I've always thought that a woman's consent is a lot like her clitoris. It's like... right there, you know? Front and centre. Unmissable. Like the clitoris, consent is kind, gentle... easy to understand. And yet, we insist on treating it like the elusive, sometimes-confusing, often frustrating, G-spot.
The unfortunate truth is that a weird number of men don't seem to understand some very basic things about sexual consent. If you've ever tried to convince or emotionally manipulate a woman (or anyone else) into doing something sexual that she has reservations about, you have violated consent. Yes, that includes forced nude selfies from your girlfriend/wife. No, you're not a good guy just because you've never raped a woman. If you enjoy physical or social power over them, the transgression is that much more severe.
Who amongst us hasn't dismissed an unsolicited sexual contact as an unintentional mistake, at some point or another?
If you're a man, here are six basic lessons about consent you need to memorise today. And if you're a woman, please share this lesson with everyone, including the women you know; because who amongst us hasn't dismissed an unsolicited sexual contact as an unintentional mistake, at some point or another? Besides, as we're now learning, sexual predators lurk everywhere — in our youtube videos, in the boardrooms of celebrated start-ups, in newsrooms, at NGOs...
Sexual consent is not blanket consent. And sex is not just penetration. Even if two (or more) people are indulging in consensual sex (side note: if it's not consensual, it's rape, not sex), there has to be consent for every action performed within the sexual interaction. If she's holding your hand, it doesn't mean she wants to kiss you. If she's kissing you, it doesn't mean you try to cop a feel of her boobs. If she's letting you touch her breasts, doesn't mean you can start unbuttoning her... You get the drift.
No one is entitled to sex and no one is under any kind of obligation to "go all the way" because they were agreeable to some degree of intimacy.
No one is entitled to sex and no one is under any kind of obligation to "go all the way" because they were agreeable to some degree of intimacy. If you find yourself feeling unsure, just ask. Admittedly, a confused, awkward conversation about consent, mid-action, is an ardour dampener, but it's still infinitely more preferable to the alternative: perpetrating sexual assault. Stick to only the amount of friskiness your partner has enthusiastically consented to.
Consent can be withdrawn. Yes, it is frustrating when your sex partner changes their mind mid-way, seemingly out of the blue, for no fault of yours. You may have done everything right and been the poster boy for considerate and gentle behaviour and it is still okay for a woman, or anyone for that matter, to change their mind. If you're doing something that makes your partner freeze in terror or they are struggling to free themselves, consent has been withdrawn even if the words haven't been said.
If you're doing something that makes your partner freeze in terror, consent has been withdrawn even if the words haven't been said.
Training your mind to understand the difference between a pleasurable moan and a terrified yelp should not be a burdensome task for any reasonably decent human person. There is no caveat or exception to this rule: stop immediately, if consent has been withdrawn. An important part of recognising and respecting consent is holding yourself to a higher standard than animals.
Seeking consent is not limited to new partners. It is depressing that this needs to be spelled out: like in any other sphere of life, human beings change their mind when it comes to who, how and when they want to have sex with. Just because it is sex with your long-term partner who is generally happy to have sex with you, or someone you've previously slept with, it doesn't mean that it can't be rape. Marital rape is a horrifying reality for scores of women in India, even if we don't have laws against it yet. If you're forcing someone to engage in a sexual interaction with you — which, I repeat, is not limited to penetration alone — you are violating consent. It is possible for the lines to get blurred in relationships. At what point does excitement to experiment turn into pressure? This is the time to introspect. Did your partner agree to something just because they felt guilty or because they wanted it as well? If you've convinced your partner to acquiesce to something, you've used the emotional power you hold over them to cloud their judgement. That is not consent, it is subtle coercion.
There is no body language or behavioural cues that can imply consent. Not her clothing, not her flirtatiousness, not suggestive looks, not because she agreed to go out with you at night, not if she had a drink (or 10) with you, not even if she is comfortable discussing sex or cracking "non-veg" jokes or indulging in innuendo. Only a "yes" means yes, nothing else.
"I misread the signs" is not a defence. Please ignore the bizarre ladki ki na mein uski haan hai lessons you may have picked up from Bollywood and douchebags roaming the planet, at large. I repeat, ONLY yes means yes, nothing else.
Which brings me to, absence of no does not mean yes either. There are multiple reasons a person may not say 'no' even when they don't actually want to engage in sexual intimacy. It could be the fear of a powerful aggressor, social pressure, insecurities, being unsure, not being in a position to give or withhold consent — like if the person is intoxicated, of diminished mental capacity or a minor — or a whole bunch of other reasons. Don't assume consent in the absence of a no. If that makes you want to sulk, just ask yourself this: do you really want to set the bar so low for yourself that you're willing to make yourself believe that silence is as good as a yes? Ugh.
Enthusiastic consent is the best consent. Just like a person may not be able to say no even if they wanted to, a person might feel coerced into saying yes, despite not wanting to. Which is why, set the bar a little high for yourself and wait for not just a grudging or an unsure yes, but an enthusiastic yes, yes, yes!