14 Days of Love Day 6: The Importance of Consent

Bella Martin, Sports Editor

In any relationship, sexual or not, respect and communication make connections stronger and more intimate. Asking for consent when engaging in sexual activities shows respect for one’s partner and relationship as a whole. It also sets important boundaries in a relationship. Each half of the relationship must acknowledge what the other person wants or does not want. Setting boundaries, showing respect and communicating help sustain a healthy relationship. So, what, specifically, does consent mean? 

Consent occurs when someone actively agrees to something. In a sexual relationship, it means actively and verbally agreeing to engage in sexual activities or behavior with a person or partner. Consent ensures that the two people in a relationship know that sex is wanted. Any type of sexual activity that occurs without consent gets classified as rape or sexual assault, a felony punishable by law.

How is consent given?

No one should ever get coerced into having sex or participating in any sexual activity. A person must give and agree to sex without manipulation, pressure from peers or influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Different laws pertaining to sex exist throughout the country, setting a standard for who can and cannot consent to sexual activities. Any person who cannot speak or say the words “yes” out loud cannot consent. For example, a high, drunk or passed out individual cannot consent. Additional laws protect those under the legal age of consent (18) from being pressured into sex with someone older than them. Legally known as statutory rape, state and federal legislation prohibits any sexual intercourse between adults and minors.

Even after initially agreeing to sex, a person can change their mind, which makes consent reversible. Engaging in sexual activity once does not mean a person feels comfortable doing it again. Moreover, a person should only engage in what they feel comfortable with. Even in a serious relationship where two people have gotten intimate several times before, consent must be given each time. This maintains the two essential components of a healthy and happy relationship: respect and communication.

Consenting to one thing does not mean consenting to another. Both partners should have a clear understanding of what they consented to prior to anything happening. Additionally, one should always evaluate and understand the risks of taking that next step in a relationship. 

A person should never feel guilty or upset about not giving or receiving consent. Sometimes, people may not want to have sex and prefer to watch a movie or go out to dinner. Others do not feel ready to take such a big step in a relationship and prefer to wait. Everyone has the right to make decisions about what happens to their own body. Everyone has different boundaries. 

What happens if consent is not given? 

Any type of sexual activity that occurs without consent qualifies as rape or sexual assault. These two felonies are often used interchangeably. However, some states use the charges to describe different crimes. For example, rape refers to sexual contact that includes penetration, while sexual assault refers to any non-consensual sexual touching. No matter how states define these terms, both rape and sexual assault are felonies and punishable by law.

If the word “no” or any word along the lines of “no” gets used, all activity must stop. Once a person withdraws consent, no sexual activity should continue. No means no. 

Remember that anyone can experience sexual violence, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race or age. In the same way, clothes that a victim wears at the time of an unwanted sexual event do not invite their rapist or assaulter to attack them. Rape and sexual assault have no justification, ever. 

If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual violence, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. You can also contact your local police department or go to https://www.rainn.org/ for more information. Remember that you are NOT alone help is available, and you can get through this.