Consenting is saying 'yes'
It is simply – saying yes. Agreeing to whatever is about to happen, explicitly. Saying yes when you mean yes and but equally important saying no when you mean no. The power and ability to say no is important to the concept of consent.
Confusion in communication can lead to a lot of crossed wires. This is part of the reason why sometimes guys cannot understand that no means no. Even when it does. Especially when it does.
Understand what you are saying yes to
Ok, so you have said yes to whatever is about to happen. But do you understand, really understand, what is going to happen? Let’s say your boyfriend wants you to try anal. He thinks it will be fun and you decide to just go along. Well, that’s not consent, or at least a complete one. Or is it your girl asking you to go ahead with penetration because all her friends have had peno-vaginal sex.
But you don’t want to - till you feel ready, but still go ahead not to upset her. Again, that’s not an act with clear consent. An important aspect of consenting to something is to really understand what’s about to happen and how will impact you, now and in the future. This is why a yes from a minor for a sexual activity is not considered as consent in the court of law. Similarly, a consent given under influence or drugs or alcohol is not also valid.
Consent can be withdrawn at anytime
Now, after you understand basic consent, there's another concept that people need to grasp – the fact that consent can be withdrawn. Consent can flip to the other side at any point during a sexual interaction: at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. You can back out at any time, if you feel uncomfortable.
For example, let's say you have been seeing a guy you like. You have been out on a few dates, have a lot in common and have spent time getting to know each other. You decide that you want to do more than talking. You plan the day, place and the occasion carefully.
So great, you're all set, but something comes up. Something like, for example, neither of you has protection or can’t find somewhere to buy any at short notice.
At this point in the interaction, if you want to back out, it is completely within your rights to. If you don't want to have sex without a condom, you don't have to. In fact, you don’t even need a big reason (such as a lack of condom) to back out. If you don’t want to have sex anymore, that’s good enough a reason. ‘But you said yes earlier’, is not an argument to force/coax/convince anyone into having sex. Anyone can change their mind at any time and it is ok, however frustrating or irritating.
Similarly, consent can also be withdrawn midway. Let’s say he is inside you and it starts to hurt, you can withdraw your consent and the sex should stop.
If you are not okay with the situation anymore, whatever be the reason, you can withdraw your consent. Take time however to explain the reason to your partner for a healthy relationship. Also, it is best to not have any assumptions about what your partner doesn't want and instead, check in with them to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page.
Men too can back out
For men, if, say, she is giving you oral sex, and you don't like how she's doing it, or she tries a technique that doesn't work for you, you can tell her to stop at whatever point she's gotten to. They're your bits after all!
Just because you've started sex, or sexual activity, doesn't mean you have to see it through all the way to the 'end', just because you think you've committed to the act (men tend to take a lot more pressure about this). Sex is supposed to be pleasurable for the both of you, right?
No is always an option, always
Saying no can be scary, uncomfortable, or simply against the tradition. For example, in many cultures, including ours, a marriage is considered a lifelong consent for sex, signed and sealed at the altar. And so a spouse (mostly the wife) can’t say no to sex if they don’t want it. Husbands in India aren't used to hearing no from their wives for anything, let alone a sexual activity. Such attitude also seeps into non-marital relationships with many women thinking they have to agree to a sexual activity, even when they don’t feel ready, especially to ‘make things work’. This is not true.
Saying no is everyone’s right. Even sex-workers have full right to withdraw consent to sexual activity. Yes, you heard that right. Whatever be the status or nature of a sexual relationship, you don’t have to consent to anything you don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with. It’s not easy always to say no but it is important to say it. Many forced acts can be checked with an emphatic no.
Yes, women want it too!
Women saying they want sex is still a taboo, regardless of statistics that show that women want and enjoy sex just as much as men do. Result: A million myths about when women want and don’t want sex! A woman consents to sex when she smiles coyly on the dinner table. If a woman has come to your room, she is ok for sex. A woman wearing short clothes on a date is ok for sex and a woman sharing a bed with you is ‘obviously’ ok for sex. All bakwaas! A woman (or anyone) is ready for sex when they say so, explicitly and consensually.
- With inputs from Kerubo Akello. Love Matters Africa.