With the beginning of the academic year comes new-found fresher freedom and shenanigans – but with such things also comes responsibility. Regardless of whether you’re an incoming first year, a visiting (welcome!) student or a returning student it’s important to keep yourself and others safe during the fresher’s festivities, especially if you choose or hope to be getting sexy. So, here’s a lil’ Sexpress refresher for you, before we get into the juicy stuff.
Before you even dive into any sort of sexual activity it’s important that you and your partner(s) lower your risk of exposure to STI’s and pregnancy by having condoms and dental dams at hand, and are aware of your STI status. If you need to stock up, condoms and dental dams are available from the SU Welfare Officer for an affordable price and STI screenings are available at the Student Health Department free of charge. Do yourself (and others) a favour and avail of them. Start the college year off right!
What is Consent? Condoms and dental dams aside, one of the most important necessities for any sexual act, arguably, (whether it’s a one-night stand, a tinder hook up or part of a loving relationship) is consent. It may feel like the word has been stomped into the ground, but we at Sexpress want to break it down a little more for you to have a better understanding, so you can make the most of what should be an enjoyable experience for all involved, without any ‘blurred lines’ or confusion.
Consent, in a sexual context, is an agreement between partners; it must be freely and enthusiastically given before any sort of sexual act(s).
Consent can be expressed in any number of ways, it can simply be a verbal ‘YES!’, negotiating what each person is willing/unwilling to take part in beforehand. It can be ‘blanket’ consent where a partner(s) agrees that unless they verbally say so, it’s okay to proceed. Consent can also be non-verbal with continued enthusiastic responses to acts built up over time (nonverbal cues can be difficult to decipher, if taking this route start off slowly and ensure that each person(s) has a clear understanding and knows that they can stop at any time!). The key is that partners understand and agree upon an expression of consent. Never assume just because a person gave consent before that it is automatically given again. If you’re unsure, ask!
In the same way consent can be given, it can also be taken away at any time for any reason. This can be in the form of an agreed verbal safe word between partners or physically pulling away from another person or simply a verbal ‘let’s stop’ or ‘could we take a break’ or ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. Just because a person revokes consent does not mean it is a reflection on you, it should not be taken personally, and you should never pressure or egg a person on to continue if they have expressed that they no longer wish to go any further. In that same vein, you should never feel guilty or be made to feel so, if you decide you no longer want to continue.
There are certain instances when a person will not be able to give clear and informed consent. This can be in situations where they are intoxicated or under the influence of a substance(s). This also applies to when a person is under the legal age of consent (in the Republic of Ireland this is 17 years of age) or can sometimes come into play when there is a power imbalance in the relationship, for instance when a person in the sexual relationship is the others’ superior.
For a person to give consent they must know what it is exactly that they are consenting to, otherwise known as informed consent. For instance, asking for informed consent from a partner(s) might look like this – ‘Is it okay if we fuck without a condom?’ – This gives the partner an opportunity of weighing up the risks or the pros and cons of engaging in the activity. If they’re not clearly made aware or if information is deliberately withheld, this is not consent and could be a sign of sexual coercion.
Speaking to Refinery29, Cameka Crawford (head of communications for the US National Domestic Violence Helpline) defines sexual coercion as ‘tactics used to emotionally or physically manipulate a person into sex’. Sexual coercion can present itself in different forms ranging from egging a person on to perform an act, encouraging a person to drink excessively or to threatening a partner – ‘I’ll leave you if you don’t do ‘x’ with me’. It’s vital that partners consent because they truly want to, not because declining to give consent comes at some sort of personal or physical ‘cost’.
It’s important to remember that sex should be a fun, safe and pleasurable experience for all involved and for that to become a reality communication, protection, and consent are key!
Sex without consent is rape. If you feel you’ve been affected by any of the topics covered don’t be afraid to speak up and reach out; there are resources for you to get the support that you need.
You can contact your SU Welfare Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Cork Sexual Violence Centre (1800 496 496).
What is Sexpress? Sexpress is University Express’ sexual health & culture column covering everything from stories, resources, readers’ questions and almost anything else that revolves around sex and sexuality. Got an idea for an article or want to get involved? Email email@example.com and keep up to date through the blog or through @UCCExpress on social media.