#SexColumn: Steps to identifying whether there is consent

Steps to identifying whether there is consent. Picture: File

Steps to identifying whether there is consent. Picture: File

Published Dec 19, 2023


By Sharon Gordon

We’ve just come out of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

The annual international campaign kicked off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ran until December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Gender-based violence is a pandemic in this country and I am gob-smacked that citizens think that women are property, can be disciplined and available for sex on a whim.

Many men think that their partners do not have a say and consent is not required. Not saying no is not consent.

I’m saddened that those who need to read this and understand this may not be the demographic this column reaches. But maybe, just maybe, it can be shared and those reading it can help by spreading the word.

Steps to identifying whether there is consent:

Freely given. Consent is not consent if the person saying yes has a gun held to their head. The threat can be physical, emotional or mental. We’ve seen enough television to understand that fear can be instilled over many years. The threat might not be real to the reader but to the victim it is frightening and very, very real.

Informed. What are you consenting to? You may think that you are giving consent to a kiss, or a little cuddle and the other person thinks that anal sex is on the cards. Make sure that you are both on the same page.

Enthusiastic. Is the “yes” enthusiastic or is it a yes to get rid of you? Are you absolutely sure that your partner wants to participate? I once saw an image comparing consent with a cup of tea. When you consent to a cup of tea, is it for a cup of Ceylon or Rooibos? Does it have milk? Do you take sugar, sweetener or nothing? It’s the same with sex.

Consent is not blanket consent. Make sure you both know where the boundaries are. And decide on how far you will go before you start. Many a regret comes from not being specific.

Getting back to the cup of tea. Just because it was made for you exactly how you ordered it, you may not like the taste and refuse to drink it. The same goes for sex. Maybe you thought you would like to try a bit of light bondage and when it starts, you freak out and know it’s not for you. That’s okay. You’re allowed to change your mind and your partner needs to stop immediately. It doesn’t matter that you originally gave your consent. Once it is retracted, the second after that it becomes a problem and can be criminal.

Clearly communicated. A small nod or a squeak is not consent. A clear verbal “yes” is what you’re looking for. As is a clear and unequivocal “no”. I cannot stress how important this is. For both of you. It can get you out of a lot of trouble.

Equal parties. This relates to freely given, referred to above. Sexual harassment in the workplace brought the inequality of parties to our consciousness. Many marriages teeter when it comes to this step. The breadwinner, roof and food provider often abuses their power, leaving the parties on an unequal footing. If you are a concerned partner, understand that your partner might be consenting because they fear the alternative.

Ongoing Conversation. Consent is ongoing. Just because you gave consent yesterday does not mean you give consent today or tomorrow. I know that you may think this is all a bit complicated, but it isn’t. It does not have to take long or put a dampener on your play.

I believe that we should all take a leaf out of the BDSM playbook. As a couple, decide on a safe word for your play. Choose a word that means nothing to sex. I suggest “red, orange and green”. Green means I’m happy and we can continue with the play. I’m enjoying this and want to continue. Orange means I’m not sure about this. I feel a bit uncomfortable so let’s proceed with caution. Heads up, I might change my mind. Red means stop right now. Not just now, or now now. It means stop immediately. This is building trust in your relationship and will protect you both from a misunderstanding.

I’d like to leave you with the chilling reality of not having consent. Not having consent is a criminal offence. It can be construed as assault, sexual assault and/or rape. Just stop, take a step back and save yourself from doing something that you will regret.

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