Understanding sexual consent is crucial to navigating healthy relationships in the course of one’s life. In order to dispel a lot of the misconceptions surrounding consent, Healthline and NO MORE teamed up to create a helpful sexual consent guide. Healthline is the second largest consumer health information site on the web, with an audience of over 85 million users. NO MORE is a public charity organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
Ariana Espiritu, an assistant marketing manager at Healthline, described how the idea to create this guide came about. “As a website dedicated to the pursuit of health and well-being,” she said, “Here at Healthline we understand that sexual consent is crucial to both of these things. When it comes to most sexual health information online, however, consent is so often left out of the conversation. This is a serious oversight that has real-life consequences, something we are all witnessing as more and more people speak out about their own experiences with sexual assault.”
The guide itself defines sexual consent, reading, “Consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, and clear agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Period. There is no room for different views on what consent is. People incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot consent.” It is important that everyone understands the implied boundaries of consensual sexual activity.
The guide goes over how to communicate about consent with others and the different questionable situations one may find themselves in and how to respond to questions of consent appropriately. The guide gives advice on when and how to ask for consent, how to talk about it, how being under the influence affects consent and what consent looks and sounds like. Espiritu said, “Consent is so much more than just ‘no means no.’ It is enthusiastic, clear, and ongoing.”
The guide also covers consent within relationships. “Being in a relationship doesn’t oblige anyone to do anything,” it reads. “Consent should never be implied or assumed, even if you’re in a relationship or have had sex before.”
It is important to ask for consent every time you engage with someone. “Even if a person appears to be giving nonverbal cues that make it seem like they’re into it and want to have sex, make sure you get verbal consent before continuing. Be sure and don’t just assume.”
When there isn’t consent, sexual activity can fall into sexual assault. The guide defines assault as “any type of unwanted sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces a person to have sexual contact against their will.” The guide also outlines what to do if one is sexually assaulted.
An excellent campus resource for sexual health and wellbeing is the Center for Student Wellness (CSW). They have a variety of resources available for students on campus: “Trainings, workshops and one-on-one wellness coaching. We provide free, confidential advocacy services for any campus community member who has experienced interpersonal violence. This includes domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, rape, stalking, and sexual harassment. We provide free health screenings, like flu shots and STI tests, at mobile pop-up clinics throughout the year.”
The CSW plays an active role in educating students about consent. “Consent is a foundational concept in our trainings and education. Whether it’s a classroom workshop, orientation presentation, social media post, or one-on-one session, we aim to incorporate consent into all education, regardless if sex is the topic.”
They take multiple approaches to educating about consent. “We introduce consent as an approachable, sex-positive concept, necessary for any healthy and fulfilling relationship. It’s important that consent is understood as a component of a healthy relationship and not only as a way to prevent perpetuating sexual violence.”
Communication is the root of consent. The CSW has a couple of useful tidbits when it comes to consent. “It [consent] includes a mixture of verbal and non-verbal cues. It’s a simple check-in with your partner, expressing your own desires and needs and inquiring about theirs.”
CSW said, “Many students struggle with finding their own language and comfortability around consent. We always encourage our students to try out new phrases and new techniques to practice consent. ‘How does this feel?’ is a great place to start!”