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Sex and consent: everything you need to know

Picture of Mara Ruiz
Mara Ruiz

An aspect of sexuality that should have been at the center from the beginning becomes more and more important: consent. This element has to do with respecting the will of the other and significantly involves sexual health.

Consent is a verb that means to allow something or accept that it be done. Until very recently, in the sexual field, consent was manifested rather by not actively opposing this or that practice.

Especially in the case of women or in situations where there is an extremely unequal power relationship (as in the teacher-student bond), the fact of not saying “no” has been interpreted as “yes”, and unfortunately, many Sometimes, even if “no” was said, it was still translated as part of the “courtship ritual”.

Fortunately, this situation is beginning to change and little by little the idea that words must be taken for their meaning is strengthening, that “no is no” and that there can no longer be room for confusion or “misunderstandings” that result in forcing someone to a sexual practice that they do not want to perform.

How do I know if there is consent?

Criticism of these new rules of the game has not been lacking. There have even been some positions like the one taken by a hundred French actresses in 2018, severely repudiating the #MeToo movement, which brought to light a series of sexual abuses committed by powerful men in Hollywood against actresses in the media.

At that time, the professionals accused their American colleagues of wanting to end the right to flirt and eradicate the seduction process, and of trying to perpetuate women in the role of victims.

Also in more daily discussions, the moment of asking a sexual partner if they accept each and every one of the things that happen in an intimate encounter has been described as “absurd”. However, it shouldn’t be that hard either, right? The importance of consenting lies not only in knowing what the other person wants, but in showing respect and attention to make the relationship (whether sexual or emotional) more equitable.

If you don’t know how to start or don’t see how to put this consent into practice, here are some steps you can take to cement a mutually agreeable relationship without going to the extreme of having to sign liability clauses before having sex.

1. Ask your partner if they agree to the sexual practice you want, and do not pressure them directly or in a veiled way. Subtle pressure could be telling her that if she loves you she will do this for you, asking the question in an angry tone, or telling her that someone else would be willing to do this with you (threatening to trade her for that other person if she doesn’t agree). All of these are forms of coercion that have nothing to do with beatings or physical violence, but that do harm just the same.

2. You don’t need to interrupt the erotic moment to ask an interrogation, you can well ask your questions during the sexual dynamic. Just use clear, direct and simple phrases such as “Would you like to try (this)?”, “Does (this) look good to you?” or “(Does this) feel good?”

3. Never forget that when someone gives consent, they need to be in full use of their senses. A person who is asleep, drunk or under the influence of drugs (including some medication that alters their psyche) is not capable of consenting, so any practice you carry out with him or her in these circumstances can be considered abuse or an attack sexual.

4. And last but not least, full consent is not the absence of denial. To be certain that your partner has given their approval to a certain practice, they must say “yes” explicitly. In this way there is no room for doubt and both can have the confidence of having reached an agreement.

Now you know, you don’t have to end the romance to achieve a balanced and satisfactory situation for both of you, you just need to update the way you relate to your partner or sexual partners.

Remember that at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we work every day to improve people’s sexual health, especially to protect themselves from HIV and other sexual infections. If you want to get a free HIV test, locate our offices in your country and make your appointment today.