It’s week two of Sexual Health Awareness Month, and this week we’re focusing on one of THE most important topics relating to sexual health: CONSENT. Consent is what differentiates sex from rape! Remember, there’s no such thing as ‘consensual sex’, if there’s no consent it’s rape and if there is consent it’s just sex.
What does consent mean?
According to Active* Consent, consent is an ongoing, mutual, freely-given, agreement to take part in a sexual activity. Consent applies to ALL genders, sexualities and relationships. It’s important to note that consent doesn’t only apply to penetrative sex, but to ANY form of sexual activity. This can include cuddling, kissing, massage, touching, oral sex, sexting etc.
Consent is not:
Forced: If you feel pressured in ANY way to give consent then it’s not consent. It has to be your decision and your decision alone. If you feel obligated to say yes – even if you’re in a relationship with someone and you’ve had sex before – then it’s still not consent. It must be freely-given at ALL times.
Silence: If someone doesn’t speak up or doesn’t say ‘no’ verbally that does not mean they’ve given consent. It’s only consent if they can actively and enthusiastically agree, preferably verbally.
An obvious lack of protest or disagreement: Just because someone isn’t out-rightly protesting or aggressively disagreeing to a sexual activity doesn’t mean that they’re giving consent.
Assumed: As mentioned in the first point, just because you’ve had sex with someone in the past or engaged in a sexual activity with them it doesn’t mean that they can assume it’s an enthusiastic yes every single time. You have the right to say no, and you don’t even owe them an explanation.
Specific: Every single sexual act needs consent, even if it’s something that’s been done already.
Enthusiastic: Everyone engaging in the sexual act must be excited and interested with what’s going on. If anyone isn’t feeling good about it, is confused, unsure or showing a lack of interest then you should stop immediately.
Reversible: You’re allowed to take back your consent at ANY given time, no matter how far along in the sexual act you are.
Ongoing: Consent has to be affirmed for the ENTIRE duration of the sexual act. Whether you’re switching up positions, trying something brand new or moving to a different location consent has to be ongoing and it shouldn’t be assumed that just because you said yes in the beginning, that it’s a yes for everything else too.
Mutual: If consent isn’t mutual then you shouldn’t engage in any sexual activity at all.
Informed: Everyone needs to know what it is they’re giving consent to every single time. Communication and understanding are key here.
How to confirm consent:
“I’d like it if you could touch me there”
“How do you feel about doing __?”
“What would you like?”
“I would prefer it like this”
“Are you comfortable with__?”
“I need a break”
Organisations to reach out to if you need support:
We understand that this can be a very triggering topic. If you feel that you need any type of support, counseling or guidance you can reach out to the organisations below.
Rape Crisis – They have offices in Observatory, Khayelitsha and Athlone in Cape Town, offer counseling in either English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa with counseling available on WhatsApp too at 083 222 5164 . They also have a 24-hour helpline at 021 447 9762. To contact their offices directly click here.
TEARS Foundation – TEARS Foundation provides individual, group or couples counselling, support groups and emergency shelters. TEARS also has a free helpline number at *134*7355# which is available 24/7. They can be contacted via email at email@example.com or on their landline at 010 590 5920.
POWA – People Opposing Women Abuse has seven sites in Gauteng, and is also available nationally through telephonic counseling. Click here for the contact information for each of their offices.