Let’s talk about sex and consent
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
By Tatiana Shams and Alaina Szlachta, Ph.D.
Consent is an important part of a healthy relationship. Without consent, how can people in an intimate relationship ensure everyone’s needs are being met? When consent is present, so are open communication, trust, and healthy boundaries.
We also know that sex and consent are mutually exclusive, and sex without consent isn’t sex at all — it’s rape. With so many famous people, actors, athletes, and politicians sharing their stories of sexual assault, many of us might have questions about sex and consent. So, let’s lay out some of the conditions needed to make sure everyone is safe and on the same page while having sex or thinking about being intimate with someone. Think of these as some of the ingredients of a healthy relationship!
Free of coercion and fear: Since healthy relationships are built on open, honest, and respectful communication, it is safe to say that there’s no room for pressure or fear when it comes to sex. Love and respect cannot be present in a relationship where there is coercion or fear. Pressuring someone to be intimate with you by threatening to hurt them or do something bad to them if they don’t agree to what you are asking to (like spreading rumors or naked pictures on social media) are no-nos when it comes to sex and consent. Pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to or using scare tactics to get you there, are definitely not caring or trusting ways to have a relationship, they are techniques used to keep power and control over someone.
Ongoing: You may have literally said “yes” to kissing or making out or expressed interest with a nod or smile, but that is not an automatic yes to “going all the way.” You have the right to change your mind. Just because you said yes at the beginning of whatever you were doing, that doesn’t count as an ongoing, automatic yes to any other actions or behaviors that may follow. Open communication and clear boundaries are crucial to ensure that consent is present and ongoing at every step of the way in your relationship!
Enthusiastic: Enthusiasm means both partners are excited and engaged with each other about holding hands, doing stuff together, kissing, or touching. When there is enthusiasm there is no room for threats, coercion, manipulation, physical punishment or making anyone feel like you “owe them” anything. Enthusiasm about intimacy can also spill over into enthusiasm about the relationship as a whole, so you and your partner can feel emotionally and physically save while having rewarding sex and sexual relationships, whether it is a short or a long-term relationship.
Mutual interest: When there is mutual interest in a healthy relationship, it’s likely that both partners want similar things. They care about each other’s needs, work together toward a common goal and treat each other with respect. Mutual interest is a vital part of sex and consent because it means that both partners are in tuned and want the same outcome for each other, they understand respect, have clear boundaries, and ensure both parties feel confident, secure and respected.
There is really no right or wrong when it comes to relationships because they are all different, but we can tell you that all relationships should have one thing in common: Respect and trust. If you still have questions or concerns about your relationship, reach out to an advocate for help.