Consent. You’ve heard this word before, but what does it mean, why is it important and how exactly do you navigate it?
So, you’re in the club looking fierce, making eye contact and slaying the Single Ladies dance when someone starts energetically grinding on you from behind. Let’s say you’re on the bus and have made the mistake of locking eyes for a second too long with a stranger, and now you can feel the weight and burn of his gaze never leaving you. Or maybe you’re lowkey flirting with a shop assistant because he’s cute, but he becomes rude when you refuse to give him your number.
What can you do when you feel uncomfortable or you’ve changed your mind? How do you stop a situation escalating? And how do you deal with the pressures of being labelled ‘frigid’, ‘a cocktease’ or ‘playing hard to get’? Although old fashioned attitudes towards female sexuality are changing and it feels like we’re in the midst of a sexual renaissance, a reported 1 in 5 women in the UK will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. This just goes to show the large number of people that haven’t grasped the concept of consent and the work that still needs to be done.
Why consent is important
It’s important to educate people about consent in order to prevent sexual assault and also to increase female satisfaction during sex. The 2017 #MeToo movement has been great in highlighting instances where sexual contact was non consensual and has hugely helped women understand that what happened to them was wrong and not their fault. Consent (whether it’s to go all the way or only half way) plays a huge role in women having more pleasurable sex. When your partner is aware of, and respects your sexual boundaries it makes for a more comfortable and intimate experience.
Navigating complex situations
Consent is often presented as a binary yes or no scenario. In reality, situations can be more complicated than that. For example not saying no doesn’t equal yes. Consenting under pressure is not true consent. Kissing and touching isn’t a green light to go all the way. A ‘no’ that doesn’t seem firm is still a no.
Let’s start with the basics. Wearing a bandage dress doesn’t mean yes. Wearing a bikini doesn’t mean yes. Even being naked doesn’t mean yes. We all know how amazing it feels when you wear that outfit that makes heads turn. Yes, it will invite attention, some good, some bad, but in no way does this pave the way for a man to take advantage of you. He has no right whatsoever to assume you are up for everything because you are dressed in tight clothing. Bluntly put, if you want to express yourself, it does in no way mean you automatically want some d*ck. It’s important for you to know that you should feel comfortable in whatever you choose to wear, and that no-one else should assume the kind of girl you are, based on your clothes.
Similarly, flirting is fun but there’s always a chance it can go left. Of course, one can never predict the kind of man one is flirting with, until he takes it too far, but that shouldn’t matter. Flirting does not guarantee sex and it’s okay to say, “Listen mate, I thought you were cute, but now you’re acting like a dick”. Grab your coat, finish your last sip of wine and sashay away.
Now, let’s get onto the more intimate stuff, starting with protection and conditional consent. Conditional consent means that you consent to sex under a certain condition, in this case the condition being that he uses protection. It’s important to use protection and it’s even more important to make that known to your sexual partner. We refer you to our other post on what to say/do when he doesn’t want to wear a condom. Another thing to look out for is stealthing, otherwise known as non-consensual condom removal, i.e. him pulling it off mid-intercourse. This is a massive violation of consent, and more often than not, you won’t even notice it happening. If you’ve agreed on wearing protection and he violates that trust bubble you have built by removing it without asking you first, it is a violation of your conditional consent. End of.
So you’ve got the condom situation on lock, you’re well into foreplay and about to do the deed, when all of a sudden you start to feel uncomfortable. Maybe you realise you’ve had too much to drink, and don’t want to do something you might regret. Maybe you just got the ick. At the same time, you don’t want to hurt his feelings or seem like you’re all chat no play. Sometimes you just ain’t feeling it, and that is fine. Giving consent at the beginning of a sexual experience does not mean you are obliged to hit a home run. If you’re only comfortable at 2nd base that’s ok, your consent is continuous and can be withdrawn at any time. Similarly just because he’s your boyfriend doesn’t mean you have to have sex with him when he’s up for it an you’re not. It is within your every right and control to tell him how fast to go. Don’t be afraid to say “Can we slow down?”, “Can we take a break?” or “Can we switch positions?”. Again, if he doesn’t listen that is a violation of your consent.
Consent can be hot
It’s important to remember that giving and asking for consent doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable, clumsy or awkward. Having a conversation with your partner about what you’d like to do to them, or asking them where they’d like to be touched can be sexy and intimate. Reading people’s body language and indirect cues can help you determine what they do or do not like. If you see a red flag then speak up and ask if it’s ok for you to continue what you’re doing, or if there’s something else they’re into.
When it comes down to it, consent is not particularly easy navigate especially when you feel like you’re the only party concerned about it. No matter how uncomfortable telling them no seems, you should never do something that you don’t want to do. Don’t be afraid to make your feelings heard. We want women to have sexual experiences that are both wanted and pleasurable. Your needs, desires and sexual boundaries matter and we want you to remember, that when yes means yes it should mean fuck yes but no will always mean no.