• Hannah

let's talk about: sexual consent.

As young adults, many of us partake in sexual activity and consent is the most important aspect at any and all stages. The meaning of consent is something everyone should understand and acknowledge; therefore we must know what it is and your consent rights.

“18% of college students think someone has consented as long as they didn’t say “no”. The parameters around sexual consent have been pulled apart and heavily disputed across society and in courts of law. We want to clearly lay out what sexual consent is and how you can relay consent to your sexual partner.

‘Someone consents to vaginal, anal or oral penetration only if s/he agrees by choice to that penetration and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs.’

The latter part of this description is perhaps the most vital, and a source of much debate. Withdrawing consent can occur with new partners, long-term partners, friends, or strangers; the length of time or the depth of your relationship does not determine the consent agreement.

Consent is determined by:

  • Each person being of age, awake and aware and feeling free to make their own choices

  • Each person wanting to do each activity and actively participating

  • Each person asking for consent to do each activity

  • Each person giving consent through words and actions

Consenting to any sexual act, is your decision to make and only you need to judge and determine whether you’re comfortable to initiate or continue the sexual experience. If you do not agree to the situation and someone continues to either pursue the act or keep asking you until you change your mind, they are not accepting your decision.

why is consent so important?

Without receiving consent from the other person, the situation can be established as sexual harassment, assault, or rape.

All three of these are unwanted sexual acts or activity. Sexual harassment involves unwelcome words, conduct or behaviour of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, embarrassing, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the recipient.

Anyone, regardless of gender, can give consent and set clear boundaries.

how do I establish consent?

Make sure the other person is happy with the situation you are both in, there are always clear signs that the other person is not happy with the situation, and if you are not sure then ask, it’s better to ask than just assume.

  1. Set clear boundaries from the outset. If you consent to kissing, for example, but don’t want to take things further, establish these feelings with your sexual partner beforehand.

  2. If you are uncomfortable at any point, make sure the other person is aware either through voicing your feelings or using your actions to end the sexual contact.

  3. If you feel your decision is not being heard, try your best to leave the situation and get in touch with family or friends.

  4. If you feel you have been taken advantage of and you feel safe enough to remain in the situation, then voice this to your sexual partner and seek the support of people around you or professionals.

Saying ‘no’ is the easiest way of showing you don’t consent, however there are some situations where your actions have the same effect. Some people freeze with fear, too scared to say no, some are too drunk to clearly state their feelings. However, actions such as pushing them off of you or using force of some manner, removing their hands or face from you, or actively leaving the room are all ways you can show you do not consent. If the other person continues to dismiss your actions, they are not accepting of your decision and are breaking consent rules.

I didn’t consent, what do I do now?

It’s really important that you tell someone if you feel your consent decision wasn’t respected. You can tell anyone you feel comfortable talking to, including the emergency services. There are resources available that are designed for helping people in your situation, therefore able to provide you with the best care and advice.

- Sarc (sexual assault referral centre)

- NHS 111

- Your doctor/ GP

- 999

- Women's Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK

- 24-hour freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247

Remember, it’s not your fault. Confide in someone, even if it’s just one person. You are important, you matter, and your choice to abstain from sexual activity should always be respected.

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