When I first became sexually active I was 20 and I thought I had a firm grasp on my own sexuality, as well as how to retain a sense of control through the situation and how to make sure I felt safe and comfortable. But being vocal about consent during sex was something I found more difficult to put into action than saying ‘yes’ to sex before it begins. The thing is, my partners, who I was in committed relationships with, were always great about asking if I was sure I wanted to have sex, but, once it began, they felt like they had full reign over my body. I have been spanked, had my hair pulled so hard that my neck hurt, and, most recently, I was choked—all without my permission.
Being choked was the turning point for me. I could tell that his hands were going to choke me because he had been pulling my hair to expose my neck and shoved my chin upward, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard he would grasp my neck. In the moment, I couldn’t seem to say the words ‘stop’ or ‘don’t do that’. I could feel myself about to cry because I felt scared and distressed. All I was able to do was raise up my hand and peel away his fingers. The act left me feeling uncomfortable and angry with myself for not speaking up. It also made me realise how vital consent is at different stages throughout sex.
Rough sex, especially when it comes to something as potentially dangerous as asphyxiation, should not just be assumed as on the table. Despite what porn might suggest, not everyone enjoys being hit or having their body thrown around on the bed. When this sort of sex is practiced without the consent of both parties, it ends up with someone feeling powerless and degraded. It might be awkward to have a pre-sex discussion that involves asking, “So, can I slap your ass?”, but it’s better to hear ‘yes’ than to make your partner feel uncomfortable or violated. Spontaneity and the heat of the moment are worth sacrificing in order to have consensual sex. And acts like choking or anal sex obviously have to be discussed beforehand, in a full-on conversation. Awkward? Yes, but it is 100% necessary.
Planned Parenthood has published their five points of consent: Freely given, enthusiastic, specific, informed, and reversible. Numbers three and five are crucial for what I’m discussing here. Consent often needs to be specific: specific to various sexual acts or physical actions that can take place during sex. You need to make sure that your partner and you are both equally comfortable with everything that takes place between you. And the reversibility of consent means that consent can be withdrawn at any time. I wish I had felt surer of myself so that I could have just stopped the sex the second it made me feel uncomfortable. Women and men both need to feel empowered enough to stop sex whenever they want.
Being in a relationship does not make getting consent unnecessary. As a sexual relationship progresses, it means that more aspects of one’s sex life need to be discussed and agreed to. Just because your previous partner enjoyed having their hair pulled, does not mean your current partner does. Consent can never be assumed or implied. A ‘yes’ given for one act, cannot be applied to every other act. I understand that figuring out what both partners like during sex can’t always be determined in a pre-sex conversation, but it is just as easy to ask during sex if the person is okay with something and to stop as soon as their answer isn’t ‘yes’. Open, upfront, and consistent conversation is the only way to ensure that everyone in the relationship feels empowered and safe throughout sex.