Whether you’re with someone whom you met last night or have been married to for decades, all sexual engagements require complete respect for physical boundaries and comfort levels.
This respect often comes in the form of an agreement, called “consent,” which helps sexual partners communicate and obey these boundaries of safety and comfort.
Recently, the topic of “consent” has been prevalent in the public eye, with countless allegations of sexual assault and harassment being brought against major Hollywood icons, political candidates, and businessmen. Still, many fail to understand the intricacies of the concept, and the misconceptions surrounding consent continue to contribute to negative sexual interactions daily. Understanding these myths can help you and your sexual partners navigate your intimate relationships successfully.
- Myth 1: Consent is about saying “no” when you’re uncomfortable. While talking about consent, many associate it with the phrase “no means no,” meaning if you feel uncomfortable with a sexual activity, you refuse to give consent. While this is true, and all “no”s should be respected, this discourse places an added responsibility on the resisting partner and serves to communicate an image of “consent” that is always negative. In fact, consent is also the presence of a clear and emphatic “yes”! The responsibility relies on both parties to communicate and listen to what is acceptable in a sexual encounter.
Similarly, just because someone isn’t saying no, you cannot assume that they’re saying yes! Intoxication, peer pressure, power dynamics, and anxiety can all contribute to a person’s silence if they’re uncomfortable with the situation at hand. Be sure to communication clearly with your partner and ensure you are both on the same page always.
- Myth 2: Consent is only required once. While consent often relates to a sexual or physical activity with a partner, it can be helpful to discuss your boundaries, comforts, and curiosities before engaging in specific activities. This way, you can feel more prepared and excited in the moment, while also remaining confident that all parties are enjoying themselves. Each time a sexual act escalates, be sure to ask for consent once more, as consent can be revoked at any time.
- Myth 3: Asking for consent ruins the “mood.” In fact, there are many ways to ask and give consent that are exciting. Consent is giving permission to a sexual activity, and while it is best to verbally agree to these arrangements, consent can also be nonverbal: physical and emphatic sounds and movement that make it clear you are enjoying yourself. If you are afraid to ask or give consent because it ruins the “mood,” consider whether this is a healthy sexual relationship in the first place. Consent must be always freely given, without the weight of emotional, psychological, physical, or reputational pressures. The “mood” is always much more positive when all parties are completely comfortable.
- Myth 4: The “guy” has to ask for consent; the “girl” has to give it. Contrary to what is depicted in the media, girls are not the only parties who want to take it slow, and guys are not the only parties who initiate sexual activity! Always evaluate your own understanding of gender and power dynamics and know that no matter who you are, you have a responsibility to make sure all parties are comfortable!
- Myth 5: Consent can be assumed. No matter what a person wears, how they flirt, or whether they initiated the sexual activity, you cannot assume that he or she is asking for anything more than exactly what he or she is comfortable with in the moment. Similarly, if you’ve had sexual relations with someone in the past, you cannot assume that that person still consents to sexual relationships in the present.
There are also situations where consent can never be assumed. For example, if someone is incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, if someone is below the legal age of consent as defined by the state, or if someone is an employee/student, consent isn’t part of the equation.
Every person has a right to not be acted upon in a sexual manner by someone else unless they give that person clear permission. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to get this permission. Remember: sex should be a fun experience and both parties should always feel comfortable–it’s better for everyone that way!