Sexual Health

Consent

    Your body belongs to you alone, and therefore, you should be the only one who decides what happens to it. That basically is the definition of consent. Whether it is a simple hug, a kiss, penetrative sex, or anything else – consent is necessary for everything, every time, and it applies to everyone.

    Although men often get singled out for not clearly understanding what can be termed as consensual and what cannot, it is important to know that consent is not restrictive of gender roles. The problem with interpreting a response as consent arises due to passive responses. No means no – everyone is clear on that. However, any situation where the person doesn’t say an explicit no is assumed to be consent. In such a case, some signs convey that your partner is not consenting:

    •  The body tenses up
    • He/she stops responding to you physically and just lies there – not even actually stopping you
    • The partner doesn’t say anything at all or says anything that could mean he/she is not into it, like ‘slow down’ or ‘hold on a minute’

    Another important thing to understand is that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Be it at the beginning or in the middle of sexual interaction, you can back out at any point if you feel uncomfortable. Be it for women during sex or men during oral sex – no is always an option, always. And even if you feel scared or uncomfortable in saying so, it is the best thing to do.

    Improving communication skills should be explored to give consent a stronger voice. Empowering adolescents and young people with information about their bodies can help increase their confidence and giving them skills to articulate their consent without fear that they will not be heard or believed.

    A rights-based approach to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) can equip young people with the knowledge and skills to enjoy their sexuality both physically and emotionally. Culturally and age-appropriate, gender-sensitive CSE can help make them informed decisions and equip them with skills like decision-making, communication, and critical thinking.

    Passively communicated consent can lead to exploitation, harassment, and even violence. To protect children from any such consequences, The Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act (POSCO Act) has been implemented in India. It addresses sexual abuse, penetrative and non-penetrative assault, and sexual harassment among other issues. By assuming that minors cannot exercise consent, POSCO makes sex between minors a crime, irrespective of consent.

    A complete understanding of consent is necessary in society today. It helps both men and women know and exercise their rights and CSE provides knowledge on the options available if these rights are overstepped. Ultimately, the decision of how and with whom to use his/her body lies on the person only – and it is the responsibility of everyone else to understand that.