Here’s What Consensual Sex Is And What It Isn’t In Five Scenarios

Invite your partner for a discussion on consent and make sure you’re both on the same page.

The concept of “consent” is messy and confusing. And that’s when you’re sober and unaroused, now add sexual arousal, excitement and external stimulants and it’s a struggle to work through the politics of consent. Placing all of this within a South African context of patriarchy is essential to you understanding consent.

Being aware of sexual messaging you received is step one to getting ten out of ten in your consent quiz.

Tick off what resonates with your messaging:

  • All women say no to sex.
  • All men want a lot of sex.
  • Men must fight to get sex from women.
  • If a woman gets naked she is ready for penetration.
  • If you buy her dinner/flowers/a drink she is consenting to be sexual.
  • If you have sex on the first date, you can expect to always be sexual.
  • A wife’s duty is to give sex to her husband.
  • A man has the right to have multiple partners.
  • Online sexting is not infidelity — it’s a harmless conversation between consenting adults.
  • Watching porn is cheating.
  • Masturbation is cheating.

Yet struggle you must as consent is the cornerstone, the bedrock, of healthy safer sexual and intimate experiences. I’ve previously written about consent and given tips and guidelines on ensuring enthusiastic consent happens in an intimate space. I want to expand our conversation in an experiential way. I want to give you real life situations that you can mull over, critically think about and then formulate your own understanding of consent.

I urge you to take on this personal challenge. The consequences of not understanding consent are dire. Accusations of rape, sexual coercion, emotional blackmail, domestic violence may harm your reputation and create tremendous unexpected and unintended trauma. And there will not always be a boss or politician there to save you.

Let’s do a quiz. I think it’s important that you establish your own definition of “consent” and allow it to be challenged through taking this quiz. Watch this video to get an idea of consent. Tick off scenarios that you think are consensual and those that you definitely think are non-consensual and those that you are uncertain about.

Scenario 1

A man befriends a first cousin he has not seen in many years. He is 60 years old, she is 43 years old. They begin having weekly dinners. They enjoy each other’s company. The cousin asks his advice, shares in vivid detail her own sexual life, sees him as a mentor and wise trusted family member. She is flirtatious with him. And invites him to her apartment for a drink. They are both drunk. They have intercourse and sexual play. The next week he offers to massage her and she accepts his offer. It becomes sexual. He leaves on a holiday and she begins to bombard him with WhatsApp messages of accusations of rape, non-consent, forced sex and incest. He firmly believes it was consensual as at no time did she say NO.

Yes, you do have to check in along the way if he/she is enjoying and wanting what ever you are wanting to do.

Scenario 2

A couple has discussed bringing in a third person into their bed. They fantasise and talk about it a lot, it arouses them. He is often online searching for a third person. His partner is fully aware of this as he shares it with him. One evening a man unknown to the partner appears at their dinner table together with other guests and he stays behind. And begins making out with the partner inviting him to join in. The man is deeply offended and calls it “non-consent”.

Scenario 3

A woman and her husband have an agreement that he can meet up with his ex — as long as she knows about it before hand. She discovers that he has been chatting to her via WhatsApp. She calls it non-consensual, non-monogamy, i.e. cheating.

Scenario 4

A couple has been married for 15 years. They have engaged in sexual play regularly over the years. He slowly shifts into being religious and decides he wants to be celibate. She screams “non-consent”.

Scenario 5

A married couple makes love with the lights off. He can never see her face and they do this in silence… 25 years later she divorces him on the basis of marital rape.

No, you cannot assume that her wriggling is consent. Body language is one way of knowing what’s going on… but you have to back it up with a question or a check in.

Complex, right ?! it requires that you practice affirmative and enthusiastic consent. Yes, you do have to check in along the way if he/she is enjoying and wanting what ever you are wanting to do. Yes, you do have to be aware of her body language and when you see her passive, in pain, silent, clenching, cringing check in and ask her whats up.

No, you cannot assume that her wriggling is consent. Body language is one way of knowing what’s going on… but you have to back it up with a question or a check in. Anyone who is unconscious, drunk, stoned, traumatised cannot give consent. Even if they began the night sober and horny and you made out a lot. Once you see he/she is no longer able to give consent, see them home safely and take care of yourself alone.

Invite your partner for a discussion on consent and make sure you’re both on the same page. And most of all be sure to discuss the notion of consent with your children. It will save them from a lot of sexual frustration, humiliation and most of all, from ever being accused of gender based violence.