“He said, she said.” He said it was consensual, she said it was not. Who is telling the truth? Offenders often try to avoid responsibility for their sexual violence by claiming that the victim gave them consent. It is also possible, though rare, for there to be a false accusation of rape when none occurred.
But what if both he and she are right? What if he did have consent and at the same time, she did not give him consent? How could this be possible? This can happen only if he and she are talking about different aspects of a sexual encounter. For example, she may have given him permission to come back to her house (“where”) at 7:00 P.M. (“when”) but not to have sex with her (“what”). Or she may have given him permission to kiss and touch her (“what”) but not to have sexual intercourse (also “what”). So he had consent for some things but not for others.
Who (What do I know about this person who wants to have sex with me?) Where (What does it mean if we agree to go home together?) Why (What will this mean to each of us?) How (How can we feel and be safe with each other?) When (How will we know when one of us wants to stop?) What (What exactly are we going to do?) Sexual Consent
In other words, giving consent to have sex is more that just saying “yes.” Both people have to agree on what they are saying “yes” to. A simple way to think about this is to ask six basic questions we all know: Who, what, where, when, why, and how. If two people don’t agree on all six, then full consent has not been given. Consider the diagram below and the descriptions of each of the six questions that follow.
(What do I know
about this person
who wants to have
sex with me?)
(What does it mean if we agree to go home together?)
(What will this mean to each of us?)
(How can we feel and be safe with each other?)
(How will we know when one of us
wants to stop?)
(What exactly are we going to do?)
Who? How well do you know your potential sexual partner? Has this person ever been exposed to STD’s or violent in other relationships? Have the two of you shared your views on contraception, pregnancy, abortion, etc.? Is there anything else that either of you needs to know before deciding to have sex?
What? Do you and your partner want to do the same thing? When you agree to have “sex” together, do you know what each other’s expectations are? Does one of you want oral sex, while the other wants sexual intercourse? Maybe one of you only wants to kiss, while the other wants something more. Consenting to one thing does not mean consenting to everything.
Where? Not all sex occurs at home in bed. Locations that are fun and exciting for one person might be scary and uncomfortable for another. Are your comfort zones the same? Also, agreeing to go back to someone’s home does not necessarily mean that you are agreeing to have sex once you get there.
When? You might be “in the mood” at any time, while your partner enjoys sex only at certain times or under certain conditions. The two of you may differ on the amount of foreplay you want before or as part of sex. Have the two of you talked about how to tell if and when either of you wants to stop? Remember, even if you give consent, you can change your mind and withdraw consent at any time. It’s your body.
Why? What does sex mean to you? Is it a causal or athletic event for one of you and the meaningful expression of love for the other? Does one of you view this as “hooking-up” between FWB’s (“Friends with Benefits”), while the other sees this as an important component in a long-term relationship? You’re entitled to know why someone wants access to your body.
How? Giving consent to sexual contact does not mean that you are giving consent to be hurt. Sex is risky business, since people make themselves vulnerable while sharing physical intimacy. Have the two of you discussed how to keep each other safe both emotionally and physically? For example, are you practicing safe sex? Are you making sure that each of you is sober enough to act responsibly? Do the two of you agree to stop at any time for any reason if either of you wants to? Will you take responsibility for any harm you cause, even if it is unintentional?
By answering these six simple questions you and partner can help to make sure that your sexual life together is as safe and satisfying as possible.