by Kelly Bates
Sex isn’t sexy without consent. Recent movements like #MeToo and #ItStopsNow advocate for consent strongly, but what does consent look like, and what part do you play? Sexual consent is quite simple: It is when two people mutually agree to participate in some form of sex without outside influence. That agreement can look different to different people, but consent is expressed affirmatively through clear words or actions. An enthusiastic “Yes!,” or the lack thereof, is the best way to tell whether or not an act is consensual.
I know what you’re thinking. “How am I supposed to get an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ without being lame or unsexy?” It’s not that difficult, I promise. Picture this: You’re with another person, and things are beginning to head in a direction you haven’t been before with this person. At this point, it’s best to pause and say something like, “Hey, I like where this is going. Are you okay with doing [act]?” It’s essential to set clear expectations, like specifically naming what you want to do, because consent to one act is not consenting to all acts. Conversely, if things are moving too quickly, and you’re uncomfortable, it’s entirely okay to say, “Hey, this is going too fast for me. Can we do [act] instead?” No one ever has the right to be upset with you for saying no to anything sexual.
When having this conversation, especially if it involves sex of any kind (vaginal, anal, or oral), you must mention STI history and preferred methods of contraceptives. Each time you have a new sexual partner, you should get tested for STIs. Testing for STIs is offered at your local physician’s office, the health department, a student health center, or even through at-home tests available at Walgreens or CVS. That said, you should always use some form of contraception and protection to prevent the transmission of STIs or unintended pregnancy. Condoms can be found at drug stores and student health centers, or if you want to be super prepared, they can be mailed discreetly to your house for FREE using this link.
Once you discuss boundaries, contraceptives, and STI history, it’s important to mention any triggers (if you are comfortable), likes, and dislikes with your partner. For instance, if you are a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, it is perfectly fine to say to your partner, “I’m not okay with my [body part] being touched.” You don’t have to provide any other explanation if you don’t want to, but mentioning triggers is solely to protect yourself from emotional hardship. If you don’t have any potential triggers, it’s still important to talk about your likes and dislikes. I promise it will make for a more enjoyable experience for both you and your partner.
This conversation takes as long as you and your partner want it to, and an open line of communication will improve sex and sexual encounters for both people involved. Furthermore, avoiding this conversation can lead to trauma, injury, and distress for one or both partners.
Because consent must be freely given, there should never be intimidation, influence from drugs or alcohol, or pressure from another that inhibits someone from making a decision. That means that if your partner has ingested any alcohol or drugs, or they are asleep, you should leave them alone until they are of sound mind. It also means that if someone says no, but you pressure them into something by pestering, threatening, or manipulating them, you don’t have consent.
Consent is also revocable, so if someone initially agrees to a particular act, but then changes their mind, there’s no longer consent to that act. It doesn’t make someone a tease or a flirt, so refrain from getting angry at that person for choosing what’s best for their body. You do not have the right to be upset with someone’s decision.
No matter what, consent is necessary for sex, and sex without consent is rape. If this is a long-term relationship, you and your partner will find what works for you, but a modified version of this conversation should happen often. Every time you meet a new partner, have this conversation. It is not as awkward as it seems, and it can create an environment for a healthier and more enjoyable sexual encounter.
Try remembering the qualities of consent through the acronym FRIES (as cleverly thought of by Planned Parenthood): freely given, revocable, informed, enthusiastic, and specific. We covered all of these in this post, but if you need more clarification, I suggest you check out this video.
If you or someone you love has experienced nonconsensual sex, please reach out to your local rape crisis center or RAINN to find resources regarding counseling, legal advocacy, and general support.
As always, have a happy, healthy sexual encounter!
Kelly Bates is a Teen Health
Mississippi Youth Contributor.