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‘Ask First’- The importance of Sexual Consent

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By Ciara Corcoran

When having sex, consent is an agreement between both partners that they definitely want to have sex or do any sexual act. Consent is a mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without pressure, coercion, or manipulation. Both partners need to fully and clearly agree to it, and it must be continuous for the duration of sex. That means that either partner has the right to change their mind at any time. You shouldn’t be coerced into giving consent for something you’re not comfortable with – at the end of the day it’s your body and if you’re not okay with something you don’t have to do it.

There are both physical and verbal ways of communicating consent, or lack of consent. Verbally is simply asking the question ‘Do you want to have sex?’ or ‘Do you want to do this?’ and the answer will determine whether or not consent is given. Asking the question like this allows for clarity and honesty for both partners. Body language is also an indicator of how comfortable a person is; SpunOut.ie gives a good list of things to look out for:

  • Is your partner not responding to your touch?
  • Are they pushing you away or turning/hiding their face?
  • Are they holding their arms tightly around their bodies and stiffening their muscles?
  • Do they seem upset or remaining silent?
  • Do they seem un-enthusiastic and not into it?
  • Are they changing the subject away from sex, or trying to concentrate on other activities?

If the answer to any of the above if ‘yes’, or you notice anything else about the other person that might suggest they are not comfortable then you should stop immediately, and talk about how you both want to or not want to continue.

Sometimes you might think your partner has said ‘yes’ by staying over at your house, flirting or kissing but do not take this for granted- these actions are not an automatic ‘yes’. Most importantly if someone is too drunk to say ‘no’, it does not mean they are consenting to sex. In fact, if someone is drunk or on drugs, they cannot legally give their consent.

Just because someone has had sex with you before, does not mean they are consenting to sex this time. This particularly important if you are in a relationship- being in a relationship is not a free pass to sex whenever you or your partner please. Consent has to be given each time.

If someone does say ‘no’ when you ask the question, don’t continue with the sexual act, be respectful, polite and understanding. Don’t say things like “Why did you get me excited just to say no?” or “If you loved me, you would…” as this is coercion and manipulation. If your partner decides to have sex under these circumstances, it is not full consent. Do not react aggressively or violently and don’t necessarily take it personally. Your partner may simply be feeling tired, sick, or simply not in the mood. However, it is also possible that they may not want to have sex because of a specific reason. Either way, you need to respectfully listen to their wishes. If you’re in a relationship with this person, you could ask to talk about it further. Find out why they don’t want to have sex or do a certain sex act, this can open up communication and make your relationship stronger.

Consent is not the absence of a ‘no’; it is the presence of an enthusiastic ‘yes’. If they say ‘no’, listen to them and accept their decision the first time. Do not pressure them to turn their ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. In a nutshell, ‘no’ means ‘no’ and if you or your partner is unable to give consent it’s a ‘no’. If consent is not expressed, this is not sex – it is assault.

If you feel like you have had sex without consent and wish to talk to someone you can contact the Mid-West Rape Crisis on 1800 311 511 or UL Counselling on 061 202327.

Thanks to SpunOut.ie for all your helpful information!

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