during sex. Consent can be withdrawn at any time so it is good practice to keep checking you still have it:
- ‘Do you want to have sex?’
- ‘Is this okay?’
- ‘Does this hurt?’
- ‘Do you want me to stop?’
- Do you want me to keep going?’
- ‘Do you like that?’
- ‘Can we try …?’
- ‘Can I go down on you?’
- ‘Can you put on protection first?’
- ‘Are you still comfortable?’
- ‘Do you want to try *insert sex position*?’
It is not cool to do something another person does not want to do. It is not sexy or romantic to ignore someone’s wishes – it is rape or sexual assault. You must respect your partner’s consent. If they say no to something you should stop immediately and not make them feel guilty. Good responses for when someone withdraws their consent could be: ‘of course’, ‘I respect that’, ‘absolutely, no problem’. A conversation afterwards about why they changed their mind could be beneficial for you and your partner but, they may not want to talk immediately afterwards and that should also be respected.
Rape vs Sexual Assault: What is the Difference?
Rape or sexual assault occurs when one party does not consent to sexual activity, all parties must consent before a sexual act can occur.
In a court of law, rape is the penetration of the vagina, mouth or anus by another person’s penis. This means that by law, only men can commit rape; whilst obviously both men and women can be raped. However, rape and sexual assault by penetration are treated equally in a lawful sense. Sexual assault by penetration is very similar to rape except penetration occurs with other body parts or items, such as fingers or sex toys, rather than a penis. Sexual assault occurs when a person is touched sexually without their consent.
Certain groups are statistically more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than others such as women and the LGBTQ+ community. However, it is incredibly important to mention than men can also be victims of sexual assault and rape.
Consent is a topic that can feel very overwhelming – there are so many factors to consider but consent is not there to scare you and, neither is this article. Consent protects you and it is important that before having sex you check in with yourself and make sure you want to. If you are wanting and planning on having sex, make sure your partner knows that they have your consent and make sure you have theirs. The easiest way is to just ask.
More and more high-profile celebrity sexual assault cases are being brought to light and it is the job of LSU’s Consent and Sexual Health Association (CASH) to educate you on all things consent to prevent situations like these occurring. We want to give you robust, non-shameful, non-judgemental sex education and a platform for you to ask questions and be heard. If you do have any questions you would like a CASH officer to answer, please DM us on Instagram, email us, tweet us or send us a message on Facebook. LSU CASH also has a podcast where we discuss more issues related to consent and sexual health.
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Podcast: Slumber Talks
Featured header image by Christos Alamaniotis.