In a patriarchal society of India, consent is not often talked about. One of the two people in a consensual relationship, might not be in favour of sexual activity at a certain point of time. Without communicating this to their partner, not only are they subjecting themselves to the trauma of unwilling sex but also their partner to disappointment, self-doubt and low self-esteem.
When we think about consent, we think of the phrase, “No means no.” While this is true, it is not sufficient to understand consent in its real form. This is because it puts the responsibility on one person to resist or accept an activity. It also makes consent about what someone doesn’t want to do, instead of being about openly expressing what they do want to do.
Sexual consent is an agreement between two adults to participate in sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, it is important for both parties to ensure that they are both equally willing to participate. Honest communication is the key to a consensual relationship.
Consenting and asking for consent is all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to a sexual relationship — every single time — for it to be consensual. Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.
What consent looks like
When there is consent, there is communication every step of the way. From foreplay to the final act, one needs to seek consent without assuming that the other party is willing or comfortable with the advances or the speed.
It is also important to understand that when the other person does not say a clear no, does not mean that they have agreed. Consent has to be clear and enthusiastic. If someone is unsure, stays silent, doesn’t respond, or says “Maybe…” then they aren’t saying “yes” and this should be accepted respectfully.
What consent does NOT look like
Dressing in a certain manner, flirting, accepting rides or gifts does not mean a person has given consent. In fact, agreeing to go on a date, or accepting an invitation to a sleepover also does not mean that they have consented to a sexual relationship.
Consenting under the influence of drugs or alcohol is also not valid. It is important for both the parties to be adults and in a fully conscious state for consent to be valid. It is also invalid if a person is consenting out of pressure, fear of saying no, or for fear of losing out on a career opportunity.
Consent is difficult to understand for both – perpetrators as well as the victims. Following are certain red flags that indicate that one’s consent has been violated.
If one feels pressured to do something they do not want to and guilty at a denial of doing it, the consent has been violated. It is also important to understand for both the parties that even if they are in a consensual relationship, they do not owe each other anything. The expectation of sexual activity in exchange of a favour or a gift is not acceptable.
In an intimate relationship, not only it is important to have honest verbal communication but also to understand each other’s non-verbal clues for or against sexual activity. Which means, if one of the partners is showing physical disinterest by pushing away their partner or turning away from them, it has to be taken as a non-consent.
This article is part of our series on the international 16 Days of Activism campaign with the theme “Orange the World”.