One of the most significant factors in human relations is consent. Consent is very important not only in sexual relations since early in life but in the full range of our interpersonal relationships. Therefore it is important to understand a couple of terms regarding consent, as knowledge is a base of empowerment. Raising awareness so as to cultivate the ability to recognise and accept our own desires, to express them and to establish our personal space are key to this conversation.
A significant part of interpersonal relationships in adult life include our sexual relationships. Sexual consent, which is defined in broad terms as voluntary and conscious participation in any sexual act, is a necessary element of a healthy sex life. Specifically, according to the definition given by the Greek Section of Amnesty International, consent is:
- Freely Provided: It must always be voluntary and a free choice of all persons participating in the act. In cases of either inability to consent due to the influence of alcohol or substances or loss of consciousness or any form of coercion or bullying, the sexual act is not consensual.
- Informed: All participating individuals must be aware of the practices that will take place during the sexual act. Sexual behaviours involving lying, cheating or deception are not consensual.
- Specific: Consent to something that happens before or during the sexual act does not constitute consent for everything else.
- Reversible: Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
- Enthusiastic: Consent is given either directly and verbally through “yes” or is actively expressed through other verbal and non-verbal ways.
The absence of “no” does not mean consent
Although in this instance we are talking mainly about sexual consent, it’s important to emphasise once again that consent is vital to all kinds of human interactions and relationships with friends, family, professionals, even in the briefest and most minor daily interactions.
However, what is the key to expressing our “yes” or “no” effectively? Many of us may have found or will find ourselves in situations where we feel that we have difficulty to express our discomfort and say a simple “no” even if we don’t want to do something. This could happen for many reasons such us peer pressure, manipulation, stress or fear. As this “no” can ,in our minds, be associated with pressure from friends, peers, partners and even society as a whole. The ability to perceive and establish boundaries plays an important role in expressing our discontent, avoiding harmful behaviours or situations and protecting ourselves. Other significant skills are honesty, effective communication skills and empathy.
These elements should be cultivated from an early age as part of age-appropriate sexual health education as well as mental health promotion interventions. The main goal is for children and adolescents to gradually learn the concept of personal boundaries, skills to perceive and protect their own boundaries and acquire the ability to acknowledge and respect the boundaries of others. Another goal, related to the above, is to develop proper communication skills.
Finally, it does not matter if you hurt someone’s feelings by saying no, or if you are upset by someone else saying no to you. Your bodily autonomy matters, and so does everyone else’s. You do not owe anyone anything when it comes to what you do with your body.
Contact us at Hera Family Care if you are a teenager and would like more information about consent, or even if you are a parent and want some help on how to properly manage these discussions about consent. We are here for you!