This is really one of those topics where there are no grey areas. No real ifs or buts (excuse the pun) about such things, and honestly, it’s really not that hard to wrap your mind around. But there are some myths circulating about consent that might need some navigational assistance. Consent is always, always a two-way (or three whichever floats your boat) street and here are some common misconceptions on the topic.
Claire Swan is a Health Promotion Coordinator at the University of Newcastle and has worked in youth sexual health for 13 years, providing sexuality education in a range of settings including schools, alternate learning centres, juvenile detention centres and in the community. She has developed and facilitated professional development workshops to build the capacity of teachers and youth workers to support youth sexual health education. She has also coordinated numerous sexual health promotion projects to support the sexual health and wellbeing of Hunter young people. She currently coordinates the Healthy University Sexual Health Program at the University of Newcastle.
On the subject of sexual consent Claire says, “As a sexual health educator, I have heard and dispelled numerous myths around consent. Consent is always a topic that raises debate as people want to explore common urban myths and statements that they hear from peers. Consent is a very important factor in a respectful sexual relationship, whether it is a brief ‘hook up’ or a longer-term relationship. Consent is simple: all parties must agree for the sexual activity to occur. Sex should be pleasurable and free from coercion, fear and shame.”
Myth 1: The ‘grey area’ debate
Picture this. You’ve been out all night, slightly on the tipsy side, and your mates are mad because you ditched them to make out with the person of your dreams all night. Ok, you might not actually know anything about that person, except for the way looking at them makes you feel, and you’re feeling pretty damn happy with yourself. You both decide to call it a night, together, you both got a little tipsy together, you both decided to do the awkward walk past the housemates together, to the bedroom together. Then things heat up a little. The spooning, the makeouts, etc. and things go the way they go until one of you starts having second thoughts. Whoever that person is, their logical brain has just kicked in, reuniting with inhibitions. As soon as one person says no, as soon as one person is not “up for it,” as soon as one person changes their mind no matter what stage you’re at, you respect that person, look after that person, and do with that person what you hope someone would do with you.
Myth 2: You can give consent by what you’re wearing
If you were to, for whatever reason, walk down the street wearing nothing but a crown of last Christmas’ tinsel, that doesn’t give anyone the right to treat you as though you are their property, (although the Police will definitely raise some red hot legal eyebrows). Regardless, what someone is wearing does not give you or anyone else the right to sexually assault that person, to put it bluntly. And if walking down the street in such a way is the activity you choose to engage in (again, not legally advisable please do not do this thing), you aren’t actively and openly giving consent to the world. So if someone is wearing a skirt, tight pants, no shirt, 10 shirts, trackpants, a spandex clogs and socks combo, whatever… that is not consent.
Myth 3: Consent crushes the mood
If the thoughts you’re having in the throes of passion are so flippant, that they disappear when the person you’re with thinks to ask if you’re feeling ok, are comfortable and above everything else feeling safe, then I think maybe you’ve made the wrong decision, for the wrong reason. I get how modern relationships work ok, and I’m not about to sit here and debate catching feelings or what emotions may or may not matter in that moment but, consent is non-negotiable. In all honesty, if you’re in any way someone who resembles a compassionate human, it should actually make for a much better experience.
Myth 4: The whole “oh but we’ve already slept together once so…”
There’s this strange misguided misconception, that once you’ve slept with someone once, it’s like a golden ticket type scenario and you’ve got yourself a free pass. No. Most definitely, not. It doesn’t matter if you’ve slept with someone “once, twice, or three times a lady,” consent still matters. So sometimes people can overlook the importance of consent with a long-term partner. It’s most definitely as equally important as if you were sleeping with someone for the first time. Being intimate with your partner is about cultivating a long term emotional connection with that person, and consent is most definitely a part of that.
Myth 5: Consent is just for women
This last point is actually really important. There are so many gender misconceptions attached to consent that things often get swept under the rug. PSA: men as well as people who don’t identify as male or female can most definitely be victims of sexual assault, and in no way, shape or form is it any less traumatic, or life-changingly horrific as it is for women. Consent is imperative for everyone, whether you be male, female, non-binary, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex, queer or any non-cisgender identifying human at all, it’s non-negotiable.
If you need more information on sexual health or are seeking support, head on over to http://www.newcastle.edu.au/current-students/support/solving-issues/consent-matters.