A Beginner’s Guide to Sexual Consent
TL;DR: Consent should be clear, specific and freely given
Consent has been a buzzword for a while especially with the resurgence of the #MeToo movement over the past few years. Educating ourselves on what active consent is—affirmative, conscious and voluntary—allows us to draw and protect our sexual, physical, emotional and mental boundaries when participating in any sexual activity with a partner.
Having a better understanding of what sexual consent is helps us navigate through such a complex territory, which helps us avoid conflict and, ultimately, sexual misconduct or assault. To help us get a better grasp of the topic, we reached out to Renz Rollorata, a sexual wellness advocate and co-founder of Lauvette, an avant-garde sex toy shop in the Philippines.
Can you change your mind when you’re in the middle of a sexual activity? What are moments when sexual consent cannot be given and can therefore be labeled as assault? We have the answers ahead.
Wonder: What does sexual consent look like and mean to you, especially in the context of sexual activities between partners?
Renz: “I see sexual consent as giving permission to a particular act. It should be clear, specific and freely given. It’s as simple as ‘yes, I would like to try that’ or ‘okay, I’m down for it.’ If the person can’t express verbally, sexual consent can be given through positive body cues (such as pulling their partner closer) or hand gestures.”
W: How can one be explicit in protecting their physical, emotional, mental, and most importantly, sexual boundaries?
“Before getting intimate with someone, I think it’s vital to talk about each other’s preferences, expectations and boundaries. Some people think that having a heart-to-heart discussion before sex or any intimate activity seems ‘formal,’ but it actually prevents conflicts later on.”
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W: What are the basic steps one can do to make their partner feel safe and comfortable?
R: “Communication is the key. I get that some people get so carried away during sex that they couldn’t think of anything else, but having a regular check-in during the deed can surely make your partner comfortable. A simple ‘do you like this?’ or ‘should we keep going?’ is enough to reassure your partner and make them feel safe.”
W: When I’m in the middle of any physical activity, is it okay to change my mind? How do I respectfully tell my partner?
R: “Yes, it’s okay to retract your sexual consent in the middle of the activity. You just have to communicate with your partner properly and explain why you [don’t] feel in the mood to do it anymore. Don’t leave them hanging, or else your partner may assume that you don’t love them anymore or that you’re seeing someone—it’ll just worsen the situation.
After explaining your side, I also recommend reassuring your partner. Tell your partner that you love them and appreciate the time they’re giving for the deed.”
W: What are moments when sexual consent cannot be given and can eventually be labeled as sexual assault?
R: “Drunk sex is a thing, and some people consent to do this; some even talk about it right before drinking. However, it can be eventually labeled as sexual assault, especially if the victim can prove that they’re extremely drunk, to the point that they’re almost unconscious during the deed—because as what we said, consent must be clear, specific and freely given and an unconscious person is not in a position to give that.
Another scenario would be under an employer-employee relationship. Even if the employee may have given sexual consent, it can still be viewed as a ‘coerced sexual relationship’ and accuse the employer of ‘grave abuse of authority.’”
W: If my sexual boundaries have been violated, what should I do?
R: “This depends on the severity of the violation. Suppose your partner unintentionally violated a certain limit. In that case, you need to confront them and explain that you don’t want to do that activity and would never want to experience that again. If they keep pushing you to go beyond your boundaries, you need to drop the relationship as soon as possible.
If the case is severe and punishable by law, I suggest taking it to the authorities. But first, please seek support from family and friends, as you’ll need a strong support system during this difficult time. Then if you have evidence and witnesses of the said assault, you can file a case against the perpetrator. You can check Republic Act 8353: The Anti-Rape Law of 1997, Republic Act No. 10175: Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Republic Act 11313: Safe Spaces Act and Republic Act No. 9995: the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009 for more information. You can also seek guidance on women’s support groups regarding your case.”
Expressing active consent is part of any mature, adult relationship. There’s no harm in making your boundaries explicit and constantly checking in with your partner, before, in the middle of and after any sexual activity.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver