“My body, my choice” is one of my very favorite things to come out of this more empowered liberal movement, because I truly never even considered such a stance as an option until my very late teens.
Consent is one of the very biggest social topics of conversation happening in the world right now. After years and years of keeping silent on the matter, women and men alike have started to own their own bodies loud and proud in the past year.
When I was in school, not so long ago, there was no mention of consent. The general idea was that everyone wanted to have sex, and as soon as you were in a relationship, that’s who you were having sex with. We were told to wait until we were “ready”, but we weren’t told to wait until the people we were going to be having sex with were “ready” too.
No one seemed to think at the time that maybe their partner didn’t want to do it, especially if they didn’t make their disapproval clear at the first sign of any sexual advance.
Rape was a forceful attack, in a park bush by a strange man in a trench coat and as far as we were aware, that was all it was. At the time, none of us thought that we could have been raped by someone we were in a relationship with, especially if it still wasn’t a forceful situation.
Now we’ve been working hard to make it clear that a straight yes is the only response that could truly suggest any kind of sexual advance is wanted, even if you are in a committed relationship. It doesn’t matter if they wanted it before, it doesn’t matter if they changed their mind during any activity. Without a sober and clear “yes”, at all times, there was no consent given – that’s all there is to it. We’re getting so much louder when it comes to rape, especially when it comes to the non-defence that “she didn’t say no”.
The problem still, is the wafer thin line between consent and force.
What happens when you don’t say no, but you didn’t want to say yes? I’m not talking forced consent – there is no way that any person in their right mind should believe consent given under threat is genuine consent. If you were scared into agreeing, through threat of violence or harm, you weren’t a consenting party.
My question though, is pressured consent. In a romantic relationship between two people, consent is wrongly considered to be a given by a large portion of the population, especially, unfortunately, by young people. When it’s so expected, it’s hard to say no. Where do we draw the line of consent when a person is only having sex, or anything else for that matter, because their partner has convinced them that they have to? Whether it’s through emotional abuse, or fear of being left, I say if you aren’t doing it for yourself, then you aren’t consenting.
Sex, any kind of sex, in an alarming number of relationships, comes with an ultimatum. “If you don’t want it, we can’t be together.” Look at your partner now and ask yourself, “If I stopped wanting to have sex, would they stay with me?” – If the answer is no, you ought to think about who you’re with. For the most part, this isn’t important. If you want sex, if you enjoy sex, then the hypothetical doesn’t really matter. For me, in my first relationship, it felt like an ultimatum.
I’d never consider myself to have been raped; I feel that claiming that label would totally invalidate the stories of those who have genuinely been in that horrific situation, but when I look back I know I didn’t give any genuine consent. I was 15, I was in love, and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. This boy was my first love or so I thought, and a person I ran back and forth between for 5 years.
I was convinced I loved him, but in truth I feared him. He was angry. He would get into my face to yell or whisper in that way which somehow feels more intimidating than shouting. Years later, I don’t really remember what it was that I feared so much, but it was enough to convince me that any kind of sexual advancement he made, I had to go along with.
I wanted him to love me, and if being sexually active with him was going to do that, then I’d do it. That, in my opinion is not consent. Consent is given when you are choosing to do whatever activity it is, for your own personal benefit. If you’re doing it to please another person, but on your own accord you wouldn’t do it, then it’s not consent.
I didn’t want him to be upset and I didn’t want him to be angry at me. We fought a lot. I wasn’t a weak individual and I could fight back – but in the end the fear usually meant he won. When he got angry, he won. I wanted to be together and in the end, I knew that if I didn’t give it up, we wouldn’t last. Sex and sexual activity became my way of showing love with him, of convincing him to stay with me. It also became the only way I felt that he might actually like me. Years later, I find it hard to separate sex and love, because I spent so many years brain-washed into believing that sex meant love, and love meant sex.
I consented; I convinced myself that I wanted to do all these things with him but something never felt right. I felt as though I was just going along with it, I didn’t want it, but I wasn’t saying no. We had a mostly one-sided relationship when it came to intimacy, and I was convinced that was okay. It was as if it was my job to please him. We were young and I didn’t know what I was doing or that I had a choice.
To be honest, I can’t remember a time when I ever openly said no to him. My past life feels like a different person and my heart breaks for that girl who never had the power to say no, or the education which said it was okay if I didn’t want to. We have got to instill the idea into young people that they are allowed to say no whenever they want, and if their partner doesn’t agree, then that partner is not worth their time.
I have memories I’ve pushed down so deep I can’t even remember them, but some still stand firm and those ones are the memories which changed who I am. I was 15 at most, and he’d asked me to meet his extended family, who were in town.
I’d said no, I was terrified; suffering with what became the severe anxiety disorder I now call home. He told me he’d break up with me if I didn’t. I begged, I told him I was scared. I remember sitting scrunched up on my desk in a dark corner of my bedroom, crying down the phone to him. As an adult I can look back and scream at myself for not ending it there and then and outing him for who he was, but at the time I was losing the “love of my life”. I felt like I needed to be with him, but I also feared that backlash of breaking up. That kids, is a clear sign of an emotionally abusive relationship.
In the end, we compromised. He’d come to my house first, and then his Aunt would pick us up and take us back to his house to meet everyone. I’m very grateful for my body’s innate mechanism to save me from things I’m afraid of. I threw up, hard, while he was there to witness it.
Luckily something like that lets you out of meeting new people. Unluckily, now I owed him for not meeting his family apparently. I had just been sick, and while I knew it was through fear, for all he knew I was severely unwell. That didn’t matter to him; I owed him for not going through with the plan. I consented; I did as he wanted because I wanted him to forgive me, I was under pressure to do what needed to be done in case he left me or got angry. I never once thought I had any right to say no.
Later in our turbulent relationship, we’d been over for months when I fell back in love with him for reasons I’ll never understand. He felt familiar and I was in the grips of a turbulent anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel it too, but he wanted to get laid. He knew I needed love before I would ever be intimate with anyone again – something I’ve now come to accept as part of my own sexuality – and so he did what he had to do. He told me he was falling in love again. I thank whatever lucky spirits are out there every single day that I didn’t believe him. He was lying, bare-faced lies he later owned up to. Is it consent if it’s given under false pretences?
I want consent to be accepted as something only given when you really want to be a part of it, but sometimes that has the potential to turn into something awful. To clarify; you cannot withdraw consent the next day because of regret. If you aren’t on board at the time, then you do whatever you need to do to get justice, but if you were on board at the time and you regretted it after, you don’t get to withdraw your consent and claim an attack occurred instead.
When I look back at my experience, I know I hadn’t really consented, but I also know I gave no impression that I wasn’t okay. I did as I had to do to get by, and we were young and naive.
While most of me harbours nothing but anger when I think about it, I also know he meant no harm – he just wasn’t educated on what was and wasn’t consent. His moral compass was all off, but I wouldn’t ever suggest, retrospectively, that he “raped” me or anything of the sort. I was under pressure and I was afraid.
I’ve forgiven him now for what I went through. We’re adults and we’re on civil terms as distant Facebook friends. I understand that he was young too. I wish him all the best these days, in the hopes that he treats new relationships with more respect. Despite feeling friendly now, I still bear scars from that time in my life. It truly has shaped the way I am today and I don’t think I’ll ever change, so I can only plead that young people these days have a better chance at healthy relationships.
I fear strongly for the youth of today. There is so much pressure to be sexually active early on. While my generation started around 15 years old, 13 is now the average age – and even younger for activities like sexting. We’re trying harder to educate on the matter of consent, but no one seems to talk about what it really means in the confines of a relationship.
No one tells you that it is only true consent if you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, not just because you want someone else to be happy, or you want them to love you, or because you think it’s expected.
Let’s make it clear, if they: move your head or your hand for you when you don’t want to do it, then they’re forcing you. If you’re afraid they’ll leave you when you don’t want to do it, then they’re forcing you. If you’re worried that they’ll be angry or upset in a way that makes you feel guilty or afraid, then they’re forcing you.
If you are not completely okay with what is happening, if you aren’t happy to be doing it, be it for pleasure or for intimacy, then they are forcing you.
Just because you haven’t said no, does not mean they aren’t forcing you. Sex, under any circumstances, is about both parties being happy and enjoying the experience. It needs to be more common knowledge that if your partner isn’t clearly enjoying themselves, then you’re forcing them to do something they aren’t happy about, just for your own needs.