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A woman's consent for intimacy is vital for healthy sexual relationship

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
According to the writer, men have no right over a woman's body, and if there is to be sexual relationship, a woman's consent is sacrosanct. There must be an explicit consent from her.
According to the writer, men have no right over a woman's body, and if there is to be sexual relationship, a woman's consent is sacrosanct. There must be an explicit consent from her.
Image: 123rf

I thought I would write about something light, seeing that it is the silly season, where we put up our feet and enjoy ourselves after working hard throughout the year.

But that would be naive of me, when I live in a country that is marred by pervasive violence, sexual harassment and rape. The season we are in has instead got me thinking about consent.

Seeing that we will be socialising more than we usually do, consent came to the fore because of the boundaries that are likely to be overstepped. Like I said earlier, it is the "silly season".

Do not get me wrong, consent is important for every season, every day. However, I felt that we could all use a refresher on consent and its importance.

I think consent is a critical issue that all of us need to come face to face with. The Oxford English Dictionary defines consent as "permission or agreement to do something". And according to Project Respect - a referral service for women trafficked for sexual exploitation and women in the sex industry - consent is "a mutual, verbal, physical and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats or head games".

This definition goes on to say consent is "a whole body experience".

It is not just a verbal "yes or no". Consent involves "paying attention to your partner as a person and checking in with physical and emotional cues as well".

Just stop for a moment and reflect on how many of us as men ever check in with our partners about their physical and emotional wellbeing, even when we think they have consented to our sexual advances? Very few, I guess.

There is an explanation for our obliviousness when it comes to actively seeking consent.

The explanation is rooted in patriarchy and the entitlement men feel they have to the bodies of women; that this is a man's world and our roles are clear, so why should I ask for consent when she plays along?

And we more often than not use women's availability as an indication that she is implicitly giving consent.

We ask ourselves, "why did she allow me in her room when she knew perfectly well that she was not ready to consent to my sexual advances? Why was she wearing a dress that is sexually suggestive?"

And we go on to ask why did she not tell me that she was not interested?

Consent is enthusiastic and continuous, in all situations. Project Respect states that "consent isn't a question. It's a state. If, instead of lovers, the two of you were synchronised swimmers, consent would be the water. It is not enough to jump in, get wet and climb out - if you want to swim, you have to be in the water continually.

And if you want to have sex, you have to be continually in a state of enthusiastic consent with your partner. I find this definition uncomplicated and easy to follow. But then there is an ongoing question in my mind: how come majority of us men think that "no" is a "yes"? I find this mind-boggling, if not irrational.

As men, we rationalise our behaviour by saying "women play hard to get anyway, you must persist".

We say, "when she is playing hard to get, that is when she really wants to be with you but does not want to come off as easy; your duty is to persist, she will eventually give in".

We are so oblivious about consent that we have convinced ourselves that we do not have to actively seek it.

On consent, Project Respect goes on to remind us that "just because you dressed [in a] a certain way. just because you like each other . just because you didn't say anything . just because you have done it before . just because you are a man . just because you got wasted . just because you went on a date . doesn't mean yes! Only yes means yes".

All of the above say one thing and one thing only, which is that you have no right over her body and you do not have to read between the lines. There must be an expressed and explicit consent from her.

Consent should be explicit and continuous. It should never be taken as implicit.

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