Why must there be mutual consent in a sexual relationship?

Why must there be mutual consent in a sexual relationship?

Building a relationship goes far beyond attraction and physical contact. It implies commitment, dedication and shared growth. 

Going through the different levels of depth, from affectivity to sexual contact, is a process that always demands the consent of the persons involved. Sex without consent constitues rape. 

According to studies conducted by Amnesty International in Europe, one in 20 women over the age of 15 has been raped, and one in 10 women over the age of 15 has suffered some form of sexual violence. There, more than one of four people believes that sexual relations withouh consent could be justified in certain circumstances, such as: 

  • If the victim is drunk or under the influence of psychoactive substances. 
  • If she voluntarily goes home with someone. 
  • If she is wearing suggestive clothing. 
  • If the victim does not clearly say no or does not physically resist. 

Against this background, it is essential to be clear why reciprocity is important in a couple’s relationship and, even more, in sexual relations and why consent must be clear, active, specific, informed and reversible. 

What is sexual consent?

Consent constitutes an agreement reached by two people to engage in an activity of a sexual nature. Indicates that the persons involved actively and consciously manifest a reciprocal desire for sexual intercourse (from kissing, oral sex to vaginal or anal penetration). 

Consenting or asking for consent is essential to setting boundaries, building a healthy bond with a partner, and creating a sexual environment. The best way to feel comfortable in sexual activity is to talk. 

Several studies show that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone close to the victim, often a partner or ex-partner. For this reason, it is imperative that both people actively and clearly consent to sexual activity. 

Each person decides about his or her own body

Some social norms minimize the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, giving attributions to romantic or sexual partners, parents or caregivers, among others, to decide over the body of another person. Identify them and avoid normalizing these beliefs that make children, adolescents, and women vulnerable. 

  • Attitudes that blame victims for intimate partner violence, or for forms of VAWG (Violence against women, girls, and adolescents): for their behaviour or mode of dress. Presumption of guilt: some women provoke their partners to the point of inducing them to exercise violence against them. If they kill a woman, they must have some reason (presumption of guilt).
  • The belief that parents have power over their child’s/adolescent’s body and sexuality. 
  • The belief that girls/adolescents do not have autonomy over their bodies, because of their age and experience, and, therefore, adults can dispose of their bodies and sexualities because they know better.
  • Children and adolescents are the property of their parents or dependents, because they are the providers. 
  • Attitudes that subordinate women’s sexual behavior to the will of their male partners. 
  • Beliefs that women of African descent are always accessible for the consumption of male sexuality. 
  • The belief that a woman must comply with a man’s decisions. 
  • The perception that violence within the private sphere is different and therefore not subject to the same legal repercussions as violence committed in the public sphere (crime). 
  • The naturalization of sexual violence within the couple, due to existing marital ties. 

Although it is a discourse that has been repeated for decades, it is important to understand that these beliefs generate greater vulnerability and exposure to risks associated with sexual violence. Only those involved in a sexual relationship can actively and clearly give their consent. 

What should consent look like?

Consent tells the other person that there is a mutual desire to have sex. 

Learn how consent should be: 

  • It must be given freely, without pressure or deception. 
  • It must be conscious, both people must know what they feel and what they want to do, and must never be asleep, fainting, under the influence of alcohol or psychoactive substances, because in this case they cannot decide freely. 
  • A clear “yes” must be stated. A hesitant “no” or silence does not give clarity of the other person’s desire. Even if one of the persons involved says “yes” but looks worried or unsure, there is no consent. 
  • You must be specific, agreeing to kiss someone does not mean agreeing to other sexual activity. 
  • It must be informed, a person can only accept something when he/she knows all the information about it. 
  • It is reversible, at any time a person can change his or her mind, even when it is something he or she has already done before. Having said “yes” once does not mean that the person cannot later withdraw that consent. 

NO means NO

Throughout history, victims of sexual abuse and rape have been blamed based on false beliefs that some of their actions give someone else the right to decide about their body and sexuality. 

It is therefore important to emphasize the following: 

It is NOT consent…

Sometimes it is taken for granted that a small gesture endorses any sexual activity or that if consent is asked for once, it always applies. Thus, it is essential to be clear about what consent is not. 

It is NOT consent: 

  • Silence. 
  • A hesitant “no”. 
  • A forced “yes”. 
  • A “yes” from a minor. 
  • A “maybe”. 
  • An “I don’t know”. 
  • Having consumed alcohol. 
  • Being unconscious. 
  • Flirting with someone. 
  • Wearing a certain type of clothing. 

This is no time to remain silent. If you feel your boundaries have been violated and you are a victim of sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Helpline at 800-656-4673 for help from trained staff, or chat online at rainn.org/es

Also you can join the #YoDigoNoMas Movement by supporting this April 30th “Yo Digo No Más to sexual violence” march, a space created in conjuction with the Yonkers Mayor’s Office and Yonker’s School District to raise awareness around sexual abuse prevention.