The C Word
No, not THAT ‘C’ word, we’re talking about Consent.
Sexual consent is the mutual agreement to ANY sexual contact or experience – kissing, touching, groping, penetrative sex, anal sex, fingering – the list is endless but none of it should happen without consent. This includes sharing or taking naked or semi-nude photos or videos of someone.
If you do any of this without permission, you are breaking the law. Sex without consent is rape, as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The law defines consent as someone agreeing ‘by choice’ to the sexual experience and having ‘the freedom and capacity to make that choice’. You can read more about the legal side of consent here.
But consent isn’t just about the law. It’s also about enjoyment, pleasure and respect. Checking in with your partner, making sure they are enjoying whatever it is you’re doing to them.
If your sexual partner is tense, not responsive and quiet you should check in with them. Try asking ‘Do you want to keep going?’ or ‘Would you like to stop and do something else?’
Given freely: Sexual consent must be a voluntary and free choice for all parties involved. Being silent or not saying no is not the same as giving consent. Unconscious people and people under the influence of alcohol and drugs cannot consent. Sex is not consented under coercion or intimidation.
Informed: Lying or deliberately hiding certain intentions such as unprotected sex is not consensual sex. Getting someone too drunk to refuse sex or to agree to certain practices is not getting consent.
Specific: Consenting to one thing (i.e. kissing) does not mean consenting to everything else. A general rule is: If in doubt, ask. If you’re still in doubt, stop.
Reversible: Consenting once does not mean consenting for ever.
Enthusiastic! The question is not whether a person says “no”, but whether they say “yes” or otherwise actively express consent in a variety of verbal and non-verbal ways. This is what is called ‘yes means yes’. ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t mean consent.
If you don’t have consent to have sex with the person, you’re with, that’s rape. Below we debunk some common misconceptions about consent and rape.
Myths about Consent & Rape
"They’re drunk and wearing revealing clothing, they were asking for it" - Dressing a certain way, drinking alcohol, other lifestyle choices do not establish consent to sex.
"Well they didn’t say no" - The absence of a “no” does not mean “yes” – only an enthusiastic “yes” means “yes”.
"But we had sex last weekend" - Sex on a previous occasion does not establish consent on other occasions.
Stranger Danger - Perpetrators are not normally complete strangers. Most often, perpetrators are victims’ partners, ex-partners or friends. They have friends, families, careers, they say “hello”, “thank you”, they can be famous or charismatic, they can be our friends.
"It was only sex" - Rape is not ‘just unwanted sex’. Rape violation of human rights and bodily integrity which does extensive physical, psychological and emotional damage.
"But that happened years ago, why are you bringing it all up now?" - A delay in reporting rape is more likely evidence that the victim is traumatised and fear their rapist, not evidence that the rape didn’t happen. Most survivors do not report. Those who do report or tell their stories often do so several weeks, months or even years after the rape. Their experiences are still valid and important. (See #WhyIDidn’tReport on Twitter)
"Rape doesn’t happen that often" - Rape is not uncommon. In the EU, 1 in 20 women aged 15 and over have been raped. That is around 9 million women. And 1 in 10 women aged 15 and over in the EU have experienced some form of sexual violence.
"Rape only happens to women" - Men can be raped: Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse and while the majority of victims are women and girls, anyone, of any gender, can be a victim.
Further Resources & Support