Consent is incredibly important but often left undiscussed in American culture. Anyone watching the news right now can see the result of our silence on this issue. Well honey, we at Positive Peers are done with the silence.
Although we’ve been stressing consent in our blogs since day one, we feel it’s high time consent got a blog of its own. Yes, it matters that much to us and hopefully does to you too!
Keeping sex consensual reinforces our sense of right and wrong, improves our interpersonal relationships, and keeps the bedroom a safe place for all.
Let’s dig into these issues a bit deeper.
What is consent exactly?
Consent is a form of permission. It’s given by everybody involved in a sex act and means each person wants it of their own free will.
Consent cannot be given when someone is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Nor is it cool to coerce or pressure somebody into doing something they normally wouldn’t agree to, or to simply force yourself on somebody. These acts are illegal and unethical.
Ideally, consent is verbal — you ask for consent and you get it, or you cool it if you don't.
However, there are times a partner might not vocalize what they’re feeling. If you’re seeing that look in your partner’s eyes that says, “Let’s heat things up now,” that’s usually the go-code. But why not ask “do you like this?”, “does this feel good?”, “are you cool with….?”
If you see even a hint of fear, anxiety, or reluctance in your partner’s body language, then it’s a no. Of course, a verbal signal at any time of “no” or “stop” also means it’s a no.
Instead of waiting for a “no” — why not go for an enthusiastic “yes!!!”?!
Power can corrupt the concept of consent
Consent is fundamentally about equality — you and your partner(s) have equal power.
Sometimes, however, power is unequal: a boss vs. an employee, a teacher vs. a student, and a group vs. an individual, for instance.
Any person or group in a position of power should understand that there is no consent if the person with less power feels like they have no choice but to say yes.
So many famous men are being fired for sexual harassment these days. Their power made other people feel as if they had no choice but to put up with their sexual harassment or worse.
Consent is temporary
Somebody who said yes yesterday can say no today. Somebody who says yes can change their mind at any time. Saying yes today is not a free pass for more yesses in the future.
There is an age of consent
Sex with anybody under a certain age is not consensual in the eyes of the law: It’s statutory rape. In Ohio, the age of consent is 16. An adult who has sex with somebody under 16 can be charged with a crime even if the partner says yes.
A “close-in-age” exemption (also known as the Romeo and Juliet law) makes it legal for minors aged 13-17 to have consensual sex without committing a crime.
Come join our private, stigma-free, supportive community.
Health management tools with medication & appointment reminders.
Social networking in a community conversation & private chats.
There is help if you’ve survived rape or sexual abuse
Coerced or forced sex is traumatizing and can cause people to have problems for life. If you’ve survived a sex crime, know that you’re not alone. It’s not your fault. Tell someone you trust – who you know loves you no matter what. Sharing it with someone else can help you process your feelings and sort out if you want to get professional help. If you want support, The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center provides services to all survivors of rape and sexual abuse – women, children, men – and their loved ones.
Sexual activity without consent is illegal
Convicted rapists often spend many years in jail, where they often become targets of abuse.
When they get out of jail, their names go on sex offender registries that anybody can look up on the internet, which makes it hard to find a good job, make new friends, or even find a place to live.
Why a safe word is a good idea
If you and your partner are into sexual adventures like BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadomasochism), this might be a familiar concept for you.
The kinkier it gets, the greater the imperative for true consent. In BDSM, one person is dominant and the other is submissive. The submissive partner chooses a safe word to tell the dominant partner it’s time to stop. Pretty cool system, right?
You don’t have to be into BDSM to have a safe word though. Any sex can get too rough at times, so it’s a good idea for people to agree they’ll say the safe word if they need their partner to call things off. It’s best to agree on a random word that wouldn’t normally come up during any sex talk.
Disclosing your HIV status
Disclosing your HIV and STI status is an important part of consent too — and in many places, it’s also the law. We know it can be tricky sometimes, but revealing your status to partners is important to do especially in states where it’s the law, even if you’re virally suppressed and have no chance of infecting somebody else. One way to look at it is this: how would you feel if somebody neglected to tell you about their status?
You can always talk it out later, allow them to ask questions or do research (PrEP is a great option!), and possibly move forward with sex when both of you are feeling comfortable and ready. For more, see our article on disclosure-and-hookups issues.
If you disclose your status and your sexual partner decides they don’t want to move forward with sexual activity, it’s important to respect that. It’s their loss anyways 😉
Great sex is consensual sex
We’re totally sex positive at Positive Peers. We want everybody getting as much sex as they want, whether it’s every day or every three years.
But we don't think sex should be imposed on people. Consent is the foundation of good sex, and it can’t be amazing, breathtaking, orgasmic sex if somebody isn’t sure they should be doing it at all.
Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
Positive Peers is a private app for young people living with HIV. Learn how you can earn rewards for your participation.